'Ingrained stereotypes' limit pupil ambitions by age 7

Professionals need to go into primary school classrooms to expand pupils' horizons, warns international education expert

'Ingrained stereotypes': Stereotypes based on class, race and gender are limiting primary pupils' career ambitions, warns the OECD

Primary school pupils need more opportunities to learn about different career options to combat the "ingrained stereotyping" that sets in by the age of 7, an education expert has warned. 

Talent is being “wasted” because of assumptions about gender, race and class, according to Andreas Schleicher, director for education and skills at the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development.

Speaking today at a conference in London, Mr Schleicher is due to say that primary pupils need “lightbulb moments” about their future from the time they start school.

Otherwise, he will warn, their horizons risk being limited to what their parents or carers do; what their teachers advise; or what they see on TV, films or social media.

A campaign to build a network of 100,000 professionals acting as role models for primary-aged pupils will be launched tonight by the Education and Employers charity.

Fighting gender stereotypes

Speaking at the launch, Mr Schleicher will warn that skills gaps in the UK labour market stem from assumptions about the world of work, with children in primary school already ruling out potential careers because of their gender, race and background.


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“You can’t be what you can’t see," Mr Schleicher will say. "We’re not saying seven-year-olds have to choose their careers now - but we must fight to keep their horizons open."

According to a report published today by the OECD and Education and Employers, gender stereotyping exists from the age of 7 and there are minimal changes in job ambitions between the ages of 7 and 17.

Only 1 per cent of pupils have the chance to hear about career options from professionals visiting their schools, the report says.

Mr Schleicher will today say: “We need major employers, including government itself, to open up their workforces to primary schools. We can’t afford the mismatch between career aspirations and the reality of the job market, so we need to be bolder in getting inspiring professionals into classrooms as early as possible."

Broadening career horizons

He will add: "The best teachers enable children to discover their passions, develop their dreams and find their place in society. Pupils will invest in their education if they can link what they are studying in schools to the real world and the opportunities out there.”

Carried out in partnership with the OECD, Tes Global, the NAHT heads' union and the UCL Institute of Education, today's research finds that the most common factors influencing career aspirations for primary children were family or friends and TV, films and social media.

The I am #InspiringTheFuture campaign, run by Education and Employers, will seek to build a network of 100,000 professionals to volunteer in the programme, asking employers to support the drive.

The long-term aim is to create 10 million face-to-face interactions between the pupils and the volunteers at every stage of their education.

This will expand Primary Futures, the programme for seven- to 11-year-olds developed with the NAHT. The programme links teachers to volunteers that can be invited into classrooms to conduct talks, workshops and networking sessions.

Paul Whiteman, general secretary of the NAHT, said: “The importance of exposure to the world of work at primary age cannot be overstated. The earlier children’s aspirations are raised and broadened, the better."

The campaign will sign up professionals across the country, targeting disadvantaged areas, NHS providers, growing industries such as cybersecurity and AI, and leading independent schools’ alumni and parental networks.

The Headmasters' and Headmistresses' Conference, which represents independent schools, is backing the initiative, with more than 60 heads pledging to help provide speakers to participate in the programme.

Inspiring the future was launched in 2012 and it has signed up 55,000 volunteers, ranging from app designers to zoologists.

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