Disadvantaged pupils’ careers aspirations do not match their educational goals, study finds

Pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds are disproportionately likely to have careers aspirations that do not match their educational goals, new research has found.

And those teenagers who underestimate the education needed for their chosen job are particularly likely to end up not in education, employment or training (NEET), the Education Endowment Foundation reveals.

The EEF has reviewed 96 studies, examining the effect of careers education on teenagers’ lives. It found that good-quality careers advice can make a significant difference to pupils’ academic, social and economic achievement.

Researchers found that those teenagers who have a good understanding of which academic qualifications they need in order to pursue their careers ambitions tend to do better economically in later life than their peers.

But this merely perpetuates the cycle of poverty: the researchers also found that teenagers from poorer homes are a lot more likely than their richer peers to be uncertain which qualifications they need in order to pursue their chosen careers. Disadvantaged pupils are therefore far less likely to acquire relevant skills and qualifications.

Postcode lottery

Previous research, conducted by the Sutton Trust, has found that careers provision in English schools tends to be subject to a postcode lottery, with some teenagers receiving much better advice than others.

Deirdre Hughes, principal research fellow at the University of Warwick’s Institute for Employment Research, and one of the authors of the report, said: “Clearly young people from poorer backgrounds are at a distinct disadvantage, compared with those who attend independent schools, where investment in careers education is a priority.

“More needs to be done to urgently rectify this situation in England’s schooling system.”

The academics also found that pupils who combine part-time work with full-time study tend to reap financial rewards in later life. However, teenagers today are far less likely to have part-time jobs than their equivalents 20 years ago. The proportion of British 16- and 17-year-olds who have a part-time job while still in education has plummeted from 42 per cent in 1997, to 18 per cent in 2014.

Informed decisions

But the authors of the report suggest that work-shadowing and work experience are also associated with positive economic outcomes in later life.

Sir Kevan Collins, EEF chief executive, said that high-quality careers advice was particularly essential, now that fewer pupils than before pick up skills during part-time jobs.

“Today’s report will help teachers and schools make informed decisions about the advice and support they offer,” he said.

Russell Hobby, general secretary of the NAHT headteachers’ union, agreed that careers education was vital in helping pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds to find fulfilling careers.

He added: “It is crucial to link work with study, and we would like to see this actually done earlier than is the norm.”

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