Starting Early: Building the foundations for success

Making the case for interactions with the world of work at primary-age: helping children broaden their horizons; overcome stereotypes; and become more motivated in class.

Starting Early reveals:

  • Children as young as five have ingrained stereotypical views about the jobs people do, based on their gender, ethnicity, and social background
  • Most children’s career aspirations are based on family, friends, and the media, with less than 1% knowing about a job from someone visiting their school
  • Aspirations are narrow and out-of-sync with labour market demands
  • Career aspirations are surprisingly persistent over time, similar at age 17-18 as among primary school children. Aspirations ultimately only resolve in later harsh entries to the labour market, as supply jarringly adjusts to demand

These narrow, stereotyped views lead to a steep cost in economic prosperity, occupational diversity, and individual career fulfilment.

The value of interactions with the world of work at primary age

This report evidences an approach that is underexploited in addressing the above challenge: giving children access to role models from the world of work and empowering teachers to connect directly with employer volunteers to organise high-quality learning. These activities reduce stereotypes, enhance confidence, foster a positive attitude towards school, and improve attainment.

Why career-related learning matters in primary schools

Evidence from teachers, children, sector leaders, and researchers suggests that career-related learning enriched with employer activities brings many benefits for primary children:

  • Increases motivation and attainment by helping children see the relevance of learning and building positive attitudes towards school, particularly among the most disadvantaged children
  • Improves social mobility by providing children with access to role models who can inspire them and broaden their horizons, showing that their background does not need to determine their future
  • Ensures children do not rule out career options for themselves, simply because they do not realise the details and benefits of the full range of opportunities open to them

Activities in primary schools look different to the career education that may be familiar in secondary schools. The emphasis in primary is on diversity, exploration, and making learning fun. Activities excite children about the subjects they are doing and show them the relevance to their futures.

The question is not whether career-related learning should start at primary age. We already know young children are playing, thinking, and talking about jobs – the experiences, interactions, and questions that drive this behaviour can hardly be prevented even if we wanted to. The question is whether we actively support such learning through the school system. Schools can introduce more diverse experiences to more children, especially those with fewer chance-encounters in their day-to-day life, and frame those experiences in positive, constructive ways.

Starting Early: Building the foundations for success

Benefits of virtual interactive activities: low-cost and nationwide-reach

Career-related learning in England remains non-statutory at primary age, but there is widespread enthusiasm among schools and teachers for increasing provision. Recent innovations in virtual live and pre-recorded events with interactive activities, prompted by the ongoing pandemic, point a pathway towards low-cost, blended delivery to provide nationwide coverage, unconstrained by local geography.

Key research findings

Gathering ideas of some 1,000 teachers and 10,000 children in England, underpinned by case study insights, qualitative discussions and international evidence, the following key findings are presented in this report:

  • After participating in a career-related learning event, 82% of around 9,300 children agreed that “I now understand how learning maths/English/science can be useful in many jobs.”
  • Out of some 1,200 children in schools with the most economically disadvantaged students,78% said, “I now know there are lots of jobs available to me when I grow up,” and 74% said, “I feel more confident in what I can do after today’s activity.”
  • A randomised control trial of primary age enterprise education in the Netherlands shows gains in areas like self-efficacy, persistence, and creativity.
  • Benefits in areas like career aspirations, attendance, and attainment, particularly for disadvantaged pupils, were identified in an analysis of around 5,000 9-10-year-olds in the UK comparing intervention schools against control group schools
  • A survey of almost 10,000 primary children showed that the more career-related learning pupils had done – and the more jobs they had heard about – the more likely they were to have a job they were interested in for the future and the more positive they felt about school subjects
  • A series of US studies relate improved career-related learning and counselling with higher grades in standardised tests, with example increases of c. 6% pts in proficiency rates in English and maths compared to similar schools that did not implement the programme


Read the full report