Almost half of primary school teachers (47 per cent) believe children should start learning about the world of work aged 5 or under, according to a poll.
The vast majority (97 per cent) said that introducing children to the world of work can be very influential in broadening aspirations and bringing learning to life. Similarly, 98 per cent said it helped to challenge gender stereotyping about jobs and subjects.
The emphasis on starting the process early was widely shared, with a further 21 per cent saying this area should be explored with children when they are aged 5-7. Just over a quarter (28 per cent) thought it should be left until they are aged 9-11.
The survey of 250 teachers and members of senior leadership teams was commissioned by Education and Employers in collaboration with the NAHT heads' union and Tes to find out how UK primary schools are responding to the Department for Education’s Career Strategy, published last December.
The strategy places an emphasis on the role of primary schools in introducing children to the world of work.
The poll also explored what schools are doing on the ground to develop pupils’ understanding of the world of work and the challenges they face in doing so.
Despite widespread support for careers-related learning, only one in three (33 per cent) had heard of the DfE strategy.
Nevertheless, the vast majority (81 per cent) said they already organised activities in their schools to increase their understanding of the world of work.
The most common activity cited was curriculum-linked activities followed by “aspiration days”, numeracy and literacy activities and “enterprise days”. Many (43 per cent) said their schools organised such activities annually, with almost as many saying these were staged termly.
Just over half (53 per cent) said they had a member of staff responsible for organising such activities.
Employers’ engagement in career learning activities was also prized, with 94 per cent saying they believed it was important to invite volunteers from the world of work to be involved in activities offered to children in primary.
Asked what barriers prevented them doing more with employers, time constraints were cited as the biggest barrier (60 per cent). More than one in five teachers (22 per cent) said the pressure on data-driven results squeezed the curriculum and restricted time to organise activities linked to employers in schools.
One teacher explained that the curriculum was “already overcrowded". "I only organise things that fit in with the curriculum objectives I am teaching," they said. "But I ask the visitors to be ready to talk about their jobs, alongside the other reasons why I have invited them and invite the children to ask questions about their job.”
'Showing a purpose'
Heavy focus on reading, writing and math curriculum appears to stop some teachers to spare time for other activities. Other difficulties cited relate to coordination and finding a time suitable to both employers and teachers (28 per cent), and the cost of staging events (15 per cent).
Nick Chambers, chief executive of Education and Employers, which seeks to foster partnerships between schools and employers, said the fact teachers could see the benefits of engaging children in the world of work so early in life were "encouraging".
This was both in terms of challenging gender-stereotypes and in "showing a purpose" to learning knowledge and skills for the future. He said exposing children to different careers could ensure children were not limited to thinking they were only capable of certain jobs.
"This is the first time that a survey of teachers has found overwhelming support for children learning about the world of work at a very young age," Mr Chambers said.
"It is only recently that the focus has been on primary schools and we were surprised that teachers and head teachers themselves had come to the view that it was important."
He added: "It is the fact that they are doing it because they can see the benefits to young children, not because it is a government initiative."
The survey was conducted by Primary Futures, which seeks to raise aspirations by helping children understand the link between learning in school and the world of work.