Parents have the most powerful influence on children's choice of careers, a survey carried out in Somerset has shown. And, despite 25 years of equal opportunities legislation, gender stereotypes still play an important part, as a four year action research project called "Challenging Choices" discovered.
The survey, based on Stanchester Community school and Yeovil Tertiary College, was funded by Somerset's education and careers service and the Technical and Vocational Education Initiative.
It arose from concerns about the effects of stereotypical attitudes and expectations on young people's career prospects.
Results showed that: * hobbies and interests had more influence on career choice for boys than girls, * few students had been encouraged by parents to consider non-traditional jobs; * more girls went to college than boys, but on leaving, more boys than girls went onto higher education; * at GCSE boys took physics, geography and technology; girls did languages and biology; * girls studied arts subjects at college whereas boys chose science at A level; * girls took care courses at BTEC and boys did technical subjects.
This sex bias was reflected in career intentions as substantial numbers of boys, but no girls, showed an interest in engineering and electronics and girls only wanted jobs in community or health care.
Results of the survey prompted a variety of initiatives. The college improved its liaison with school staff; it revised course leaflets to make them clear and accessible; and introduced training for school staff to increase their knowledge and understanding of college curriculum.
The final report recommends that parents should be fully informed of career choices available and schools' career guidance should begin early in the secondary school.
"Challenging Choices" can be obtained from Somerset Education Services, County Hall, Taunton TA1 4DY.