Parent power: getting in the way or enhancing social mobility?

The recent GTI Media survey of parental influence upon children’s career choices packs a punch.

It shows the hearts and minds of UK parents need a spot of lifting, opening, re-educating and – in extreme cases – requiring a transplant if society is to achieve better career outcomes for children from all backgrounds and a more balanced take-up of post-18 career and educational options.

Sounds harsh on parents? The report shows they’re doing their jobs and helping their offspring decide what to do next after school – but ‘heading to university’ still seems like the be-all and end-all. While better-off and more formally educated parents claim they discuss alternatives to the traditional degree, the suspicion is many do so to quickly close down those options to instead chart a path mirroring their own experiences of higher education. These parents feel their views are high in the mix. Also, if they pay fees for independent schools they’re more likely to give the careers provision in those establishments a qualified thumbs-up (they’re probably right and you’d want to feel it’s worth paying for it wouldn’t you?). Of course they’ll see those schools as a means of buying a better place at university. But less-well off parents who haven’t been to university feel they’ve less clout when discussing post-18 options. At the same time, they may equate university as a leg-up the social ladder and a gateway to greater opportunities. Their impetus, too, is towards university life for their heirs.

Whichever way you look at it, the upshot is a massive parental endorsement of the status quo. Overall, only 5% of parents encouraged their children NOT to go to university and only 5% of them believed their children’s school promoted the work route as the best one to take.

Awareness of non-university routes is low, nay diddly squat, with a measly 1% of parents saying they know ‘a lot’ about school leaver programmes and 9% about apprenticeships and higher apprenticeships. Much of that must be because individual apprenticeship schemes don’t have the reputational gravity of respected courses in higher education. But also some of the terminology of the changing recruitment landscape causes confusion. What does a school leaver programme sound like to a parent (or teacher or child) if not an intermediate level apprenticeship?

The report makes grim reading for those wishing for a more equal society. Against all likely markers ABC1 parents feel ahead of the game compared with their C2DE compatriots:

  • Their own knowledge of and confidence in discussing career options
  • Levels of exploration on the part of their children regards potential career options
  • The amount of paid work experience their children have already undertaken
  • Satisfaction with careers provision within schools
  • Willingness to ask for help and support to find the right solution for their children

Schools careers provision gets a bit of a rough ride. Most parents think schools should be doing more to help and at an earlier stage. The government agrees. Truly – schools have got their work cut out implementing anything resembling a complete response to Careers Guidance and Inspiration in Schools, this year’s Department for Education list of statutory obligations for governing bodies, school leaders and school staff. But naturally parents want schools to focus upon one-to-one careers guidance for their children, although that will be too expensive for most schools and is only on the ‘must-take-into-account’ list as opposed things it prescribes by law. Neither is one-to-one careers guidance high upon Ofsted’s inspection criteria, which focus upon school leaver destinations and the quality of ‘independent’ sources of advice, which could include visits by recruiters, website information and help from Job Centre Plus. In fact, one-to-one careers guidance may not be on Ofsted’s horizons at all. Clearly parents’ expectations need managing.

There are challenges too for employers and training providers: first of all, to imbue alternatives to university as real kudos-enhancing, game-changers in life. Then to unfuddle the terms that describe those alternatives. And, finally, another language challenge: to speak with school leavers (from disadvantaged backgrounds especially) as directly and hopefully as possible. Young people are turning away from corporate speak in all forms of public life.

For an employer, the findings from this new report supports those in Parental influence in children’s academic and employment choices, from the same researchers dating in 2014. School children expect peers and teachers (who are closer to their own age than mum or dad) to know more about specific recruiters but they will use their parents like some kind of careers weather vane – the cockerel points this way; do you think I should head for the apprenticeships or wrap up warm and go South for the degrees? Again, parents will say head towards those higher apprenticeships when they feel they’re good investments in life.

And for those in higher education using outreach as a means to widen participation, parents require additional information, support and need to be included in the conversation to help school leavers make wise conclusions. These are parents who are generally becoming more assertive in their roles as careers coaches yet who can be diffident when not represented.

About the report

Parental Influence: the key role played by parents in their children’s decisions about routes and pathways post-18 is by GTI Media and sponsored by EY and has been produced with Inspiring Futures and Careers England as partners and with the support and assistance of AccessHE, National Citizen Service (NCS), CDI (Career Development Institute) and YouGov. The findings are based around a poll of over 1,000 parents. Click here for statistics and further findings from the survey.

This entry was posted in Employability, Parents, Schools and colleges. Bookmark the permalink.

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