Careers and skills in Primary education – this works.

For any primary school looking to raise aspirations, broaden horizons and develop the employability skills of their pupils – this is for you.

For the past year, I have been fortunate to lead the East Sussex County Council Primary Careers Hub. It is a one year pilot funded by the Careers and Enterprise Company and East Sussex County Council. Our aim was to enable system-wide change in delivering careers related learning in the primary curriculum. It essentially aims to support schools and businesses in broadening horizons and raising aspirations for young people.

The pilot involved 23 East Sussex primary schools. Most were suburban, some urban and some rural. They were of a range of sizes and socio-economic contexts. They all had a strong commitment to developing their curriculum to incorporate careers related learning at every opportunity. All schools were represented by a ‘Careers Champion’ – someone with experience, with leadership qualities and with a good knowledge of the curriculum. These ‘Champions’ participated in monthly training sessions which allowed development of resources, sharing ideas, networking, and support from careers experts. With the onset of the Covid19 pandemic, training switched to an online format, with remote support as schools adjusted to home learning and a change in delivery of the curriculum. Many of the events planned in schools were postponed but a significant number of careers related learning events happened in the sixth months prior to lockdown and school closures.

A closing summary that identifies what we set out to achieve and how we met our key performance indicators is included here. A full report is available at www.careerseastsussex.co.uk along with a comprehensive set of free resources to support careers related learning and a set of 20 case studies that describe the range of events, approaches and outcomes at each of the schools involved. The full report also includes useful training documents, presentations, capacity audits, curriculum mapping templates and a memorandum of understanding.

As part of our work we also commissioned ten short films. These were designed to make links between the curriculum, essential employability skills and the ‘real world’ of work. Filming involved interviewing 16 employees from local businesses in East Sussex and asking them why certain skills were important in their role. Participants included ambulance dispatchers, game designers, paramedics, construction engineers, research scientists, museum and gallery education leads, operations and finance managers, and physiotherapists. Thanks to James Bloomfield of InBloom Video for filming and editing and to all the employers and employees who took part.

As the pilot closes and we reflect on our achievements, we are keen to share these resources and ideas with as many primary schools, prep schools, junior and infant schools around the world as possible. The case studies and the free resources will help any school get started. There has probably never been a more important time for children to learn about essential employability skills.

“Inspiring our children to aspire to great things remains our responsibility.¬†¬†Providing them with a ‘landscape of knowledge’ about the careers available to them will continue to reinforce the importance of everyday learning and create young people who have the confidence to pursue any goal they set for themselves.

Helen – Deputy Head, Seaford Primary, East Sussex

Once children see the connection between the curriculum and the real world, everything else will fall into place. It is never too late to start talking about careers related learning and children are never too young to find out about skills and be exposed to a range of careers to spark their imagination. Feel free to comment or get in touch to find out more about the pilot.

Marcus Cherrill

Primary Careers Hub Lead

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.