Well why not? Children cannot aspire to something they don’t know about. Careers education is after all about expanding horizons, inspiring, exciting, explaining possibilities. We need to remember young children form ideas and absorb stereotypes early, apparently from 4 years old. So careers education needs to figure early too.
Many a governors meeting I’ve attended has involved a presentation by the Careers Coordinator. Excellent practice is explained but the focus is always on Post 16 and perhaps KS 4 if your lucky. There is very little exposure for Year 7 and primary schools don’t even have a careers coordinator in the main. So Richard Vaughan’s piece in the TES this week ‘Gender split fixed before school’ struck a chord with me.
This is also something that was highlighted in my time at the Baker Dearing Trust (BDT)working with University Technical Colleges (UTCs) which provide high level education in technical and vocational subjects for 14-18 year olds, many specialising in engineering. The latter a field in which we are seriously adrift in terms of recruiting in general and especially girls. Certainly we found problems recruiting girls aged 14 to UTCs. It was at best 80:20 male female ratio. I recall a presentation on research showing girls in particular had fixed ideas by age 7 about gender specific careers that might be open to them. These did not include engineering or construction for a start. STEM subjects certainly were less attractive. So no surprise that at aged 14 these ideas are firmly embedded and they do not consider such careers. Yet girls are equally good at these disciplines. There is a real lack of understanding that engineering includes project management, teamwork, leadership skills, creativity, design as well as actual practical skills involving hard hats, high vis jackets and scaffolding (George Osbourne please note).
Careers education involves at its heart bringing speakers into schools to meet young people of whatever age to tell them at first hand what their job, their career, their profession involves. They need to know what apprenticeships are as well as HE progression. I have never forgotten Julie White, CEO of DDrill a successful cement construction company . She is a role model if ever there was one. Get her and her ilk into primary schools and start to turn the tide away from gender stereotyping. Whether it be nurses or technicians, pilots or architects, no one person, let alone a teacher who may never worked outside of education, can guide on the proliferation of possibilities now available and these are growing with every technological innovation. I liked the reference I heard recently of a group of 20-30 year olds who might be called the ‘precariats’. They do menial jobs to keep bread on the table while they discover and create new careers not yet seen.
Parents too are critical in careers education, they do hold prejudices about what careers are suitable and for whom. They of course are also a vital resource for talks as they themselves will represent a range of careers at least in some areas. Organisations like WISE and WES and others focusing on women in the STEM world bring vital resources into schools but please they need to extend their remit 4-14. If they go into KS1, they may find their jobs immeasurably easier in KS4.
However we provide it for our children, careers education must be all embracing of professions and jobs and reach down to our 4 year olds who will then grow equipped to make reasoned choices because they have the widest possible menu of opportunities in their experience. Industry is crying out for apprentices and, as we have seen in UTCs, big and small businesses are prepared to come into schools and train young people and then give them a step up into their area of employment. Young people cannot afford to be NEET and the country cannot afford to have NEETs.
We have not done well enough to date, as the data shows stereotyping is as bad in the very young as it is in the teenage years. Let’s give our 4 year olds the chance to learn and never think they are too young to start to hear about all the exciting options open to them.