How does your garden grow?

Careers related learning in primary schools – some thoughts and ideas.

Any good gardener would tell you that if you don’t look after the soil, not much is going to grow and the quality of your crop will be limited. There is growing evidence that providing the right kinds of interactions with employers and the world of work at an early age can make a real difference to the future decisions of young children.

Careers related learning is not limited to talks from parents about their unusual career paths or a trip to a local museum, it is the language that we use, the curriculum that we provide in primary schools and the attitudes and aspirations that we try to foster in early education. Children are exposed to many influences as they develop, most significantly by their parents, other family members and their school friends. Between the ages of 6 and 8, they will have already assigned many jobs to a particular gender, through behaviours and attitudes, therefore limiting much of their early thoughts on a job because of their own gender. Furthermore, between the ages of 9 and 13, they will have placed a social value based on perceptions of social class or intelligence and therefore abandoned ‘fantasy careers’ and placed significant further constraints on career choices. It is therefore incumbent on teachers and school leaders to provide very early intervention to promote better language in Early Years education, to broaden horizons and create opportunities to raise aspirations for young children and their families. This is even more important with families where no one has attended university or has significant qualifications or training. It is also short-sighted to think that any careers related learning in primary school education will wash over children’s heads or be too early for them. It is not about gearing them up for college, interview practice or choosing exam subjects, it’s all about opportunity and enrichment.

Primary schools in the UK currently provide an exceptionally rich diet of a curriculum with hundreds of opportunities for children. What might need to happen more often is a strategic approach to considering the impact on children and their families in terms of exposure to employability skills, the workplace, types of work and pathways. This can be done with a simple data collection tool such as a Google Form, designed for schools to complete a quick subjective assessment of the impact of each of the activities or events each week. Simple. Here’s an example form. This is designed to reduce workload, improve productivity and collect essential information to support and measure impact. We can also use this idea to share good practice amongst schools.

There is a great deal of work out there to demonstrate good practice. Most notably through the research activities of the Careers and Enterprise Company and Education and Employers. What Works? Careers Related Learning in Primary is excellent in creating a clear landscape of advice and ideas with impact.

So what works for you? Are you an employer, looking to find ways to ensure a good record on corporate social responsibility or looking to create a seedbed for your future workforce? How could you help? Primary Futures is a network of thousands of employers offering their time to ensure relevant and timely connections with schools, for children as young as five to meet employers, hear their stories and see what they do. Why not have a look. Drawing The Future is also a fascinating research and review article looking at stereotypes and aspirations of young children. If you are a school leader, consider how to embed careers related learning in every aspect of your curriculum. Bring parents in to support and talk about their unusual career paths, but do it with a purpose and a plan. Group your parents together, get them to share ideas. Most importantly, find out what your children think. Work to broaden their horizons and remove limitations of gender, race, disability or social position. Let’s open a few more doors.

Four key themes run through all of the research:

  • High-quality interactions with employers and local businesses
  • Sustained involvement and engagement of parents and developing a shared role
  • Exposing children to careers related learning and employability skills in the curriculum
  • Inspiration STEM events both in and out of school

Keeping these themes in mind when developing a curriculum that offers more than literacy and numeracy will be essential in broadening horizons for the next generation.

Why not share your thoughts and ideas below in the comments section. It would be good to hear what else works or what the barriers are to this approach being successful.