Tag Archive for: aspires

Future Career Capital

When you were young, did you want to be a vet, a doctor, a teacher? A sports person, nurse, actor, singer, gamer, astronaut, zoo keeper, police officer?

That list doesn’t change much over the years. Jobs like ‘professional gamer’ are new, but the list of jobs most ten year-olds today are aware of is mostly similar to the list you could have made ten years ago, or even twenty.

Not many children would proclaim that they want to be a thermodynamics engineer, a solar physicist, or an earth observation programmer. Those are all exciting career routes, but most of us have no idea they even exist, and even if we do we’re maybe not entirely sure what all the words mean. So it’s no surprise that young people are more aware of and more comfortable talking about the list of familiar jobs we started with. We know what firefighters do, we don’t have to look it up before we can start trying on that role in the playground.

Research suggests that we start thinking about future careers from a very young age. That’s no great surprise, but perhaps unexpectedly, research also suggests that we start making decisions early too. Not “I’m going to be a quantum-computational geneticist” decisions, but more fluid decisions about the types of careers we feel we can and can’t have. Understandably, children in families where a parent or close relative is a scientist or engineer tend to have a greater awareness of jobs within the science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) sector. That awareness can help them have a broader view of what’s possible for them, in turn helping them avoid making early choices which limit possibilities later.

The term used to describe this is ‘science capital’. The ASPIRES research project [2013] discusses this at length – see our primer on science capital for more background, and we’ve a page about the ASPIRES project.

But, if you are from a family of non-scientists, where do you get your science career, advice and information from? Over the past couple of weeks I have led CPD events with a focus on STEM, and on how we can develop career links within primary school lessons. A quote I like you to use is:

“You only know what you know!”

It’s not about telling children what they are going to do, and it’s not about them making decisions. Rather, it’s about equipping them with information so they are aware of the many opportunities available to them and the skills and qualifications they’d need to get there.

By providing examples of careers when studying topics like the human body, plants, space or electricity, we can show children that there are careers linked to those topics. That may ignite and inspire further interest, and a potential idea about a new, future career they wish to explore. You could then team curriculum links with employer encounters so children meet people working in STEM; showcase local employers and places they could work; explore and visit further and higher education establishments to raise aspirations; or encourage family involvement by offering ideas on ways to extend learning at home.

Ideas like these very quickly develop into a primary careers programme. They allows us to reinforce positive messages like “Girls and Boys can both have careers in STEM, and it’s not just for the super bright children.” Careers in science and engineering can be for everyone – the curious, the creative, the makers, triers and doers. They can be for anyone who wishes to make an impact on the world around us, and to help solve some of the biggest problems we face.

These are the positive and influential messages which underpin all of the above and contextualise and make meaning of the curriculum.

It’s easy to think of ‘careers’ as meaning ‘jobs,’ but that’s too narrow a concept, particularly at primary. Perhaps we should coin a new term: ‘future career capital’. We could use that to consider how we can, through an early years/primary careers programme, support children and families to aspire, achieve and succeed, rather than waiting to start these discussions in year 8.

Embedding Careers Advice in Schools

On Monday 2nd March the BBC published an article called  All schools need trained careers teachers, says charity. The article reported on calls from Teach First that more needs to be done in schools relating to careers advice.

All schools in England should have a teacher trained to give high-quality careers advice, particularly to poorer pupils… Without a fresh effort, careers advice in schools will remain ‘fragmented and ineffective’.”
Teach First.

Secretary of State for Education Nicky Morgan responded to the report saying that there were many schools and colleges doing “fantastic work” but there was also too much provision that was “patchy and in places inadequate.” She also mentioned that in many cases teachers did not have the time to dedicate to careers nor the training to deliver good careers advice. Ms Morgan then commented that the government’s new Careers and Enterprise company, announced late last year, would help schools to develop links with employers and improve pupils employability.

This reference to the new Careers and Enterprise company is interesting – it’s being sold as if it will make careers advice in schools magically better.

The new enterprise company sounds like a good idea, but as yet we don’t know much about it. With the best intentions in the world, employers still won’t be able to link to every child and young person. They do not really have the time to… they have businesses to run! Similarly, I don’t believe that a visit from one employer is going to create a school full of young people wanting to do whatever it is the company are encouraging pupils to consider. The Careers and Enterprise company may be part of a solution, but interventions and engagements need to be sustained and meaningful: there is not a quick fix.

Another part of the answer may lie in better training for schools and teachers, and a careers strategy from primary school age through to post-16 which lies at the heart of the national curriculum. I think careers advice needs to be central, embedded and expected in most lessons. It should become second nature to teachers, providing meaning and context for what is being learnt.

You have a maths lesson, with no idea why you are learning certain topics; would it not be better to show how maths, and the skills you are developing, apply and will support you in the future? Engineering, accountancy, hairdressing, plumbing or sport, all require a mathematical understanding. Would this not help pupils better understand why they are learning something and how they can apply it, as well as introducing the many different careers out there?

For me, this is one of the problems with careers education, that we do not make enough use of careers examples within our lessons. Yes some teachers do, but not consistently and there is no guidance or expectation that teachers should make careers links consistently.

My personal opinion is that careers advice should be incorporated in the majority of lessons, not bolted on or exclusively discussed in citizenship and similar lessons. Teachers should be able to go to a website for example for this information, carry out regular personal CPD, and easily find role models/employers they can use to clearly highlight careers links from their lesson topics. These should be included in lessons, and examples and challenges set around them.

Currently career guidance is compulsory from Year 8. This is too late. Some young people are fully aware of what they want to study, and have a career in mind by 13 years of age, but the majority don’t have a clue! Also, how can you have high aspirations if you are not aware of the careers available to you?

We should be introducing pupils to careers earlier to inform the choices they need to make from year 9. Whole schools need to take some ownership of their role within careers advice, rather than leaving one person to deal with careers and progression (a problem shared, is a problem halved as they say)! If not, we may keep witnessing the year 11 head or teacher with careers responsibilities firefighting a situation which could be much more easily and effectively dealt with earlier on.

This whole school approach is backed by the research carried out by ASPIRES (2013) which suggested that STEM careers advice should be embedded within science lessons, as well as much earlier interventions relating to STEM careers information in primary school. Otherwise, we risk secondary careers information, advice and guidance being ‘too little, too late’.


Tag Archive for: aspires

STEM Quest club

One of the aims of the Think Physics project is to show young people that studying science, especially physics, leads to careers that they would want to do.  At Think Physics we’re piloting a programme we’re calling STEM Quest club, which we hope will support this aim.

The research from the ASPIRES project identified that many young people between the ages of 10 and 14 like science, but don’t see it as something that they would want to do as a career.

As an ex-teacher, my experience of secondary school students is that they generally enjoy working with younger children.  When my son was looking for work experience in year 10, he thought that it might be nice to go into a primary school to work – only to find that all the available places had been snapped up weeks before, mostly by girls!

We’re going to put these two ideas together in STEM Quest club.

Working with a partner secondary school, a group of year 9 students will be trained and supported to run an after-school club in a local primary school. We think this will have a number of benefits:

  • will give the year 9 students experience of successfully explaining science and some leadership experience,
  • the opportunity to work towards a CREST silver award,
  • strengthening links between the secondary and primary school,
  • supporting the experience of science in the primary school
  • appeal to girls (whereas a STEM club might not).

During the training, students will try out the different activities they’ll use in the primary school, discuss presentation techniques and think about how best to explain the activities to younger children.

As well as this, we’ll also be doing some ‘consciousness raising’ activities to look at issues of gender equality in STEM subjects and possible career options.

Typical activities we’ll do will be:

  • use the Science Museum Mystery boxes to think about how we can approach problem solving, and also to talk about science not knowing all the answers.
  • To look at how different disciplines are seen in the media by looking at image searches for ‘physicist’, ‘chemist’, ‘biologist’, ‘engineer’ and ‘mathematician’ **.
  • Look at images of real people who work in STEM, and think about what skills and attributes they might need.
  • Identify how STEM careers make a difference to our lives.
  • try and give clear instructions on how to build origami structures, and how to deal with the frustration of not understanding the instructions.

Through the club, we hope that the leaders will gain experience of doing science which will encourage them to continue to study science, hopefully to A-level and beyond.

You can see what we’ve been up to at our first STEM Quest Club here.


**It’s worth having a go at this – the results are quite disappointing. When we tried it out, the year 9s came to the conclusion that, if search engines are to be believed, then you have to like wearing ties or scuba gear (for biologists!) to work in science.

Search engine result for images of 'scientist'

Search engine result for images of ‘scientist’