Schools are failing to prepare girls, as well as ethnic-minority and working-class pupils adequately for life after education, a major new study of thousands of pupils has found.
This unwitting discrimination is reinforcing existing social inequalities, making it harder for disadvantaged pupils to prepare for the future, according to Louise Archer, professor of sociology of education at King’s College London.
Professor Archer and her colleague, Julie Moote, surveyed more than 13,000 Year 11 pupils, drawn from 340 secondary schools.
They found that, on the whole, careers education was patchy: only 62.5 per cent of pupils reported having received any guidance at all on life after school. And fewer than half – 44.8 per cent – had undertaken any work experience.
This lack of preparation for the world beyond the classroom affects some pupils disproportionately. Teenagers from socially advantaged backgrounds are 49 per cent more likely to be given careers advice than those from less advantaged backgrounds.
In addition, pupils in the lowest sets at school are significantly less likely to be offered either careers education or work experience than their counterparts in higher sets. This means that the teenagers who most need guidance about what to do after school are those least likely to receive it, the researchers say.
A pupil planning to study for A levels is 52 per cent more likely to have been given careers advice than one who has no idea what to do after GCSEs.
“We know that kids tend to go down certain patterned routes,” Professor Archer said. “Middle-class children tend to end up in careers that are more professional, and going to better universities. There’s not a whole heap of social mobility.
“How does this happen? It’s not a preordained, biological thing that you will follow in your parents’ or your community’s footsteps. We want to see how children can have a broader set of choices, so they’re not shaped by who they are or where they come from.”
New careers strategy
An Ofsted report into careers education, published in September 2013, found that only one in five schools was ensuring that all pupils in Years 9, 10 and 11 were receiving effective careers education. And a survey carried out by the Career Development Institute (CDI) in May last year revealed that a third of schools have taken the decision to drop careers education from the curriculum.
Nicky Morgan, the education secretary, has asked for a new careers strategy to be drawn up, and it is due to be published this spring. But Jan Ellis, chief executive of the CDI, fears that this strategy will not be accompanied by significant investment.
“If people are not given a lot of support in school, you can surmise that middle-class youngsters who live in Guildford are probably going to be given better advice because they are the ones whose parents have been through higher education,” she said.
“The government does recognise there’s an issue, but the problem is that there’s no money. But what could be more important than investing in tomorrow’s workforce?”
Professor Archer’s research also revealed a number of other ways in which social inequalities were perpetuated in schools. Boys were 27 per cent more likely to be given careers advice than girls. They also did more work experience than girls.
White pupils were 25 per cent more likely to receive careers education than those from an ethnic-minority background. Chinese pupils are the least likely – 38 per cent less than white pupils – to be given any kind of advice about post-16 life.
Teenagers aspiring to work in teaching, business or in a trade are the most likely to be offered work experience. However, those wanting to work in the law or in science are the least likely to be given work experience.
Professor Archer believes that this is because pupils tend to arrange their own workexperience placements. They are therefore likely to be trapped by the limits of their own – or their parents’ – social networks.
As a result, she said, some pupils remain genuinely unaware of the options that are open to them after school. For example, the survey found that some pupils planned to enter full-time work at 16, not realising that this was no longer possible unless they had secured an apprenticeship.
“There’s a concern that they could be making quite uninformed choices, not realising what options may or may not be open to them,” Professor Archer said.
Joe Hayman, chief executive of the PSHE Association, said that he was disturbed by the findings. “All young people are entitled to high-quality careers advice,” he said.
“Even if it is unwitting, disparity of advice on the basis of a pupil’s gender, socioeconomic background or ethnicity can undermine young people’s career expectations and have a lasting impact.”
To read more on the research into social inequality in careers education, see the report: Aspires 2 Project Spotlight: Year 11 Students’ Views of Careers Education and Work Experience, by Professor Louise Archer and Dr Julie Moote, King’s College London.
Schools should consider the following points when offering careers advice:
Monitor, evaluate and take steps to address inequalities, in terms of which pupils receive careers education and work experience.
Careers-advice services should dedicate money and resources towards targeting and supporting disadvantaged groups, in order to ensure their participation.
Particular emphasis should be given to pupils who are in bottom sets, including those who are unsure of their plans post-16.
Explore ways to provide more work experience in areas such as science and law.
Employers often offer work experience to teenagers who express an interest in certain subjects. Be aware that less advantaged pupils are less likely to volunteer for such schemes.
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