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Education Committee Inquiry: Careers Guidance for Young People

House of Commons Education Committee Inquiry: Careers Guidance for Young People

The House of Commons Education Committee have launched an inquiry into Careers Guidance for Young People. You can read the terms of reference for the inquiry here: 

Submitted 3 September 2012

  1. This submission has been produced jointly by five organisations which, between them, represent a significant part of the UK geoscience community, spanning academia, industry, government and the student population. They are:

    i. The Geological Society of London (GSL) is the national learned and professional body for geoscience, with over 10,000 Fellows (members) worldwide. The Fellowship encompasses those working in industry, academia and government, with a wide range of perspectives and views on policy-relevant geoscience, and the Society is a leading communicator of this science to government bodies and other non-technical audiences.

    ii. The Committee of Heads of University Geosciences Departments (CHUGD) is the subject association of Geoscience (geology, applied geology, Earth science, geophysics, geochemistry and some environmental science) departments/schools based within universities in the British Isles. It promotes discussion and exchange of information between departments and provides a point of contact between these and professional, government and quality control agencies.

    iii. The British Geological Survey (BGS) is a world leading geological survey and the United Kingdom's premier centre for earth science information and expertise. The BGS provides expert services and impartial advice in all areas of geoscience. Its client base is drawn from the public and private sectors both in the UK and internationally.

    iv. The Petroleum Exploration Society of Great Britain (PESGB) represents the national community of Earth scientists working in the oil and gas industry, with over 5,000 members worldwide. The objective of the Society is to promote, for the public benefit, education in the scientific and technical aspects of petroleum exploration. To achieve this objective the PESGB makes regular charitable disbursements, holds monthly lecture meetings in London and Aberdeen and both organises and sponsors other conferences, seminars, workshops, field trips and publications.

    v. The British Geophysical Association (BGA) represents geophysicists in academia and industry who are members of the Royal Astronomical Society and/or the Geological Society of London. Its role is to promote geophysics and knowledge about geophysics at national and international levels.

    Since the start of 2011, our organisations have worked together when appropriate in communicating with government, parliamentary committees, HEFCE and Research Councils on matters relating to national geoscience skills needs, and education policy and funding.
  2. The main points raised in this submission are:

    a. Effective careers guidance is important both to support individual students’ decision making, and to address national skills needs.

    b. Many undergraduate degree subjects, such as geoscience, are not widely taught in schools in their own right, and are likely to be less visible to students and less familiar to teachers and careers guidance professionals than ‘mainstream’ school subjects. It is especially important that high-quality advice and supporting materials are available in such subject areas.

    c. Attention should be paid to developing children’s careers awareness from an early age, so that preconceptions about science do not put them off studying it later on, but this should not be at the expense of stimulating excitement and wonder as they learn about the world around them.

    d. In geoscience, as in many science disciplines, it is important for students to understand clearly how the subjects they choose to study at GCSE and A-level may later restrict the programmes of university study (and hence career options) available to them. 
  3. We recently made a submission to the Department for Education’s consultation on careers guidance. While not identical in scope, that consultation addresses many of the same issues as the present inquiry, and the respective calls for evidence overlapped. It would have been helpful if the terms of reference of either consultation had referred to the other, and addressed how the planned activities of the Department and the Committee relate in this instance, not least to minimise duplication of effort on the part of those submitting evidence. The impression at present is that there is no attempt to coordinate programmes of work. We urge the Committee to ensure that the planning of later stages of the inquiry is mindful of consultation and planning work being undertaken by the Department. Much of the evidence we present here is similar in content to that which we submitted to the departmental consultation. We address below only those aspects of the terms of reference on which we believe our organisations are competent to comment.

    What is the purpose of careers guidance?

  4. The primary purpose of careers guidance should be to provide information and opportunities to allow students to fulfil their potential, and to support them as they explore and identify what study and career paths are best suited to their talents, interests and priorities. It is also essential that high-quality information and guidance is available and accessible to all students in order that future national skills needs are met. In the case of geoscience, which offers a wide variety of exciting and intellectually stimulating study and career options, and which is also essential to addressing economic and societal challenges, these drivers are mutually reinforcing.

    How well-prepared are schools to fulfil their new duty of providing careers guidance for pupils in years 9-11?

  5. Many subjects in which undergraduate degree programmes are available are not widely taught in their own right in schools and sixth-form colleges. An example is geology/geoscience, which is taught in only a few schools. These subjects are likely to be less visible to students than those they come across explicitly in the school curriculum. Teachers are also less likely to be knowledgeable about university programmes and career choices in subjects with which they are unfamiliar, and less confident in providing advice and guidance about them. It is particularly important in the case of these subjects that high-quality advice from independent impartial professionals is available, and that these advisers have access to reliable and appropriate information, resources and support services. Such advice complements elements of geoscience which students encounter within other mainstream National Curriculum subjects (sciences and geography), but which they might not otherwise recognise as being an exciting field of study in its own right, which can lead to a wide range of rewarding careers.
  6. In common with other learned societies and professional associations, we are already committed to playing our part in providing high-quality information and support to students, teachers and others responsible for careers advice and guidance. We would be pleased to offer information and guidance on geoscience as new advice structures are developed and implemented, and as resources are developed, and we are continuing to develop our own activities and resources in this area. Some of these are outlined below.
  7. The Geological Society’s careers advice includes comprehensive information on study options, and careers profiles of a wide range of professional geoscientists working across academia and industry. The Society engages directly with students and teachers through its Schools Affiliate Scheme, and through initiatives such as the annual Schools Geology Challenge. Through the Geoscience Education Academy, it helps non-geologists who are expected to teach geoscience within science and geography to develop their skills and confidence, and to act as champions for geoscience within their schools. Since 2011, it has worked with a wide range of geoscience organisations to promote UK Earth Science Week, a major focus of which is to promote geoscience careers. The Society also works through its Specialist Groups and with partner organisations to provide information and support regarding particular specialisms and industries – for example, with the Petroleum Exploration Society of Great Britain with regard to petroleum geoscience and career opportunities in the energy industry.
  8. The British Geological Survey has an active programme of careers activities, including academies, open days and other events for aspiring geologists. It hosts one of the Geological Society’s principal annual careers events.
  9. Departments teaching geoscience degrees have strong links and outreach programmes with many schools, colleges and FE institutions. The Committee of Heads of University Geosciences Departments, which brings these departments together, is actively engaged with industry and with the Geological Society, building on these links to develop impartial and independent materials in relation to careers guidance. The aim of this work is to ensure that such guidance is reliable and appropriate.
  10. The Petroleum Exploration Society of Great Britain and the British Geophysical Association both work actively to promote career opportunities in their specialisms, alone and with others. Outreach to schools is a particular focus for support, and all our organisations work closely with others such as the Earth Science Teachers Association (ESTA) and the Earth Science Education Unit (ESEU).
  11. We have no comment to make on other aspects of schools’ readiness to provide careers guidance to this age group.

    At what age should careers guidance be provided to young people?

  12. Discussion of careers options and opportunities should start at an early age, and should continue throughout students’ school and sixth-form education. The focus of discussion, and the type of guidance and advice given, should be appropriate to each stage, and to the choices facing students.
  13. There is evidence that while 10-year olds generally have a positive impression of science, and of the work of scientists, they may already have preconceptions about what kind of person becomes a scientist (and whether they fit this profile). These preconceptions appear to become much more pronounced between the ages of 10-14. (See the ASPIRES research project on Science Aspirations and Career Choice at
  14. If high quality information and advice is not available, such preconceptions are likely to be strongly influenced by stereotypes of what professional science is, and what kinds of people do it. This is potentially to the detriment of individuals, who may be put off a rewarding career in science. It is also vital that talented scientists are sourced from as wide a pool as possible, for the benefit of society and the economy. Work such as that done by the Science Council on the diversity of science careers available constitutes an invaluable resource for those responsible for careers advice and guidance at this stage – see, for example. We commend the STEM Choices Resource Pack for Careers Education and Information, Advice and Guidance Practitioners on the DfE website, to which the Science Council (among others) contributed.
  15. At this stage, the focus should be on raising careers awareness, rather than on providing individual advice and guidance. There is a danger that students’ interest in exciting and inspiring science subjects may be quashed if these are presented in utilitarian terms too early, putting them off studying sciences at a later stage.
  16. Individual advice and guidance is not likely to be appropriate at age 10 or 11. But by the time pupils are choosing GCSE courses in Year 9, their attitudes to science may already be entrenched, affecting their study choices and the qualifications they achieve. In geoscience, as in many science disciplines, it is important for students to understand clearly how the subjects they choose to study at GCSE and A-level may later restrict the programmes of university study (and hence career options) available to them. For example, students selecting A-levels in Year 11 who are interested in pursuing study and a career in geoscience may be encouraged to study geography, although most geoscience departments prefer candidates with science and maths A-levels. This is particularly true in some specialisms. In geophysics, for instance, there is a strong preference for candidates with good maths and physics A-levels. (See BGA report on geophysics education in the UK (Khan, 2006) at Many employers also seek candidates with strong science and maths backgrounds.

    What is the link between careers guidance and the choices young people make on leaving school?

  17. In December 2011, the Geological Society carried out a survey of geoscience undergraduates attending its annual Careers Day, to understand what factors affected their past study choices and future career intentions. Asked which of a range of information sources were important in their decision to study geoscience, 43% said that their school or sixth form careers service was important or very important. Other factors were: Family/friends (51% important or very important); University careers services (46%); School/college teacher (81%); University course information (94%); Information from the Geological Society (22%); Information from the British Geological Survey (18%); Media (25%).
  18. When asked what further information would have helped them choose their degree subject, many students reported that they had access to sufficient information on which to base their decision. The most commonly cited areas of information deficit were: lack of information about subsequent career prospects (14%); and poor availability of information in schools/sixth form colleges (11%).
  19. As noted in paragraph 16, decisions made at an early stage may restrict later study and career options in geoscience, particularly in some specialisms. 

    Other comments

  20. There remains a ‘gender gap’ in science at school level and beyond. Fewer girls than boys take both A-levels and GCSEs in science subjects. At GCSE level, this gap has narrowed over several years. At A-level, the gap narrowed in 2012, having previously been increasing. It is vital that careers guidance and supporting materials are equally accessible and appropriate to girls and boys, and that any preconceptions among girls that they are not suited to studying science subjects or pursuing careers in science are effectively addressed. This is important both so that girls have equal access to exciting career and study opportunities, and so that the pool of science and engineering talent on which the UK’s future prosperity will depend is as wide as possible.
  21. We would be pleased to discuss further any of the points raised in this submission, and to suggest contacts who might provide additional or specialist advice.