Encounters with the world of work have been found to boost both student motivation and their grades, according to new research.
The study found that even a relatively modest level of input from employee volunteers could have a measurable impact, and the effect was most pronounced among students who had lower prior attainment and were considered less engaged with education.
The findings lend weight to efforts to increase student engagement with employers, at a time when careers education is being squeezed of both time and resources.
And they suggest that there are substantial gains to be had from low-cost interventions, which also do not take up disproportionate amounts of time.
Researchers randomly divided 650 students in their last year of compulsory education – aged 15 and 16 – into two groups: one received three extra talks from volunteers coming into school, in addition to the normal careers activities carried out by their school, while the other group did not.
But even this small scale intervention had a significant effect. Students who had the three extra talks reported feeling more confident in their own abilities, more positive about school and had greater faith in their ability to fulfil their career aspirations.
The talks also led around a quarter of students to question their own career and education choices, according to the study carried out for the U.K. charity Education and Employers.
But the impact went beyond changing attitudes. Students who took part in the additional sessions reported spending more time revising for exams, by an average of 9% in hours per week, according to the report, which will be published in full on June 6.
And this commitment fed through into exam results, with researchers finding a correlation between the careers talks and students outperforming their predicted grades, with the effect particularly pronounced in English.
Although the improvement was small – the equivalent of one student in a class beating their prediction by one extra grade – given the small scale of the intervention it was an encouraging sign.
The effect was also greater among students who had initially been more sceptical of the value of education. Those predicted only a borderline pass in their English exams, for example, reported a planned 32% increase in revision hours following the talks, compared with a 10% increase among those predicted a top grade.
Dr Elnaz Kashefpakdel, head of research at Education and Employers, said the findings demonstrated the positive impact of engaging young people with the world of work.
‘This report shows that short interactions with volunteers from the world of work can have a powerful impact on attainment,’ she said. ‘And, more significantly, that the low achievers and less engaged learners have the most to gain in improving their academic attainment.’
Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, welcomed the findings as a demonstration of the value of volunteers going into schools.
‘Careers talks are a great way of showing young people how their learning in the classroom links to the world of work, so we’re not surprised to hear that this excellent program has a positive impact on results.’