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Will Millard is Head of Policy Advocacy at the education and youth think and action tank LKMco, working to ensure LKMco’s research leads to action that will improve the lives of young people. Will has been leading LKMco’s research into careers education, commissioned by Founders4Schools

I must confess that when LKMco began its research into careers education, I wasn’t convinced that learning about the world of work was something primary schools (let alone Early Years settings) needed to pay much attention to. I figured that learning about careers was something that would only become more relevant and useful for older pupils approaching their GCSEs. How wrong I was.

Careers education should start early

LKMco and Founders4Schools’ new research ‘More Than A Job’s Worth: Making Careers Education Age-Appropriate’ is published today, and argues for the need for careers education to start as soon as young children begin their education. A young person’s careers education should then build cumulatively throughout their time in school, helping them broaden their horizons, learn about possible future pathways, develop a wide range of knowledge and skills, and learn about themselves.

Some people might be squeamish about the idea of young children starting a careers education early. However, our research sets out how this can be approached in an age-appropriate way. For example, we highlight how some nurseries and primaries add ‘jobs corners’ to their classrooms, where costumes, props and stories about different professions are available for pupils explore. This can complement rather than distract from other learning taking place during these phases, and crucially help reduce the formulation of stereotypes about work (including assumptions about ‘appropriate’ careers rooted in class, gender, disability, ethnicity or geography). Our work therefore builds on the important contributions made by The Careers & Enterprise Company, and others.

One primary school’s approach

The report sets out a series of case studies, including the inspiring work taking place at Torriano Primary School in Camden. The school hosts a standalone careers weeks during the Autumn term, which is structured around a theme (such as ‘Maths in the World of Work’). The school uses careers week to engage with employers (including getting presenters into the school, and taking pupils on trips). Perhaps more importantly though, careers week serves as a springboard for career learning throughout the year, including STEAM week (science, technology, arts and maths) week in the Spring term, and a world of work-focused project in the Summer term.

During these weeks and throughout the year, pupils meet and talk to employers inside and outside school, visit different workspaces, and find out about links between what they’re learning during lessons and the wider world. While the purpose of an education clearly extends well beyond preparing young people for possible future jobs, Torriano Primary School illustrates how careers education can work in tandem and actively support pupils’ wider learning.

Building on learning cumulatively throughout schooling

Our research goes on to argue that young people’s careers educations should be build coherently and cumulatively on previous learning, and sets out what activities can be offered at different stages. For example, it recommends that older pupils should hear from a range of external speakers, carry out off-site visits, and eventually participate in career carousels and mentoring from the age of fourteen.

Ways forward

Capturing evidence from a wide range of sources including a literature review, roundtables with over 40 employers and practitioners, and interviews with careers experts, the report is frank about the challenges currently impeding careers education in schools. These include practitioners’ ability to prioritise careers-related learning, and understanding about how to build a coherent and cumulative careers curriculum.

However, we highlight ways forward, setting out a range of steps settings can take. For example, we suggest schools and colleges work with parents throughout the process, inviting them into school to discuss their own work or hear careers talks alongside their children. We also recommend schools nominate a governor or trustee to take responsibility for overseeing each level of careers education, and ensuring it supports other priorities such pupils’ academic, social and personal development.

Clearly, responsibility does not lie solely with schools. We call on the government to provide funding for transport to help pupils in more rural areas to access work experience opportunities, and recommend how digital brokerage platforms could be enhanced to make partnerships between schools and employers simpler to arrange.

@ImpactWales has generously created the following infographic, capturing the report’s main recommendations:

More Than A Job’s Worth: Making Careers Education Age-Appropriate is the first in a series of reports on careers education by LKMco.

Our report Making Work Experience Fit For Purpose will be published in May.