North East prioritises careers guidance in bid to raise aspirations among young people

Efforts to change the North East’s economic fortunes have seen a major emphasis being put in recent years on improving careers’ guidance in the region’s schools.

Though such efforts are, by their nature, long term, offering more information on possible careers, as well as to younger children, is seen as key to raising aspirations of young people in some North East communities, particularly families without a history of further education.

That effort was highlighted most recently in a House of Lords inquiry into youth unemployment, which singled out a pilot project led by the North East LEP to begin careers advice for children as young as seven after hearing from the LEP’s skills director Michelle Rainbow that: “By the age of seven, life-limiting decisions are already being formed in young people: the types of jobs that they can do or see their family doing; the types of jobs that suit their gender; or the types of jobs that they can or cannot do if they have a disability or a learning challenge.”

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That pilot project, which has involved 70 primary schools over the last two years, is now being extended and made available to all schools in Northumberland, Tyne and Wear and County Durham after it was shown to have improved children’s understanding of the range of future possibilities open to them, as well as enhancing teachers’ careers-related knowledge and skills.

Matt Joyce, who leads to the North East Ambition project at the LEP, said: “Evidence shows that children begin to form ideas about their futures when they’re as young as five or six. By the age of 10, many young people have already made career-limiting decisions, which are fixed by the time they’re 14.

“We wanted to help primary schools to embed a new approach to careers guidance for younger children which has been shown to broaden young people’s horizons, help them to see the link between what they learn in the classroom and their future careers, and improve their outcomes.”

An independent evaluation of the scheme found that careers leaders in primary schools who took part in the pilot project reported significant improvements in their own knowledge, skills and understanding as well as their pupils:

One of those teachers was Donna Scott, from Barnes Junior School in Sunderland.

She said: “It has been an extremely worthwhile pilot to be part of and the benchmarks will continue to enhance the provision in school. Our children are interested in the connection between what they are learning and real life, and it make sense to link today’s learning to future aspirations – to help nurture and develop our pupils’ confidence to chase their dreams.”

Meanwhile, a study from Oxford University has shown that young people in the North East taking part in another careers guidance scheme have better industry knowledge and are significantly more focused on their future career plans than other young people.

The study of 1,600 year 10 and 11 pupils in 28 North East schools focussed on the Department for Education’s Opportunity North East programme, part of which involves providing enhanced careers advice to schools in both the North East and Tees Valley LEP areas.

The study found that pupils on the programme, which is delivered by the region’s two LEPs, had significantly higher levels of career planning and engagement than those not on the programme. Involvement in the programme outweighed other factors, including gender, parental graduate status or ethnicity, which have previously been shown to be the most significant influences on the career aspirations of children.

The study found that “compared with the national set of all pupils, North-East pupils’ career plans are significantly more focused”, adding that North East pupils were also slightly more confident in key areas for employability, including creativity, business awareness, teamwork and communication.

Katherine Cowell, regional schools commissioner for the North and a member of the Opportunity North East strategic board, welcomed the study.

She said: “I’m grateful to Oxford University for supporting pupils and schools in our region through their Litmus Survey, and delighted that it has shown how the Opportunity North East programme is significantly benefitting young people in the North East. The Litmus Survey can really help schools to shape their careers offer, so that increasing numbers of young people find a pathway to a good job and future.”

Ellen Thinnesen, chair of the North East LEP’s skills advisory panel and chief executive of Education Partnership North East, said work to prioritise careers guidance for young people in the region had had a “significant, positive impact on both pupils and teachers”.

She added: “A particular strength of the North East LEP is that we’re well placed to help create strong partnerships between the education and business communities. This has helped us to focus on skills development for young people that reflects the skills priorities of industry, making sure that schools are setting young people up for a successful future.”

Now authorities in the region will be keeping a close eye on whether their efforts make a difference when the generation of North East youngsters currently at school begin to enter the world of work.

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Graeme WhitfieldRegional business editor