Primary school children

Why teach careers and equality at Key Stage 2?

It’s never too early for children to develop their understanding and start learning about careers and educational opportunities, and many already are. Children in the upper years of primary can be inspired, and form their first clear impressions of the world of work and future study. Many children are also starting to formulate stereotyped opinions around the world of work and higher education at this age, and it’s important to challenge this. This resource is designed to encourage and support children in reaching their potential, and recognise that prejudice and discrimination can sometimes limit this potential. It’s also important, however, that children of this age should not be asked to ‘choose’ careers, or even the pathways to those careers, but that they are given the space to explore and be excited about the breadth of opportunity for the future. Aspiration is not about reaching for the most prestigious or well paid jobs, it’s about pupils being the best they can be at whatever they choose to do.

Research shows that formal careers education, embedded within the curriculum, currently begins too late, and needs to start in primary school, as it currently does in Scotland:

  • In 2011, the Equality and Human Rights Commission published research on equality and careers. The research provided evidence on the links between identity, aspirations, choices and outcomes for children and young people, and highlighted a range of barriers to equal work opportunities across gender, disability, ethnicity, and socio-economic groupings. It showed that aspirations are formed at a relatively young age and that ‘gendered’ influences in particular, begin very early, with boys in primary school interested in sports, and girls in performing arts, hairdressing and nursing.
  • A recent Ofsted report: Girls’ Careers Aspirations similarly found that from an early age (ages 7-8), girls held conventionally stereotypical views about jobs for men and women.
  • Other research shows that children’s attitudes at primary school towards what they can and can’t do are good indicators of actual behaviour five years later, with up to 80% of children who state at 11 that they will stay at school after 16 doing so, and around 65% who state they won’t stay on, leaving at this age.

Good careers education has the potential to tackle issues around aspiration and stereotyped choices and to improve social mobility significantly, particularly when introduced early.

For example, in 2010, the Department for Education undertook a career-related learning pilot for Key Stage 2, called Pathfinder. Seven local authorities participated. As shown in the project evaluation, the pilot was successful in reducing gender stereotypical thinking among pupils about the jobs that they could do in the future, as well as closing the gap between disadvantaged pupils and their peers, in terms of their confidence in their own abilities and their choices for the future. There are a number of success stories in the case studies section that clearly show how positive the outcomes can be when a programme of careers and equality-related learning is embedded in the curriculum.

While there are no statutory requirements for primary schools to deliver careers guidance, many schools are already teaching careers and work-related education to KS2 pupils through the non-statutory programmes of study for PSHE.

In April 2012, the Association of Careers Education and Guidance introduced a new framework for careers and work-related education in England for 7-19 year olds. Click here to view this framework.

This resource will help primary schools to deliver effective teaching and learning to support achievement of the ACEG learning outcomes for Key Stage 2.

Teaching equality in relation to work-related learning will help you meet your obligations under the Public Sector Equality Duty which is set out in the Equality Act 2010.

Under the Act, maintained schools and academies, including free schools, must have due regard to the equality aims set out in the Public Sector Equality Duty (PSED). This means that they must consider what action they need to take to eliminate discrimination and harassment, to advance equality and to foster good relations between pupils with different protected characteristics.

Used properly, these resources provide a great opportunity for the enrichment of pupils’ school-life, well beyond any statutory requirements.

These materials also contribute to the Commission’s work in encouraging and supporting the development of a society in which people’s ability to achieve their potential is not limited by prejudice or discrimination. We also have the role of promoting understanding and encouraging good practice regarding equality and diversity. These materials are part of our work towards this.

Educational attainment has changed a lot in recent years – in 2008-9, 2.4 million students enrolled in higher education in the UK. Today, one in five university students are from ethnic minorities, and an increasing number of students with disabilities are attending – a considerable change from a time when educational opportunities were only available to a minority of young people.

However, evidence shows that educational attainment continues to be strongly associated with identity and socio-economic background, and that stereotypical information can limit children and young people’s options at an early age.

This section gives some context to this resource by outlining some of the main issues/challenges with regards to careers, higher education and equality that were identified in the Commission’s research: ‘All Things Being Equal?’ See pages 43–8 for more information.


  • Girls tend to have high aspirations in relation to both education and careers. However the success of girls in educational terms does not translate into similar advantages in terms of long term status and pay.
  • Children tend to view certain occupations as male (plumbing, engineering, construction) or female (nursing, hairdressing, childcare), along with stereotyped images of some occupations.
  • Fewer females participate in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths) studies, and consequently STEM occupations, with the exception of medicine.
  • There is distinct gender segregation among young people following vocational routes, with young women under-represented in the more highly paid sectors.


  • Disabled young people are less likely than others to feel able to achieve their potential, more likely to have considered dropping out of learning, and more likely to worry they will fail.


  • Ethnic minority young people are often more influenced by family and community expectations than other young people. These expectations can push towards academic, professional learning careers and away from vocational courses.
  • There are low expectations for some girls from ethnic minority backgrounds, particularly Pakistani and Bangladeshi girls.
  • Some girls from ethnic minority backgrounds feel they can’t apply for certain jobs because of their faith, ethnicity or gender.
  • Young people from Gypsy, Roma and Traveller communities have low aspirations for education. Their families often have limited or negative experience of formal education and tend to place less value on academic learning than on vocational trades.


  • Some young people with certain religious faiths may feel that they are unable to apply for certain occupations, for example in STEM based industries.

Lower socio-economic groups

  • Young people from socio-economically deprived backgrounds, particularly white males, are less likely to aspire to and to actually continue full-time education post-16.
  • Children of parents with low status or low paid jobs are less likely to consider going to university than those with parents in higher paid professional occupations. 

Last updated: 09 Dec 2016