When I grow up, I want to be ...

How they teach... careers; In our monthly series, Karen Gold talks to three teachers who guide pupils towards the world of work
Click to follow
Marie Woodall Careers education and guidance co-ordinator, Hinchingbrooke School (11-18 comprehensive),


They used to all want to be journalists. Now they all want to be criminal psychologists. It depends what's on television at the time. But you don't put them off. You encourage them to investigate further what the job's about. You want them to get the information, and then see if that matches up with what they know about themselves.

That process starts when they come into school in Year 7 with lots of self-awareness exercises: what makes them tick, what they enjoy and don't enjoy. And they do some work on people in school who aren't teachers: what they do in school and what they do out of school. We want to get them to see that people have different strengths and interests, and that they do a range of tasks and jobs. At that stage it doesn't appear to be anything to do with careers, but it is.

In Years 9 and 10 they have a personal learning plan where they look at what they're good at and what they're not so good at. They use that when they search a computer database that tells them about different jobs and about what kind of person you need to be to do them. It makes them think about levels of entry and responsibility, and how much further study they need.

If someone says they don't want to do any training after school but they want to be a brain surgeon, that's easy. It's the people in the middle who will get five Cs at GCSE or who will stay for the sixth-form but not university that are harder. Or the ones who have always wanted to go into the services but who have asthma and are going to fail the medical. That's very hard.

Work experience quite often changes people's minds. You find people who've always wanted to be hairdressers coming back saying "I hated it; this woman told me off all the time and I had to sweep the floor and I was on my feet all day." Or boys working in primary schools finding they really like children. Sometimes they complain that all they did was sweep the floor and make the tea, but that's what some people's jobs are like and they need to know that.

All the work is in tutor groups until the GCSE year, though anyone can ask to see a careers teacher. About 90 per cent of them have an interview with a careers adviser in year 11. There's usually about 12 who have three or four interviews because they've got particular problems. It's not like teaching them to choose a career. It's developing strengths and abilities in young people so they can make informed decisions.

Richard Allon Smith Careers master Cranleigh School (13-18 independent),


We make use of our network of Old Cranleighans: people who have volunteered to share their expertise. It could be young graduates in their mid-twenties, who have been through university and initial job entry and can share their advice from that angle, or it might be a more senior executive, prepared to give their views from the top end. They come to talk to students. We also use them in work experience, which we focus on in the lower sixth year. Up to 95 per cent of our students go on to higher education, so we are working in that sort of career frame, with personalised advice in the sixth-form.

We have links with 60 or 70 major companies where people go off for work experience. Some of them go to London to banks and accountancy firms and insurance companies. We have links with architects' practices and biotechnology companies. I arrange trips to places like News International and the Body Shop headquarters.

We use the Surrey careers service and the independent schools careers service. We also use a firm of executive careers consultants: they arranged an evening session recently where Frank Dick (an international sports coach) talked to our fifth and sixth years about being one of life's winners and fulfilling personal aims, based on his experience of working with athletes.

They do aptitude and psychometric tests in their GCSE year, and some of them have asked for personal advice on their achievements and expectations. I think in the South-east and in an independent school you are usually dealing with self-confident young people, but even so you do want them to look at the widest range of options.

One is always looking to raise their horizons beyond the immediate academic treadmill, wanting to stress the transferable skills they will need as well as qualifications in the job market. The hardest thing is that there's an understandable desire to keep options open as long as possible, so you are seeking to stimulate them and, in some cases, to force them to make the right decisions at the appropriate time.

Hilary Boyd Careers co-ordinator, Pinewood School (11-16 special school for children with moderate learning difficulties)


Our pupils don't grasp new words easily, so they have to be taught careers language: things like what "employer" means, and "employee" and "on-the- job training". I use a lot of practical activities like games: I give them a picture of a person, say a postman, get them to mime what a postman does.

Some of them have set ideas about what they want to do, but they are usually realistic. That's because the younger children see the older ones going on work experience, and they see displays in school about work in retailing, warehouse work, general engineering, horticulture and agriculture, so that's what they tend to ask about.

We start with a transition plan. We look at ideas they have for when they leave at 16, and ideas their parents have. It's sometimes the parents who are still unrealistic at this stage. We had one boy whose parents thought he could run a computer business with his brother who's at university. It's true he can use a computer, but not at the level where he could work on a screen.

When we've got the transition plan I talk to the child about their interests and what they might want to do on work experience. I had a boy who was keen to do car mechanics and I had to point out that he probably couldn't do that because he wasn't a brilliant reader and wouldn't be able to follow a car manual. But I could also suggest other jobs with vehicles - like tyre and exhaust fitting, car valeting, forecourt attendant, panel beating and crash repairs - that he could do.

I gave him a leaflet that he could take home and discuss with his parents, and I showed him another student's work experience record about tyre fitting, because that's written at his level. It helps that we know we've got a link with an employer; I think employers are more reticent these days about offering work experience generally, and some don't want special needs students. That's why I always say to students they must be flexible, they mustn't think of only one career, because that's what the market is like these days.