It has been suggested that a person’s aspirations are shaped by the likelihood of them being achieved. When linked with the concept that a child’s belief in their ability to achieve something is in part based on whether they see those they consider to be peers achieving in a similar way, then it is no wonder that the biggest challenge to raising aspiration in schools is socio-economic status.
The longer the negative messages received by a child go unchallenged the harder they are to overcome, which is why raising aspiration in younger children is increasingly an issue being raised by school leaders.
Primary schools are increasingly pressured environments, so how can this be achieved without adding to that pressure? Working closely with your town or city’s university is one way that can raise aspirations without burdening teaching staff. Universities – especially if they charge higher fees – are duty bound to fund programmes to encourage diversity in their intakes. Get in touch with your local institution and get them into your school, some of the programmes are great and not just for secondary schools.
The idea of aspirations doesn’t just have to be about university – a concept that not only might be alien to many of the children but also not actually useful. It is about presenting choices and pointing out that they are possible. One way to achieve this is careers education. We are not advocating that children have to choose a career path at 7, just that they need to be exposed to the variety of jobs that exist.
Start with the major employers in the area but then make sure you branch out – look at jobs around the country, even abroad. Camp America will have local student advocates who may well be able to come into school to talk and show pictures of their adventures, or perhaps draw on the contacts within the school staff to have a sort of careers fair for older primary school. Arm the pupils with a question sheet to be filled in as they visit different adults to quiz them about their jobs.
Local uniformed services will also have community outreach programmes – the Police and Fire Service often visit schools as part of their community networking – but it could also be used as a way of presenting these roles as a career option. Link your existing work in this area to your reporting on raising aspirations and kill two birds with one stone! There is likely to be much you do without realising it, so you should take some time to audit existing scheme of work and see what can be built on in other areas as well.
Of course it doesn’t stop at primary school. KS3 is often overlooked as the focus is on careers fairs around transitional phases such as choosing options and post-16 education. Why not encourage years 7 and 8 to visit careers fairs, again, not to choose a career path, but to go on a fact finding mission. See what is out there.
Raising aspiration is all about increasing choices. So increase the choice that your students believe is available to them and their aspirations might just increase too.