Gaps in careers guidance provision hit girls, minorities and the poor

Written by: Pete Henshaw | Published:
Image: iStock

Research involving 13,400 year 11 students has revealed significant gender, racial and social inequalities in careers education and work experience opportunities. Pete Henshaw reports

Girls, minority ethnic, working class and lower-attaining pupils are all “significantly less likely” to have received careers education, researchers have discovered.

Data collected from more than 13,400 young people in year 11 in England, including in-depth interviews with 70 students (and 62 parents), reveal that only 62.5 per cent have received careers education and only 44.8 per cent have undertaken work experience.

Within these statistics, researchers found significant gaps, with disadvantaged students, girls, and those from ethnic minorities more likely to be losing out.

A report summarising the findings has been published this week calling for government policy to include a focus on participation rates and asking for more support for schools to help them target specific groups of pupils.

It is all part of the ASPIRES 2 project – the second phase of 10-year longitudinal research studying young people’s science and career aspirations and being run by King’s College London.
ASPIRES 1 originally tracked the development of young people’s aspirations from age 10 to 14 (2009-13). ASPIRES 2 is continuing this work to understand the influence of family, school, careers education, and social identities and inequalities on young people’s year 11 outcomes, post-16 choices and aspirations.

Notably, the report warns that careers education is not just “patchy” but is “patterned, particularly in terms of social inequalities”. It highlights a number of gaps in provision, including:

  • Gender: boys reported receiving “significantly more” careers education than girls. They also did more work experience.
  • Ethnicity: White students are “significantly more likely” to get careers education then minority ethnic students. The least likely to receive careers education were Black and Chinese pupils.
  • Social class: disadvantaged students receive “significantly less” careers education. Students with “very high cultural capital” were 1.49 times more likely to have received careers education compared to those with “very low cultural capital”.
  • School sets: students in the lowest sets at school were also “significantly less likely” to receive careers education and to undertake work experience.
  • Location: students in the North East, North West and Yorkshire were “significantly less likely” to have taken part in work experience. Those in the South West were “significantly more likely” to have done so.
  • Post-16 choices: a student planning on studying A levels is 1.52 times more likely to have had careers education compared to those planning on entering full-time work post-16.

Overall, the report warns that only 56.5 per cent of the students were happy with the quality of their careers education in school.

The research, which has a focus on science study, also found that students with high science aspirations were more likely to have had careers education and to be satisfied with it. However, they are “significantly less likely” to have undertaken work experience. The report also warns:

“Girls and students with low cultural capital are significantly less likely to take part in extra-curricular STEM opportunities such as ambassador schemes, science fairs and after-school science clubs.”

The report uncovers a need for better careers support to boost young people’s confidence. It states: “In the interviews, most young people indicated that they want and require more support to navigate the careers education system – this was especially the case for those from marginalised backgrounds, who were more likely to report feeling ‘scared’ or ‘unsure’.”

Students in the study also felt that careers education was offered too late, often after they had handed in their GCSE option choices. Students also complained that schools’ careers provision focused on “channelling students into their own routes”, such as promoting A levels ahead of other options.

The report concludes: “Urgent attention needs to be given to acknowledging and redressing inequalities by gender, ethnicity and social class in terms of who is, and who is not, participating in careers education and work experience.

“Patchiness of provision is not just at the school level but also within schools. Careers education is failing to reach those most in need, notably girls, minority ethnic, working-class, low attaining students, those unsure of their aspirations and those who plan to leave full-time education post-16. Policy needs to focus on careers education ‘participation’, not just ‘provision’ – i.e. who is, and is not, taking up the different careers education offers.”

The researchers say that participation should also be focused upon and monitored at school level, more resources and support should be given to schools and other careers organisations to tackle these gaps, and that “opt-in” schemes should be checked to ensure they are not reinforcing inequalities.

The report adds: “Organisations should be provided with dedicated resourcing to target, engage and support disadvantaged groups. Particular emphasis should be given to ensuring the participation of girls, minority ethnic students, working-class students, students in bottom sets, those who are unsure of their post-16 plans and who plan to leave education post-16.”

The report comes as a review of evidence has been launched in a bid to identify the most effective types of careers education.

To be run by the Education Endowment Foundation and Bank of America Merrill Lynch the review will also look at the current state of careers education in state schools in England. The findings are due to be published later this year.

  • The ASPIRES project is funded by the Economic and Social Research Council. You can find out more and download the report – entitled ASPIRES 2 Project Spotlight: Year 11 students’ views of careers education and work experience – at or on Twitter @ASPIRES2science


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