Girls’ career aspirations

Document type
Corporate author(s)
Great Britain. Office for Standards in Education, Children's Services and Skills (England)
Date of publication
12 April 2011
Education and Skills, Children and Young People
Social welfare
Material type

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Young women achieve better educationally than boys at the age of 16 and a higher proportion continue in education to degree level. Their early success, however, does not translate into similar advantages in terms of careers and pay in later life. Women are also less likely than men to work in certain sectors such as science, engineering and technology. This survey looked at the choices of courses and careers made by girls and young women at various stages in their education and training. Between June 2009 and December 2010 inspectors visited 16 primary schools, 25 secondary schools, including 13 single-sex girls’ schools, and 10 further education colleges. Inspectors also contacted 36 businesses linked to 12 schools. Inspectors found that from Year 3 onwards, girls were thinking about what they would like to do after they left school, and for girls of all ages this thinking was strongly influenced by family and friends. Almost all the girls and young women who took part in the survey were open to the possibility of pursuing a career that challenged gender stereotypes, if the career interested them sufficiently. Their awareness of this potential, however, did not always translate into practice. Course and career choices were predominantly stereotypical and mirrored the national picture of take-up of courses.

Careers education was generally weak in Key Stage 3, making informed choices of courses and careers difficult. In particular, the girls spoken to had only limited knowledge and understanding of how their choices influenced their future pay and progression. Eleven of the 12 mixed schools visited were not doing enough to promote the confidence, drive and ambition of girls and young women to take risks in challenging vocational stereotypes. While the 13 all-girl schools said that confidence and competitive attitudes were easier to promote in the absence of boys, it was still the case that the proportion of girls’ entries for individual GCSE and A-level subjects in these schools broadly matched the national profile of examination entries by girls. In the few examples where girls had changed their minds and set out on a new and unfamiliar route, that change was often the result of personal experience of either meeting a professional in school, or directly encountering the new kind of work for themselves. That could happen accidentally, for example as part of a school trip that captured an individual’s imagination, or deliberately through school-directed work placements designed to challenge preconceptions.

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