What is career guidance?

Career guidance is the broad range of ways in which schools inform and prepare pupils for future learning and work1. Primary school children who participate in career-related learning have an improved understanding about different types of work and the pathways that could be followed to get there, and are more confident about their ability to achieve their aspirations2

Careers guidance includes the provision of information, classroom learning, and engaging with employers (e.g. employer talks and visiting workplaces).Many primary schools already provide career guidance, but it is not always recognised as such (.e.g., encouraging healthcare professionals, firefighters and police staff to work with pupils). Teachers do not always draw out and individualise the career learning which takes place through these activities, missing opportunities to reinforce positive messages about children’s future roles as citizens, employers and employees.

School governors are in a strong position to support career guidance. Governors collectivelyare likely to have wide experience of the world of work – probably wider than the teaching staff. The governing body is well placed to give strategic guidance on the school’s careers policies and to provide contacts with employers.

Good career guidance has the potential to tackle stereotyped choices and to improve social mobility, particularly when introduced early. Adults and children instinctively categorise other people and themselves into groups, or associate certain traits or jobs with a particular gender. This produces “unconscious biases’ that can affect how we behave towards different groups or perceive ourselves, and the messages which we convey around the roles people take in life and work. Research has found that children as young as four show a strong gender bias in their thinking about jobs, with boys tending to express interest in typically male occupations and girls in typically female occupations. Careers work in primary school should challenge unconscious bias amongst staff and pupils (teacher professional development is available to help).

What questions should governors in primary schools ask?

  • How does your school provide opportunities to its pupils to learn about the world of work and careers?
  • How does your school address issues of unconscious bias?

What resources exist to support programmes of career guidance in primary schools?

You may be involved in a business or employer that can work directly with your school, or you may know businesses and employers who are. The following resource will be useful for businesses thinking about how to foster productive links with schools:

You may wish to share the following resources with your school’s leaders. They have been developed with the intention of helping primary school staff to develop appropriate programmes of career guidance.

Essential resources

  • Primary Futures in partnership with the National Association of Head Teachers (NAHT) have produced resources which help to link local volunteers to primary schools and to develop suitable activities to support career thinking.
  • STEM Ambassadors are volunteers from a wide range of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) related jobs and disciplines across the UK. They can help bring STEM subjects to life for young people inside and outside the classroom; from bringing real-world context to lessons, to helping with support for extra-curricular clubs.
  • The Institute of Physics have produced a resource to help schools develop good practice in addressing unconscious bias
Additional resources

1 "Career guidance refers to services and activities intended to assist individuals, of any age and at any point throughout their lives, to make educational, training and occupational choices and to manage their careers. The activities may take place on an individual or group basis, and may be face-to- face or at a distance (including help lines and web-based services)." (OECD,2004)

2 Wade, P., et al. (2011). Key Stage 2 career-related learning pathfinder evaluation. DFE-RR116. London. Department for Education.

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