Careers education: Investment is needed, now

Written by: Russell Hobby | Published:
Image: Adobe Stock

Almost 700,000 young people are currently NEET and they are more likely to be disadvantaged. If we are to tackle this head-on, says Russell Hobby, investment in careers education in schools is needed – now


Education has many goals but central among them is to fully prepare every child for their future.

Unfortunately, children from disadvantaged backgrounds often face additional challenges that do not affect their more affluent peers.

From a lack of high-quality careers education to difficulties accessing work experience and job opportunities, many factors contribute to people from disadvantaged backgrounds being excluded from education, employment or training (NEET).

Figures from the Office for National Statistics reveal there are as many as 692,000 young people who are NEET (ONS, 2022) while disadvantaged people are twice as likely as wealthier peers to be in that position (Gadsby, 2019).

To ensure equal opportunities for all young people, we must prioritise careers education early on in a student’s education journey. Improving careers awareness and accessibility of work experience, particularly in areas of disadvantage, will provide more young people with the knowledge and skills they need to make informed choices about their next steps into further education and the world of work.

It is an issue that has been recognised by the MPs on the Education Select Committee, who earlier this year launched an inquiry into the effectiveness of careers education in schools and its accessibility for disadvantaged young people.

Barriers to careers lessons

It is important to identify the specific barriers young people from disadvantaged backgrounds face.

Schools, particularly in disadvantaged communities, often lack the resources to provide thorough and dedicated careers education. Funding, time and effort are often diverted to more immediate issues, such as tackling lower academic attainment rates and more complex pastoral needs as a result of external factors, including poverty and problems at home.

Improving the depth and breadth of careers education is particularly important given the complexity and variety of career paths available to those who may prefer to pursue more technical post-16 pathways. Guidance and support around career choices can help build aspirations and career goals, encouraging all students to find the path that is right for them.

Consistent, high-quality careers education can also help tackle class and gender-based stereotypes and challenge low career self-efficacy.

Work experience accessibility is another key issue, as it remains a crucial aspect of preparing students with the essential skills and confidence to compete in an increasingly competitive jobs market.

Subject to a “postcode lottery” of access, young people within remote regions or from disadvantaged backgrounds often lack the same opportunities, connections or financial means to experience the world of work.

This can have significant ramifications for students, failing to spark aspirations, boost self-confidence or encourage long-term engagement with learning.

Primary and secondary

Further investment in careers education within schools is vital and this education must begin at the primary school level if we wish to prevent young people from being prematurely excluded from particular career paths.

Early intervention will help to encourage and bolster pupils with the confidence to pursue their highest possible career aspirations.

To achieve this, we have been calling (Teach First, 2021) for the Department for Education to develop a framework for effective careers education in primary that aligns with the eight Gatsby Benchmarks (the standards for good careers guidance).

This must be paired with additional funding to train and support primary school teachers in disadvantaged areas to aid with the implementation of the framework. The commitment announced in the schools White Paper to launch a new careers programme for primary schools in areas of disadvantage will be an important step towards that goal.

Access to work experience

Historically, work experience has demanded physical proximity and the financial means to attend an office everyday as part of the placement. However, the Covid-19 pandemic has demonstrated that significant parts of many modern jobs can be done almost entirely remotely.

While in-person work experience remains valuable to increasing soft skills such as communication and becoming accustomed to a working environment, remote options now allow employers to offer students opportunities, regardless of their location or means.

Large employers in particular should look to develop their offers of virtual or “blended” placements, and entry level jobs, so that all young people have the chance to gain this vital first step in their careers. Schemes like these also ensure that the employers themselves are receiving the very best, diverse talent.

Outreach programmes that specifically target schools in disadvantaged areas – with the costs covered by the employer – should also be developed to ensure these opportunities are accessible to all.

Thorough and equal careers guidance and support are essential to ensuring that young people from disadvantaged backgrounds receive the knowledge and experience of the working world they need to succeed beyond school.

If we want to level the playing field between disadvantaged pupils and their more affluent peers, we need increased government funding for dedicated careers education resources – it’s an essential part of providing all children, regardless of background, with a fighting chance in to succeed.


Further information


SecEd Summer Edition 2022

This article first appeared in SecEd's Summer Edition 2022. This edition was sent free of charge to every secondary school in the country. A digital edition is also available via www.sec-ed.co.uk/digital-editions/


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