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A design for life: putting in place careers guidance at primary level

In Ashington, Northumberland, two primary schools have been awarded the Career Mark accreditation for their skills-focused careers programme.

Head of School, Louise Hall, and Executive Headteacher, Andy Roberts, share an insight into what’s made the curriculum model at Bothal Primary School and Central Primary School a success.

How it works

Head of School, Louise Hall: The values and aims of our schools are all focused on skills and careers and our curriculum is designed around a series of ‘passports’. Each passport represents a sector, like engineering or design, and through these children can explore the world of work. We also have facilities like our Primary Engineer Lab, Akzo Nobel Inspiration Suite and Stratstone Tyneside BMW Engineering Room which offer sponsored learning environments and give children a flavour of the environment within different companies.

Executive Headteacher, Andy Roberts: We create a world that children can enter and feel that they’re working towards their own futures. Something to support their ambitions and plant seeds about what they might want to do in the future.

Getting started at an early age

Andy: There was a gap in this provision at primary. Children need to learn about careers sooner rather than later and begin to understand how what they’re learning in school applies to the wider world. We’ve put this in place before they move on to secondary school so there’s a continuous route in place for pupils to follow.

Measuring effectiveness

Louise: One of the biggest challenges has been how to assess the impact of this work. The Good Career Guidance Benchmarks underline the importance of evaluation and we introduced tracking questionnaires for our pupils all the way through the school, starting at reception, so we can see the changes in their knowledge and attitudes. For example, we can see a child move from saying that they want to be an engineer, to being able to say what type of engineering they’re interested in.

We’re also working with Skills Builder to add a framework to assess skills, and we’ve put in place programmes for teachers to develop and reflect on their own skillsets.

Harnessing support from networks

Andy: To have employers involved is wonderful for the children and means that we can focus on what skills are needed in our area and what employers are looking for – as well as what the children are interested in.

The North East LEP also helped us to network within the North East with other schools, learn from each other, and access the latest research. It’s been really beneficial for us and the other schools and we’re grateful for their support as it’s given us a lot more confidence that we’re doing the right things.

Futureproofing the model

Louise: When the pandemic hit, there were so many things to deal with, but the North East LEP helped us keep careers at the fore and consider how we could change what we do to fit in with changes to the world of work – they helped us futureproof our model.

Coming out of lockdown, we thought the pandemic would have had an impact on what children wanted to do when they leave school. Would they still think there are opportunities out there for them? But out of 1,500 children, we found that the vast majority still knew what they wanted to do, and that the trends had shifted slightly to include more roles such as police officers and teachers.

Advice for other schools

Louise: Over the years, our model has evolved. At the start, we worked with individual businesses on projects but we found that wasn’t sustainable. I’d say to other schools, use industry partners to complement your curriculum model but don’t be reliant on a specific business.

Most importantly, it needs to be intrinsic in the vision of the school, not a bolt-on, or it will fall by the wayside.

Andy: Putting a model like this in place may not be the easiest thing to do but if you ask employers for support they’re often willing to provide that - it’s all about building relationships with industry.

The impact on children

Andy: While some of our children have ambitions such as being a footballer, they also know how realistic it is to be successful in that career, and they know that the skills they’re learning are transferrable so they can change their mind, and they’re not being pigeonholed.

All our learning contributes towards an understanding of the wider world, including the world of work. They have to love and enjoy the learning, and we can see that our children do love it.