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Positive impact of role models on school life revealed

A new report has shown the positive impact of meeting relatable role models on the motivation, confidence and attainment of primary-aged children.

Interventions benefit social mobility and counter the ingrained stereotypical views children often have about the jobs people do based on their gender, ethnicity and socio-economic background.

The greatest impact is on children from disadvantaged backgrounds, who often don’t get access to a diversity of role models, which has been especially the case during lockdown.

As the largest study of its kind, involving 370 primary schools across 114 local authorities, and with detailed responses from around 10,000 children, Scaling Up explores the impact of activities with role models from the workplace.

The report shows benefits include gains in attitude to school and learning, and improved attainment and engagement, with 82% of children more motivated in core subjects of maths, English and science.

Disadvantaged pupils benefit most according to the study, with the impact of activities greater for disadvantaged pupils, especially for gains in confidence, speaking, listening and aiming high/trying hard.

The study was conducted as part of the Primary Futures programme which is run by the Education and Employers charity in partnership with the National Association of Headteachers. The scheme enables schools to invite volunteers with different jobs to talk with pupils about what they do, helping children see the opportunities open to them.

67,388 children took part in activities during the pandemic, thanks to the innovative and hard work of teachers across the country who helped develop interactive virtual activities. These have opened-up new learning opportunities for children to meet ‘people like them’ working in jobs they might never otherwise have known about until they were grown up themselves.

The virtual programme means that a primary aged child living in Blackpool can meet and ask questions of a TV Producer working in visual effects based in London, or children in Cornwall can hear from someone who arranges Antarctica tours based in Scotland as part of their polar regions school topic; and a child at a rural school in Wiltshire can quiz an Experimental Archaeologist in York.

Report data includes pre and post pupil analysis, teacher and volunteer feedback, together with school case studies and sample pupil work.

Scaling Up builds on findings from the report Starting Early, published earlier this year, which reveals that career aspirations of seven-year-olds are often relatively unchanged by the time they reach the age of 18, and are worryingly influenced by gender, ethnicity and social background stereotypes. The research also shows that children are heavily influenced by the people they either meet every day or see on TV.

Karen Giles, Head Teacher at Barham Primary School in Wembley and trustee of charity Education and Employers, said:

A key part of the solution to the post-Covid education recovery and challenging stereotypes is giving children access to role models from the world of work who can inspire, motivate and help children see why education is relevant.

Nick Chambers, Chief Executive, Education and Employers said:

Expanding the opportunities for children from disadvantaged backgrounds to meet a wide range of successful professionals helps widen their aspirations – which may be high but narrow – because often they encounter a smaller range of role models in their day-to-day lives.

Founder Member of Campaign Collective, chair of the Public Relations & Communications Association Charity and Not-For-Profit Group. Write mainly about charity, public sector and social enterprise campaigns.