From education to employment

How much do workplace role models help children’s career aspirations?

Scaling Up: Developing and extending career-related learning in primary schools

Today (15 July) Primary Futures publishes Scaling Up, a report on the impact of its programme that brings volunteer role models from the world of work to talk to primary school children about their jobs – and the greatest impact is on children from disadvantaged backgrounds.

The largest study of its kind in England, it shows that the motivation, confidence and attainment of primary children are positively impacted when they meet relatable workplace role models, helping children see the opportunities open to them.

The Primary Futures programme is run by the Education and Employers charity in partnership with school leaders’ union, NAHT.

Involving 370 primary schools across 114 local authorities, and with detailed responses from around 10,000 children, the Scaling Up study shows that the benefits to children from disadvantaged backgrounds, who often don’t get access to a diversity of role models, have been especially the case during lockdown. Virtual sessions enable children to meet a wider and more diverse range of role models from outside schools’ local areas.

A total of 67,388 children took part in Primary Futures activities during the pandemic lockdowns, thanks to the innovative and hard work of teachers across the country who helped develop interactive virtual activities. These have opened up new learning opportunities for children to meet ‘people like them’ working in jobs they might never otherwise have known about until they were grown up themselves.

The virtual programme means that a primary-aged child living in Blackpool can meet and ask questions of a TV producer working in visual effects based in London; or as part of their polar regions school topic, children in Cornwall can hear from someone based in Scotland who arranges Antarctica tours; and a child at a rural school in Wiltshire can quiz an experimental archaeologist in York.

The “Scaling Up: Developing and extending career-related learning in primary schools” report shows that benefits and key findings include:

  • Gains in attitude to school and learning, and improved attainment and engagement, with 82% of children more motivated in core subjects of maths, English and science
  • Positive impacts on children’s ambitions and ideas about their futures, with 88% understanding how doing well at school is helpful to them in later life
  • Disadvantaged pupils benefit most: the impact of activities is greater for disadvantaged pupils, especially for gains in confidence, speaking, listening and aiming high/trying hard.
  • Effective in challenging stereotypes that children often have about the jobs people do based on their gender, ethnicity and socio-economic background.
  • Virtual sessions deliver: Primary Futures virtual live sessions are just as impactful for pupils as face-to-face sessions. Pre-recorded activities also show positive indications of similar impact levels.
  • Relatable role models bring added value: the more relatable the role models, the more pupils enjoy the activity, and report positive influence. In parallel, virtual sessions enable children to meet a wider and more diverse range of role models from outside their local area.
  • More is more: there is evidence of a dosage effect – the more jobs pupils hear about or the more activities they do, the greater the impact
  • Primary Futures works at scale, is low-cost and sustainable: the established digital platform is an effective tool for running volunteer-supported learning, and enables teachers to self-serve future events directly
  • Outcomes are consistent across the country: Primary Futures activities show consistent findings across 114 local authorities in England, including both rural and urban areas.

Paul Whiteman 100x100Paul Whiteman, General Secretary of school leaders’ union, NAHT, commented:

 “Now is the time for us to ignite our children’s aspirations. We need to help them see what’s possible and the opportunities open to them. Primary Futures does that and the NAHT has been a proud supporter from the start. It is truly incredible how much impact this scheme has had.

“Now is a perfect time for it to be supported by the government to make it more widely available to pupils right across the country. School leaders will welcome the opportunity to tap into a programme like this if it can be expanded to a national scale.

“Primary Futures is a perfect solution to the problem of raising post-pandemic aspirations. This new report shows that the scheme has worked everywhere it has been deployed. We now need to see it deliver on a national scale.”

Karen Giles, Head Teacher at Barham Primary School in Wembley and trustee of charity, Education and Employers, said:

“A key part of the solution to the post-Covid education recovery and challenging stereotypes is giving children access to role models from the world of work who can inspire, motivate and help children see why education is relevant.”

Nick Chambers, Chief Executive, Education and Employers said: 

“Expanding the opportunities for children from disadvantaged backgrounds to meet a wide range of successful professionals helps widen their aspirations – which may be high but narrow – because often they encounter a smaller range of role models in their day-to-day lives.”

The report’s data includes pre and post pupil analysis, teacher and volunteer feedback, together with school case studies and sample pupil work.

Scaling Up builds on findings from the report Starting Early, published by Future Primaries, earlier this year, which reveals that career aspirations of seven-year-olds are often relatively unchanged by the time they reach the age of 18, and are influenced by gender, ethnicity and social background stereotypes. The research also shows that children are heavily influenced by the people they either meet every day or see on TV.

Interventions, such as the Primary Futures programme, benefit social mobility and counter ingrained stereotypical views that children often have about the jobs people do.

Set up in 2014 and run by the Education and Employers charity in partnership with school leaders’ union, NAHT, Primary Futures connects primary schools with volunteers who have different jobs and career journeys.

Funding from the Department for Education via the Careers and Enterprise Company’s Primary Fund looked at the impact of Primary Futures’ interventions in primary schools and found the scheme can scale quickly and at low-cost. The findings are in the report, Scaling Up.

The Primary Fund has come to an end, but demand for Primary Futures continues to grow, with over 4,000 schools now signed up. The scheme has also been adopted overseas and is being rolled out by the New Zealand Government on a national level.

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