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Primary School Children

Volume 792: debated on Wednesday 18 July 2018


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what plans they have to increase knowledge of work skills, careers and jobs amongst primary school children.

My Lords, it is crucial that we inspire children about the opportunities ahead from an early age. The Government have allocated £2 million in the careers strategy to test new approaches to careers provision in primary schools. Our aim is to learn more about what works so that children can develop positive attitudes about work by meeting employers and learning about different career options. We will share the results widely so that other schools can benefit and build their own expertise.

My Lords, the National Association of Head Teachers, to which about 98% of primary head teachers belong, has over the past five years developed a brilliant programme, Primary Futures, which has attracted international recognition—it even gets a mention in the DfE’s careers strategy. It gets volunteers from the world of work to go in to schools to inspire and motivate children and open opportunities for them. The noble Lord has mentioned the £2 million, but why have the Government given it to the Careers & Enterprise Company to replicate this work, instead of ensuring that the NAHT’s brilliant programme is rolled out across primary schools in the country?

My Lords, the noble Baroness is correct about the wonderful work that the Primary Futures programme is achieving. More than 3,000 primary schools are registered, and there are 37,000 volunteers and 10,000 employers. The reason we have allocated the money to the Careers & Enterprise Company is simply to broaden the research base for careers training, or at least awareness in primary schools, which is very important. When I ran into the noble Baroness in the corridor last week ahead of this Question, she said, “I do hope you will come up with something useful in your Answer”. What I can say today is that we are now extending the Gatsby benchmark programme—research that has wide support—to take it into primary schools. In January next year, a pilot involving some 70 primaries will translate these benchmarks for use at that stage.

My Lords, given the importance of public service and volunteering in our nation, will the Minister give priority to communicating the vocation to serve as part of the formation of our young people?

My Lords, it is quite right that in society one needs to give more than one takes, and the earlier we can inculcate that into children the better. To paraphrase Aristotle: give me the child until seven and I will give you the man—or the woman.

My Lords, does the Minister agree that many of the jobs that children currently in primary school will be doing have not yet been invented, and that therefore the most important thing for those children is that they should have the broadest possible range of educational opportunities? Does he agree further that, in particular, the creative industries have a very hopeful future, given their capacity to innovate, and should be kept firmly in mind when thinking about careers, and that children should learn to see what the opportunities in those areas might be?

My Lords, the noble Baroness is correct that we cannot be clear on future careers over the next 10 or 20 years. Underlying this, we have to ensure that young children are properly educated in the basics, and I am pleased to be able to report that the provisional key stage 2 data, which came out last week, show an ongoing improvement in the number of children achieving the national standard; it has gone up from 61% to 64%, which in turn was an increase from the previous year. I acknowledge the role of the creative industries, but there is a strong sense that STEM will be increasing the number of jobs at double the rate of other areas between now and 2023, and we are doing a lot to encourage STEM awareness in schools.

Does my noble friend agree that children at primary school should concentrate above all on the subjects that need to be grasped firmly at that early stage, such as the basic history of their country?

My Lords, of course understanding the basic history of our country is fundamental, but to do that they need a good knowledge of basic reading and writing, and that is what I was referring to.

Does the Minister agree that the primary stage is an opportunity to promote social mobility and challenge stereotypes? I congratulate the Government on the careers strategy. However, I am anxious that, as well as young children, we should also get parents involved in careers education, particularly in subjects such as engineering, and in getting young girls to take part in engineering. Does the Minister have any thoughts on this matter?

My Lords, I do indeed. The noble Lord is right that stereotyping happens at a very early stage and research shows that it is more pronounced among the lower-income groups. That is why I am so pleased that we have initiatives such as STEM Ambassadors, which sends volunteers out to visit children in primary as well as secondary schools. Some 42% of those ambassadors are women and we had over 30,000 volunteers last year. Indeed, I discovered at the weekend that my own daughter, when she was reading chemical engineering, was one of those STEM ambassadors and she visited schools to do as the noble Lord suggested.

My Lords, I declare an interest as President’s Envoy for Outreach at Imperial College. In the past six months, I have visited between 20 and 30 primary schools dealing with basic scientific issues for children between eight and 10. It is astonishing when you ask them which is the commonest gas in the atmosphere. They might come up with oxygen; they mostly come up with carbon dioxide and sometimes come up with hydrogen. Nitrogen is never recognised. Recently, when a child opted for nitrogen as the commonest gas, the science teacher told him in my presence that he was wrong. The problem is that the basic scientific knowledge of so many excellent primary school teachers is woefully inadequate. While the Government apparently recognise the value of primary school teachers, they do not do enough to ensure proper training in science, which leads children to so many of these careers. What can the Government do about that?

My Lords, what can I say? I accept that primary school teachers have to be generalists across a wide range of subjects. The noble Lord came across a disappointing example where the teacher was not necessarily explaining science properly. But we are doing more work on improving the curriculum in primary schools, and science is a key part of that.