How to foster aspirations

There is no doubt that it is important for students to have aspirations, but how easy is it for schools to foster these aspirations, particularly for students who may have limited experience of different career paths out of school?

Firstly it is important to understand that all young people are individuals and this means that a one size fits all approach won’t work.  For those of us of a certain age, the paths at school were clear.  If you were an academic it was expected you did A-levels then went to university, if you weren’t then you left at 16 and got a job in an office or doing manual work.  A multiple-choice questionnaire dictated if your preference was as an ‘outdoor’ or ‘indoor’ worker, someone who liked ‘working with their hands’ or were a ‘creative thinker’.   It was very much a cut and dried process.

Thankfully, careers education has moved on massively since then and there are many more routes that young people can choose to take.  So how do we open their eyes to these and, in the case of some youngsters, raise their aspirations to be more than their immediate surroundings?

Mentoring

A formalised arrangement between school and business to provide mentoring sessions over a period of time is one way of ensuring students have access to real world role models There are some great schemes out there to support this such as Mosaic’s Secondary School programme: https://www.mosaicnetwork.co.uk/mentor/secondary-school-programme/

You can also create your own mentoring scheme if you have strong links with a local business and their employees are DBS checked (or your school is happy to do this for them).  Identify a group of students who you want to target, and decide what you want them to get out of the sessions.  Make sure that you link the students with appropriate role models from the business – you want to raise aspirations but a poor connection to a mentor might mean they are discouraged.  To avoid this they will need to see a connection with the mentor.  One way to do this might be get the volunteers to write pen portraits of themselves, including what they were like at school, to match them up to the appropriate student.

Local Community Role Models

For some students, meeting people from business is too far removed from their day to day life to be meaningful for them.  When this is the case, role models from their immediate community may help.  Contact ex-students and ask them to send you a summary of what they have done since they left you along with photographs.  Create a display of these or plan a lesson where these are used as inspiration for students to write their own ‘Future Profile’ imagining it is five or ten years in the future and they have been asked by the school to send in details about their career paths – what would they want them to say?

Parents can also be excellent role models. Invite them into school for an ‘our parents as role models’ assembly or speed dating event where students rotate round different parents to talk to them about their career journeys.  When planning a careers convention, send out an email to parents asking if any of them would be willing to have a stall.  Or just simply create a display of parents’ career journeys with photos.

Fun Activities

Create a quiz of school staff’s previous jobs.  You could provide a list of which staff have taken part if you want to make it a bit easier, or set a challenge to the students for them to try and find out who did what over the course of a week. This will get students talking to staff about what they did before they ended up working in their school.  Young people often imagine we were born as teachers / technicians / support assistants etc; this way they learn that everyone has a career journey, even the people they can’t imagine doing anything else!  Aspirations can be raised and connections built between the most unlikely people. For example, when the argumentative year 9 realises that his Geography teacher actually used to be a Sergeant in the Army or the stroppy Year 11 finds out that her Science teacher used to be an actor!

One off events

A comprehensive employability curriculum should have a range of opportunities for young people to be inspired by role models over the course of a year.  A Careers Convention is a great way for a large number of students to meet lots of role models in one event.  The danger in terms of raising aspirations however is that students will only go to the stalls of those people whose careers they are already interested in.  One way of getting round this is to create a questionnaire with prizes, they have to speak to all the stalls in order to find out all the answers.  Another way might be to invite an organisation like the Federation of Small Businesses https://www.fsb.org.uk/ to your event.  You can direct students who are adamant about what they want to do towards them to raise their aspirations by inspiring them to start their own business.

Summary

However you choose to raise your students aspirations, the main thing is that you do it!  Open their eyes to a wide range of opportunities, give them lots of chances over their school career to meet a full range of role models, help them make connections and think creatively about their futures.

About the Author

Michelle Hogan is a teacher and careers specialist with 10 years’ experience as Head of Careers in a secondary school.  She has recently left teaching to set up her company Own Futures – www.ownfutures.co.uk, providing careers and employability lessons and advice about strategy to primary and secondary schools.