Primary careers why, who and how?

Primary careers

By Janet Colledge

In November the CDI announced a new UKCDA award category, Primary School Careers Activity/Programme, sponsored by National Careers Week. Also, the Careers and Enterprise Company will be announcing their fund for development of primary school programmes and activities. This is in response to the provision of a £2m pot of money to explore what works best in primary careers activities and programmes, which was revealed in the careers strategy announced by Anne Milton in December 2017.


I remember reading somewhere, quite some time ago, that if you asked a primary school pupil what they wanted to be when they grew up, the chances are that you’d get one of ten stock answers. Teacher, Nurse, Doctor, Train Driver etc. I can’t cite this source, if you know where it is please let me know, but empirically I believe it to be correct. However, a similar conclusion has been drawn in the Education and Employers research published in January 2018 which, concludes that primary pupils develop stereotypical and limited careers ideas at an early age, as educationalists we need to challenge those limiting beliefs and provide young people with experiences outside of their normal limited understanding. The research also concluded that ambitions are influenced by social background and there is a major disconnect between the jobs that young people aspire to and those that are likely to exist when they leave school.

There is growing evidence of the rise in popularity of providing careers learning in primary schools and it can most easily be found in the existence of the Primary Futures programme which operates nationally and the primary versions of the Quality in Careers Standard which validates excellence in careers programmes.


There are lots of primary schools which already have careers activities and some that have coherent careers programmes. Primary schools, on the whole tend to have a more holistic view of education and view careers as a natural progression of their preparing a young child for life after primary. However, there is no specific requirement for primary schools to deliver careers learning other than the Citizenship curriculum for KS1 & 2 which states that pupils should learn about the range of jobs carried out by people they know, and to understand how they can develop skills to make their own contribution in the future.


For the purposes of this article, I draw the distinction between one off careers activity, such as WOW (world of work) days or career days and fuller programmes which include various different elements over the full year. These programmes may of course include the one-off activities as part of a programme. Whilst many primary schools have one off careers activities on their calendar, few have programmes which are delivered sequentially over the school year with progressive learning outcomes. The challenge for schools to deliver the later are huge but not insurmountable, it just needs a little thought and perhaps a fresh eye to move from ‘We’ve always done it like that’, to ‘We could try this’. Inspiration and willingness to experiment is the key.

There are, as yet, limited resources for KS1&2 careers, my Pinterest boards for KS1 and KS2 has links to many of them. So, we need to be thankful for the small number of very creative and forward-thinking teachers have been working to develop what works in their own schools. Many primary schools took part in National Careers Week last year, a good number entered the case study competition and you’ll find the best ones on the NCW website.

Teachers looking for guidance on how to include careers learning in the primary curriculum or even secondary teachers looking to work with their feeder schools, can find support in the late Bill Law’s Dots framework which breaks career learning down into 4 areas. Whilst its roots are more than 20 years old, they are still as relevant today as they were then.
Decision Making
Transition Planning
Planning activities around those 4 areas makes it easier to link careers learning to the experience of primary school pupils and also to the subjects within the National Curriculum. In fact, there is specific information for primary schools within Bill Law’s report on DOTs which can be downloaded from his website.  It focusses on how pupils learn to ‘sense’, ‘sift, ‘focus’ and ‘understand’. This can be linked directly to the recently updated CDI framework for Careers Employability and Enterprise Education which encompasses learning outcomes for KS2 to post 16.

One final thought, don’t do it alone, secondary schools, work with your feeder primaries, support progression and flourish together.

Photo by Anita Jankovic on Unsplash

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