‘Careers education in a primary school’

Gothard, W.P.

In Pastoral Care, 16(3), pp.36-41 (1998).

The article is available here.

Research within careers education in the primary setting has been sparse. This observational study assesses the impact of a ‘Careers Week’ event held within a single primary school in the South-East of England in June 1997. The annual event involves parents talking and demonstrating their job roles to different year groups. The researcher specifically analysed the impression made by one artist and one carpenter upon 60 pupils at Key Stage 2 (Year 4, aged 8-9).

Data was collected in an ethnographic manner by observing the interactions the professionals had with the children and the follow up sessions with the teachers, which were also audiotaped. Children were asked to complete follow-up questionnaires immediately after they met the parents and again questioned five months later. The two Year 4 teachers and the school Head teacher were interviewed. Collecting the data in such varied ways allowed for triangulation.

The artist spoke individually to both classes within the Year 4 group, speaking for 14 and 19 minutes respectively. Alternatively, the carpenter presented to the year group as a whole for a duration of 15 minutes. Similarly, both utilised props to capture the attention of the children: the artist her own work and the carpenter his tools and wood. The talks by both sparked questions from the children, both falling mostly into three categories:

  • Questions about the nature of their job
  • Questions about becoming an artist/a carpenter
  • Questions about what they got from the job

Interestingly, the carpenter’s presentation raised questions surrounding the possibility of changing job roles throughout life and the role of gender stereotyping in specific occupations. Following up with the teachers from these sessions, children were able to engage in more complex debates. The artist’s appearance stimulated a discussion regarding the meaning of school, whether that be to ultimately find employment or to develop a sense of self. Pupils were invited to complete forms questioning how much they had learned about both of the jobs, which they completed with ease indicating the children engaged well with the careers talks.

The researcher returned to the school after a five month period with a form asking the children to recall ‘two people who came in to talk about their jobs’. Of the 52 forms returned 45 of the children mentioned both the artist and the carpenter, while 6 only mentioned the carpenter and 1 only the artist. The detail of memory varied between the children yet the majority revealed specific facts about the skills of the professionals and what they made in their jobs. However, confusion arose between the pupils regarding the qualifications needed to pursue both careers. Recounting information after a long period suggests the speakers had a high level of influence upon the Year 4 pupils. Whilst also learning skills for work and employment possibilities, the ‘Careers Week’ was a perceived as an effective platform for the pupils to develop their speaking and listening skills.

The benefits of career education has also been cited within other preceding literature. Erikson (1965) theorises that children between the ages of 6 and 10 are eager and willing to learn and experience new things using their initiative. This concept is furthered by Super (1996) who suggests that children grow during a period of developing their ‘fantasies’ into ‘interests’. Seligman (1994) too notes the importance of the fantasy stage in childhood development, offering a unique possibility to experiment adult roles in a risk-free setting. Finally, Law (1996) theorises the ‘career learning theory’ occurring during primary schools years when children learn to ‘sense’, ‘sift’, ‘focus’ and ‘understand’. These qualities allow children to mature and make more autonomous decisions.

The author here situates this study within the background theoretical literature, arguing that Key Stage 2 is a critical period of child development within which careers education can play a vital role. High levels of inquisition and engagement amongst the children studied indicates their receptiveness to learning about employment opportunities and skills. Whilst broadening horizons about the world of work, careers events can also bolster student competencies in decision-making, presentation, sociability, listening and planning. The author suggests developing successful career engagement for primary age children should emphasise activity and creativity and be followed by written exercises.