Ministers say young children often aim high – with new research showing three quarters of 11-year-olds want to go to university – but too often those from poorer backgrounds fall short of their ambitions, suggesting better guidance may be needed.
However, teachers warned the proposals, including discussing job options at school assemblies and preparing parents to talk about career choices with young children, should not be allowed to stifle imagination or narrow children’s options too soon. “It is perfectly reasonable for children to think about what they might do in life, but what this absolutely must not do is predetermine what children might do before they even leave primary school,” said Christine Blowers, general secretary of the NUT.
Ed Balls, the secretary of state for children, schools and families, admitted “radical change” was needed. He said that meant starting younger, in primary schools. “We know it is often too late for children to start thinking about this at 14, when they are influenced from when they are seven, eight and nine.”
There will also be online careers advice and mentoring for older children from businesspeople, older peers and others from next year, plus careers advice via Facebook, YouTube and through blogs. The move reflects concerns that children from middle-class families get advice from parents and friends who know the university system and whose professional networks make it easier to wangle prestigious work-experience slots.
Balls said he wanted to see “an end to the old boys’ network that means only children from privileged backgrounds get their foot in the door”, with an “aspiration” that all primary school pupils should be able to visit universities.
The Sutton Trust found such visits were becoming more common, with almost a quarter of children now having some experience of a university. But the trust’s founder and chairman, Sir Peter Lampl, said the “stark decline” in careers advice had hit underprivileged children hardest: “No one should underestimate the impact this has on limiting social mobility in this country. The need for informed guidance is now more pressing than ever, given the vast array of educational options available.”
Lesley Strachan Consulting and Training commented “Whilst this news is from 2009 not much seems to have changed with little support given to primary or secondary school children. Maybe, it’s time to get these young people to tap into what they want to do with their lives and get them to plan out their future?”