Careers advice should start at nine, says school head

The comment comes in response to research by The Sutton Trust recommending an earlier start for mentoring and preparation for university

A headteacher of one of Scotland’s most distinguished schools has said that it is important that careers advice begins before pupils reach double figures.

George Heriot’s School in Edinburgh teaches children from age 3 to 18, but principal Lesley Franklin said she thinks careers advice is important for children as young as nine.

She told Independent Education Today: “I believe P6-S2 (Year 6-9) is a critical time for careers advice. Although it may seem young, it is important to give the children as much information as possible prior to them making decisions on their subject choices,” she said.

The comment comes following a study released by The Sutton Trust in December, which showed UK university attendance is still highly impacted by the school the individual attends. Access to Advantage recommended all school pupils receive a guaranteed level of careers advice from professional impartial advisers.

The report also says advice should be given earlier and include guidance on subject options at A-level, and revealed that eight top schools and colleges sent as many pupils to Oxford or Cambridge over three years as three-quarters of all schools and colleges. All eight provide rigorous careers advice.

The report states: “At Westminster School, students are given personalised mentoring and university preparation classes to help them through the process. In the last five years, 70-80 students from Westminster have gone on to Oxbridge each year.”

Franklin told IE: “We want pupils to keep their options open at this stage and to not discount subjects and avenues. It is really important they do not lose their love of learning or be put off a subject for the wrong reasons. Providing opportunities from primary to secondary school in a whole range of activities and walks of life is crucial.”

P6 (Year 6) pupils at George Heriot’s are given talks from parents who explain their job roles, while S2 (Year 9) pupils receive lessons on career pathways to help them make more informed decisions on what to study in S3 (Year 10).

Work experience begins in S4 (Year 11), and the school looks at UCAS, apprenticeships, gap year possibilities and work opportunities from S5 (Year 12). There are also talks from university representatives and a careers insight event.

Franklin added: “In S6 (ages 16-17) the majority of UCAS applications are submitted and all pupils undertake volunteering such as working with disadvantaged children, working in hospitals, hospices, homeless centres and also working in local charities.”

Although it may seem young, it is important to give the children as much information as possible prior to them making decisions on their subject choices

Edge Grove School educates children up to 13 years old so with a crossover to senior. Here, careers advice is also given at a young age, with parents attending careers mornings to present their jobs to pupils in years 7 and 8.

Headmaster Ben Evans told IE: “A large part of our careers advice is to talk to our pupils about their senior school options and this is done from Year 3 upwards when they are invited to our biennial school fair to which over 40 schools attend. They also present on various aspects of senior school life such as boarding, A-levels vs IB, co-curricular opportunities and so on. This is invaluable in preparing our pupils for the next stage of their educational career.”

Similarly, Sarah Styles, Head of St Hilda’s School, a school for girls up to the age of 11, said while formal careers advice is not given, it is still important to ask the right questions.

She told IE: “Because of the way we’re set up and the way the children get to know what they’re good at, careers advice comes through a conversation in a PHSE lesson, for example, or a general chat with a member of staff. For example, for a child who knows they are good at science and wants to be a medical scientist, it is about asking: ‘Why a medical scientist and not a doctor?’ It’s about posing those questions about why they’d like to do certain things.”

The top schools and colleges that sent the most pupils to Oxford or Cambridge were Westminster School, Eton College, Hills Road Sixth Form College, St Paul’s School, Peter Symonds College, St Paul’s Girls School, King’s College School and Magdalen College School.

Pupils from independent schools were over twice as a likely to attend a Russell Group university than those at state schools, according to Access to Advantage, with the gap even greater at Oxbridge (seven times as likely).


Can earlier careers advice result in a bigger range of schools getting into top universities? Or do world-renowned schools such as Eton simply attract more students that want to study at Oxford? Does early careers advice put too much pressure on children? Get in touch at

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