6 min read

Feeling Seen, Feeling Known

Feeling Seen, Feeling Known

Career conversations as a way to help students in the transition years

Most educators, parents and specialists alike would agree: the transition from Primary to High School can be challenging for any adolescent.  

There are different school structures, and academic and teacher expectations aren’t like Primary. Not to mention the largest of all changes – changes in the social sphere, as you get used to more autonomy and responsibility while at the same time navigating puberty and what seems like endless social dramas…  

What’s the place for careers education in upper primary to help students with this transition to secondary school and growing personal autonomy?   

Student engagement in learning tends to drop in these years, reaching its lowest level in about year 9 or age 14-15 (source: Gallup Student Engagement Poll).  

As Anne Coffey from the University of Notre Dame, WA explains – ‘During the early adolescent years students are required to negotiate the move from primary to secondary school at around the age of 11. Changing schools presents both opportunities and challenges, with the associated need for students to adapt and cope (Elias, 2001). This move generally entails a change of school campus, mixing with a new and different peer group, learning new forms of school organization and having a number of teachers, many of whom will have very different teaching styles.’ (Coffey, Anne 2013, Relationships: The key to successful transition from primary to secondary school?

Ultimately, a transition program of some form which may be coordinated between a local primary and secondary school can positively help each new cohort of students navigate the transition so that they can better take advantage of the opportunities high school presents, such as specialist subjects and teachers, extracurricular activities and increased autonomy.   TrySomething_CBCAdelaide

Research into transition programs suggests that building relationships is crucial – especially relationships in which the young adolescent feels secure, and is seen and known.   


This is where careers education in upper primary comes in 

Careers education is, after all, a chance to discuss your ideas and aspirations, strengths and interests. 

It can be expressly designed to be a safe environment in which to be seen, to explore and articulate multiple possible idea of who ‘future me’ might be.  

As part of the NSW Educational Pathways Program (EPP), this is the approach to careers education that the Liverpool cluster of primary and secondary schools used as a transition bridge - with great success.  

They recognised that the Department's vision of every student feeling known, valued and cared for, is far easier to deliver in the primary structure, where students do the majority of their learning with one teacher or a few teachers. 

Their pre- and post-BECOME program data give a clear picture of students who are seen and known for who they might become, putting students in the driving seat to determine which opportunities they take up when they get to secondary school and easing the transition.

"Career Learning is a journey. With BECOME students start their journey to research, reflect and discuss the possibilities of their future careers. They transition into high school with a knowledge of career possibilities that they can further explore so that they can make informed decisions".  Joyce Choucair, HeadTeacher Careers, Educational Pathways Program.

Let’s look into their work as a case study:


Case study – Careers Ed in the transition years 

Background and approach:  

To establish this Community of Practice, the Education Pathways Program (EPP) Headteacher Careers for the Liverpool cluster of schools (NSW) worked in close partnership with the Director of Educational Leadership to launch and host the initiative.

They kicked it off with all principals by hosting a short presentation and discussion led by BECOME, about the impact careers education in upper primary can have on successful primary-secondary transitions, academic engagement, wellbeing and equity outcomes.  

They then hosted a joint professional development day for schools taking part. This was designed to build experience and confidence in the BECOME program, and in this workshop staff from participating schools co-designed the roll-out thinking specifically of their context. 

Across the cluster, the result was overwhelmingly positive, and with their permission we're going to drill down a little more into the experience of two of these innovating schools.

the schools:
  • Busby West Public School & James Busby High School
  • Miller Public School & Miller Technology High School
outcomes for student engagement and aspiration:  
  • Both primary schools in this case study used the BECOME program with Year 6. 
  • They did the BECOME teacher-led lessons, plus individual student exploration in which students collected a range of career ideas and questions in the BECOME.me student web app.  
  • Once students had generated some career possibilities for their future, they chose the idea that excited them most at that point. They then went a little deeper with a ‘career experiment’ which students designed to give them more insight into that career. Many of these self-driven but supported experiments included contacting experts beyond their own local networks, broadening students' field of vision and building their confidence and ‘capacity to aspire’.
  • Both schools ran a Flipped Career Expo as the culmination of learning, in which students presented findings from their self-driven ‘career experiments’ to an authentic audience of peers, teachers and adults from the community. Often students uncovered misconceptions about a career and articulated thoughts about a different aspect of that career or a new idea they wanted to explore. Broad and open exploration is perfect for this age, especially when students drive it.
  • The explorations and emerging aspirations students logged in the BECOME.me web app  and visible in the Insights Dashboard informed the transition program and provided evidence about students’ individual, personal hopes for the future.  
  • At a group level, the Insights Dashboard was used by the secondary school and EPP Headteacher Careers to enable proactive planning and interventions based on patterns of current student aspirations (i.e. they had real data on what fields students are most interested in now, across the entire cohort doing BECOME).
  • At both primary schools, members of the local secondary school leadership team attended the Flipped Career Expo, engaged with students and positively established relationships with individual students as the starting point of being seen for their aspirations and ideas for the future. This may be a major contributor driving the phenomenal leap in student connectedness in the data below.

Explorer-1The two schools saw some incredible uplifts across key metrics:


1. Broader exploration leads to awareness of more possible futures

OECD PISA data measures the concentration of student career aspirations.

At a global and national level the concentration hovers around 50% of students aspiring to just 10 occupations. At an individual school and cohort level we often see that effect double (just 5 occupation areas).

Both of the upper primary cohorts in this case study started by 50% of the cohort aspiring to the top 4 most popular career areas. However, given the chance to explore, in both cases students' ideas broadened significantly, showing that they are aware of more possible options for themselves -- options that spark personal interest.

At both schools more than 60% of students reported that they discovered new career possibilities that interest them for their future. The experiments we saw at the Flipped Career Expo demonstrated this broadened field of vision and were more diverse than the usual top ten careers students typically name.


2. Feeling known

Before the BECOME program we ask all students whether they feel a teacher or adult at school knows their ideas for their future. 

At Years 5-6 / Stage 3 we often see 80% of students responding that they think about their future often or all the time.  And yet less than 10% of the same students say a teacher or adult at school knows about their ideas for their future. 

Articulating a career aspiration to a teacher is one of the Career Readiness Indicators defined by the OECD (OECD 2021, Indicators of Teenage Career Readiness). When students' aspirations are not known, they are less likely to pursue them.

For the schools in this case study, after the program we saw a significant increase in this metric with one of the schools showing a 205% uplift! We think this could be the effect of having the senior school principal spend so much time in conversation with primary students at the Flipped Career Expo and making the links to learning at high school. The evidence shows that these students are known and seen, and that career conversations about their ideas, motivation and aspirations for the future contributed significantly to this.


3. Connected and engaged in learning 

As well as giving young people the chance to explore and design future possibilities, careers education with BECOME also helps students make simple but critical connections between their learning and engagement at school now, and their hopes and dreams for their future.  

Both schools (in line with all our schools) saw an uplift of at least 20% in connection and engagement with learning today.

4. Agency & bias to action

We often hear from secondary teachers that a big challenge to student aspirations is apathy. A benefit of doing this work in upper primary is that we can harness the natural curiosity of Year 6 students and spark them into action.

Students in both schools showed increased confidence that they can take action on their ideas for their future and 92% of the students at one of the schools agreed that they will definitely keep doing things that move them towards their ideas for their future. Agency in action!


What's next?

The schools in the Liverpool EPP cluster are seeing huge positive benefits as a result of this considered, co-designed approach. This is the initial data and as more student cohorts come through we anticipate a bigger picture. Here's what they're doing next:

  • In June 2024 they kick off again with a PD day hosted at Miller Technology High School for all schools in the Liverpool cluster.
  • A critical ingredient is the involvement of the ELT and support of the Director Educational Leadership. This program is not an add-on, it's core to their strategy and the Educational Pathways Program Group plan.
  • Schools in the cluster will discuss the impact of having secondary Principal and ELT attending each primary school Flipped Career Expo.
  • The data on student aspirations and changing trends from BECOME could be leveraged further to inform and extend the positive benefits and impact of this approach across transition and into the high school years. It's early days, but the indicators are excellent and will be highly useful.


Product in situ with lessons doublelay
BECOme in the transition years

Explore how the BECOME program for upper Primary seeds lots of careers ideas as students try on multiple ideas for the future. 

Find out about our impact on engagement through BECOME for Secondary. BECOME changes as students change and grow. It's perfectly designed for a multi-year or whole school rollout.

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