Careers advice in primary schools

Written by: Steve Iredale | Published:
Future focus: The recent Primary Futures Apprenticeship event at Mayflower Primary School in London, including the popular ‘What’s My Line?’ activity that helps to challenge stereotypes about certain professions (Images: Emma Fitzgerald/Primary Futures)

The free Primary Futures programme offers a way to discuss skills and deliver careers advice with primary pupils. Steve Iredale explains more

Primary Futures, the project, led by the National Association of Head Teachers (NAHT) in partnership with the Education and Employers Taskforce (EET), was launched in October 2014. We are an integral part of the Inspiring the Future family, developed by the EET, which also includes Inspiring Women and Inspiring Governors.

The aims of the Primary Futures project are simple. To support the raising of standards of achievement for all primary age children, broaden horizons and aspirations with regards to their own futures, while reinforcing the importance of literacy and numeracy in their learning both in school and later life. Helping children to see a clear link and purpose between their learning and their futures is a central theme of our work.

We have full support from the main political parties in England, with politicians of all persuasions supporting and even joining some of our activities (but we receive no funding from government).

The fact that we are “NAHT-led” does not restrict our work to members and their schools. The NAHT link is in essence supporting the current drive by the association to reclaim the education agenda by demonstrating that a profession-led approach can make a real difference to children’s life chances, perhaps in the way a top down approach can’t!

We are keen to work with individual and groups of schools that are either community, academy trusts or any other grouping that the current fragmented system happens to throw up. Raising the aspirations of primary age children is our aim so the status and structure of the school really isn’t important.

I now lead the small team after taking early retirement from my Barnsley headship of 24 years to lead the project. We are on the road currently working across England with outline plans to expand later this year, which will of course require additional funding. This is an on-going challenge. Plans to expand into Wales and Northern Ireland are currently being developed with considerable potential in these as yet largely “Primary Futures free zones”.

In addition, we are planning some exciting Primary Futures activity in special schools with a slightly different focus. This work is being led by the NAHT SEND Committee with plans for a launch at this year’s annual conference in Birmingham in April.

We have also recently begun to pilot project work in coastal towns with exciting plans being developed in Blackpool. As well as school-led activity in individual schools a number of other bigger projects are being developed. These include working with middle leaders from the Reach2 Academy Trust in East Anglia, working alongside colleagues, potentially cross-phase, from the 40-plus schools in the North Tyneside Trust, and work with the Birmingham Education Partnership as one element of a major series of events planned across the city provisionally in June this year.

How does Primary Futures work?

Primary Futures is completely free and crucially is “school-led”. Schools are encouraged to sign up and register through our website. They then have access to a growing number of volunteers who have also signed up to share their experiences. Registered teachers can look through the growing lists of volunteers across their local authority area to get an idea of who is available and what their job or background is.

Schools then need to plan their Primary Futures strategy:

  • Who will lead it?
  • Will it be a one-off event or a series of events across a school year?
  • Which year groups will be involved?
  • Will their volunteers work with small groups or whole classes? Will there be a specific focus?
  • What’s the timescale?

Once these questions are answered it is time to contact your would-be volunteers, messaging via the user-friendly website and database.

The EET team is the engine room – they maintain and manage the ever-developing, all-important volunteer database, which is essential to our project’s growth and success. They also work tirelessly supporting schools via a helpline across all aspects of Primary Futures, work with the media, business and many departments of government. There are currently nearly 26,500 volunteers and more than 2,300 schools registered. If the volunteers you are looking for aren’t there, the EET team will do their best to help.

Many of our schools plan events and activities for their own children while others choose to work across a group of schools. For some schools we help to add value to activities they already have planned as part of their school year as they register and access our volunteers. The development of a series of curriculum-based activities is becoming increasingly popular as the value of using volunteers to support teaching staff in raising aspirations becomes evident.

In response to requests we have recently added some curriculum links to support working with our volunteers which are now on the website. This on-going work, led by teachers from a number of our schools, provides some ideas of how schools might choose to link volunteers to subject areas across the key stage 1 and 2 curriculum, with some suggestions of what they might do to enhance the aims of Primary Futures.

There are occasions when we focus on a high profile event linked to a national theme or perhaps as a way of introducing Primary Futures to a new locality. For example, our recent Apprentices Day at Mayflower Primary School in east London saw the prime minister’s Apprenticeships tsar, Nadhim Zahawi MP, launching our new activity strand to raise awareness of Apprenticeships at primary school level.

This ticked many boxes but most importantly opened up the world of apprentices to children of primary school age. Remember it is not about career choices but widening horizons and raising aspirations.

Our volunteers and what they could do in your school

Through Primary Futures teachers can access a vast network of volunteers from different backgrounds and professions – from apprentices to chief executives, archaeologists to zoologists, employees from small, medium-sized or multi-national companies, all of whom have signed up on our website to inspire your children.

We ask our volunteers to offer just one hour a year to inspire the next generation although experience tells us many give more than that as they find working with the children highly rewarding (as their positive feedback tells us).

There are many ways you can work with volunteers. For example they could talk to groups or classes of children about their background, their journey through the world of work to their current post and how their primary school learning, particularly in literacy and numeracy, was so important.

They are also often involved in “What’s My Line” activities in schools, which have proved popular as an introductory activity to a Primary Futures event and is also great for challenging gender and ethnic stereotyping.

Volunteers sometimes get involved in enterprise competitions and many even think about becoming school governors.
Primary Futures is simple, effective and is helping teachers to make a difference to the lives of our children. Time to join Primary Futures? “Our children, their futures.” Why wouldn’t you?

  • Steve Iredale is an NAHT past president and is the manager of the Primary Futures programme.

Further information and links


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