The importance of widening the future horizons of primary pupils

New evidence of the positive impact of role models for primary school pupils, released by Primary Futures and the Careers and Enterprise Company, reinforces the decision of Future First to increase our work with younger children, writes Lorraine Langham

Not only does the recent Scaling Up report by Primary Futures show that the motivation, confidence and attainment of primary children improve when they meet relatable role models, it also concludes that children from disadvantaged backgrounds benefit the most.

Primary Futures’ work focuses on bringing volunteer role models from the world of work into contact with primary school children. This is something Future First has also been doing for a number of years; since 2012 we have worked with law firm Ashurst to provide Year 6 pupils in Tower Hamlets, East London, with an insight into the range of jobs that may be available to them in the future. This is vital work given Tower Hamlets is a London borough where child poverty remains a severe problem.

With research finding young people’s perceptions of their future often sets at a very young age, it is essential we provide primary children with early insights into the broad range of options open to them. However, there is far more we can all do to support young children to prepare and strive for the future.

The Careers and Enterprise Company has recently published an evaluation report of its Primary Fund programme. Successes identified in the report include that 71% of participating schools felt the programme had a positive impact on pupils’ understanding of the world. Barriers to success included schools feeling they lacked the time to deliver career-related learning. Future First has long recognised the capacity challenges schools face, and our work with the KPMG Foundation is just one of the examples of how we have supported primary schools to improve the life chances of their pupils. In its first year, this programme reached hundreds of pupils and the assistant headteacher at one of the 15 partner schools we worked with admitted her surprise at the impact of the initiative. “Originally, I saw alumni as a source of support for fundraising but, actually, in terms of curriculum, education and aspiration, it’s worked much better than I expected.”

However, there is another area where it is crucial we support our primary pupils to thrive and succeed and that is through the transition to secondary school; this is particularly true given the pandemic has created anxiety and uncertainty for many young people. Our latest initiative with primary schools, Bridging the Gap – made possible thanks to generous funding from the SHINE Trust – had a marked success in its first year. Working with schools in Sheffield and Sunderland, this pilot programme saw Year 10 students return to their former primary schools to support pupils about to make this transition.

It’s a win-win

Evaluation of the pilot found increased optimism among the participating Year 6 pupils for starting secondary school, as well as a sense that they had learnt a lot from their young mentors about the move.

The benefit of using relatable role models for young people has always been at the heart of Future First’s philosophy, and our focus on engaging alumni to return to their schools is the bedrock of our work. Not only have our programmes consistently proved beneficial to students, but volunteers have also felt they benefit from the experience. The same has proved true of Bridging the Gap, with the participating Year 10 students sharing that the experience had increased their confidence in themselves and their abilities. For the programme to have benefited both primary and secondary students simultaneously is particularly pleasing.

The importance of intervening at an early age to ensure young pupils’ perceptions of their future prospects are not needlessly restricted is now being recognised by governments around the world. The New Zealand government has recently rolled out its Inspiring the Future programme in primary and intermediate schools across the country. Education minister Chris Hipkins used the launch to highlight the danger of allowing children to form stereotypes about their career options. He emphasised the importance of helping to broaden their aspirations and stopping them from ruling out career possibilities based on their “gender, ethnic or socio-economic background”.

The need to nurture, enhance and widen the career horizons of teenagers has long been recognised; we need to ensure the same recognition is unquestionably accepted for primary school children. The earlier we start to support our young people to recognise their true potential, the greater their success will be.

We will all be the beneficiaries.

Lorraine Langham is Chief Executive of Future First, the UK education charity helping young people in state schools and colleges broaden their horizons by connecting them with former pupils and other positive role models.

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