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ASPIRES research: project blog


Studying the science and career aspirations of 10-23 year olds.


Archive for the 'Careers Education' Category

What are 21-22 year olds’ experiences of careers support?

By l.archer, on 3 May 2024

By Emily Ashford, Louise Archer and Jennifer DeWitt 

Effective careers education, information, advice and guidance (CEIAG) can play a valuable role in helping young people to make informed decisions about their future, for instance by providing young people with information about various educational and career options, the qualification routes required to pursue these and through practical support, for instance, with CV writing, preparing job applications, and interview techniques. Research conducted with senior leaders in schools and colleges found that almost three quarters (72%) thought that careers education provision has become even more important in recent years (Gatsby Foundation, 2020). Moreover, access to good quality careers support is recognised as being even more crucial for those from the most deprived communities, underscoring the need for equitable provision nationwide.  

The statutory guidance requires that schools and colleges provide comprehensive careers education to young people from age 11-18. Educational institutions are required to inform young people about approved technical education qualifications and apprenticeships as well as academic routes. The guidance provides parameters regarding the duration and content of careers service sessions and is aimed at trying to ensure that high-quality standards are maintained (DfE, 2015). 

The requirements change after young people reach age 18, with legally mandated guidance only applicable to students with an existing education, health and care plan up until the age of 25. While a range of careers provision exists for young people after the age of 18 (for instance, as provided through universities, employers and national bodies such as the National Careers Service), less is known about the experiences of young adults in accessing careers provision and any demographic patterns in terms of who is accessing provision. 

The ASPIRES project 

The ASPIRES study tracked a cohort of young people who were born in 1998-1999 from age 10-22. The first phase followed the young people from age 10 to 14, the second phase tracked up to age 19, and the third phase followed the young people as they move into adulthood and employment, from age 20 to 23.    

The study uses quantitative, large-scale surveys (and has surveyed c. 47,000 young people to date) and qualitative data, comprising over 750 interviews conducted over time with a subset of 50 young people and their parents/ carers.   

This article focuses on data from the latest wave of the survey, conducted with 21-22 year olds. It explores young people’s experiences and perspectives of what, if any, careers support they had received in the 12 months leading up to the survey. 


We asked young people a series of questions about their experiences of careers advice as part of our survey. We first focused on the proportion of young people who had received any careers advice in the last 12 months at the time of the survey. We then examined responses by gender, ethnicity, IMD (indices of multiple deprivation), and education/employment status.  

 Table 1: Percentage of young people who had accessed careers support in the last 12 months 

Group  Yes  No  Don’t know  
Overall    30% 


65%  5% 
Female  29%  67%  4% 
Male  33%  63%  4% 
Other  26%  54%  20% 
Black  49%  45%  6% 
Asian  36%  55%  9% 
White  28%  68%  4% 
Chinese or East Asian  46%  49%  5% 
Other  34%  59%  7% 
1st and 2nd Quintiles (Lowest)  29%  65%  6% 
3rd Quintile   30%  65%  5% 
4th and 5th Quintiles (Highest)  32%  64%  4% 
North East   27%  67%  6% 
North West   29%  65%  6% 
Yorkshire and the Humber   26%  68%  6% 
East Midlands  31%  63%  6% 
West Midlands   31%  65%  4% 
South West   26%  70%  4% 
East of England   28%  67%  5% 
South East   30%  65%  5% 
London   39%  55%  6% 
Employment/Education Status        
Any work or education   29%  66%  5% 
NEET  35%  56%  9% 
Something else   32%  55%  15% 

Percentages rounded to nearest whole numbers. A very small proportion of young people did not provide an answer for this question. 

As detailed in Table 1, most (65%) of the young people had not received any careers support in the past year. Differences were observed by gender, IMD, and ethnicity, especially between those of White and Black ethnic origin (28% vs 49%). London stood out with a higher proportion of young people having received CEIAG in the last year compared with other regions. Just over a third (35%) of NEET young people (those not in education or employment) had received careers support compared with 29% of those in some form of education, work or training. 

When asked how confident they felt that they would be able to access quality careers support if they wanted/ needed it, 55% of 21-22 year olds said that they would know where to turn, while 33% were uncertain and 12% did not know. 

Among those who had received some form of CEIAG in the last 12 months, common sources included: one-to-one sessions with advisors (n=789), advice from employers or colleagues (n=714), professional career talks (n=703), and online resources (n=703). Less common sources were lessons from tutors (n=337) and careers questionnaires (n=153). Additional sources of careers support mentioned included university tutors, family, emails from university careers services, and job centres. 

For those who had not accessed careers support, the main reasons given were lack of time (n=1,337), unavailability of support (n=1,315), not feeling the need (n=1,303), and difficulties in accessing services (n=1,160). Fewer individuals felt that the available support did not meet their needs (n=150). When asked to elaborate, many mentioned that the support on offer was too general and lacked specific, relevant information to their own situation. Importantly, caring responsibilities, physical or mental disabilities, and mental health concerns were also cited as key barriers preventing young people from accessing careers support. 


In our study, almost two thirds of 21-22 year olds had not received any CEIAG in the last 12 months, suggesting a relatively low rate of access and uptake of the various services on offer nationwide. Access varied between regions and by demographics. The findings highlight the existing challenges and disparities in the provision and accessibility of careers support for young adults and suggest that some of those who might benefit most from support were not receiving such provision.  

It is notable that we found a generally low rate of careers support uptake across young people, with only around a third or less having accessed provision in the last year. This is particularly concerning for those who are NEET, who are arguably especially in need of careers support. While statutory guidance for CEIAG extends to all students in schools or colleges up to the age of 18, there is a notable absence of legally mandated guidance to ensure continued support for young people beyond this age, unless they have an existing education, health, and care plan in place. This lack of mandated support may create additional challenges in reaching and assisting individuals over the age of 18 who could benefit.  Some of the main barriers cited to accessing CEIAG – notably lack of time, lack of available support and relevance/ appropriateness of provision – suggest that more might usefully be done to ensure that more young people are able to access high quality, relevant careers support. 

In order to improve the accessibility and uptake of careers support and services, further collaboration between government, educational institutions, employers, and community organisations may be valuable for ensuring more equitable and effective provision to young adults as they start or transition into the world of early career employment.  



Department for Education. (2023). Careers guidance and access for education and training providers. Available at: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/careers-guidance-provision-for-young-people-in-schools [Accessed 16 March 2023]  

Gatsby Foundation. (2020). Secondary School and College leadership views on the impact of the Covid-19 Pandemic on Careers Guidance. Harrogate: Pye Tait Consulting. Available at: https://www.gatsby.org.uk/uploads/education/reports/pdf/secondary-school-and-college-leadership-views-on-the-impact-of-the-covid-19-pandemic-on-careers-guidance-summer-2020.pdf [Accessed 16 March 2023]  

ASPIRES3 Report Launch & Installation Exhibition Video

By b.francis-hew, on 5 February 2024

Watch our ASPIRES3 Report Launch and Installation Exhibition Video

We are excited to present the ASPIRES3 Report Launch and Installation Exhibition video! Click the link below to download a HD version of the video.


Check out the video here:


For more information on the ASPIRES project and to access the full reports, click the link on the sidebar, or use: https://www.ucl.ac.uk/ioe/departments-and-centres/departments/education-practice-and-society/aspires-research

ASPIRES: The ‘Lost Scientists’ Research Exhibition

By ASPIRES Research, on 23 January 2024

Blog: The ‘Lost Scientists’ Research Exhibition

In November 2023, the ASPIRES team launched the ‘ASPIRES3 Main report: Young people’s STEM trajectories, Age 10-22’ at The Royal Society in London. The report summarises the findings from the third phase of the ASPIRES research project, a fourteen-year, mixed methods investigation of the factors shaping young people’s trajectories into, through and out of STEM education (science, technology, engineering and mathematics).

Alongside the report launch the ASPIRES research team hosted a research exhibition representing ‘Lost Scientists’; young people with an interest and passion for STEM that have been unsupported and excluded by the education system and STEM fields. Their stories challenge dominant narratives which explain their absence from STEM as due to a lack of aspiration.

The ‘Lost Scientists’ exhibition was first developed by ASPIRES Director Prof Louise Archer, assisted by artist Maxi Himpe. It was informed by over 750 longitudinal interviews conducted by the ASPIRES project with young people from ages 10 to 21. The exhibition was inspired by the Wolfson Rooms at the Royal Society, where the exhibition was first held. The room resembles many other professional societies, typified by white marble busts and paintings of great scientists, mathematicians and engineers – who are overwhelmingly from white, male, privileged social backgrounds. Listen to an introduction to the exhibition here, read by Princess Emeanuwa.

At the centre of the exhibition was a life-cast bust, sculpted by Masters & Munn, representing one participant in the ASPIRES study: “Vanessa” (a pseudonym), a young, working-class Black woman (modelled by Happiness Emeanuwa). When we first interviewed Vanessa aged ten, she expressed a passion for science. However, as her interviews reveal, over time she came to find that her ‘love for it wasn’t enough.’ Listen to the words of Vanessa here, read by Happiness Emeanuwa.

A bust of ‘Vanessa’, representing a participant of the ASPIRES project. scientists Photo credit: Yolanda Hadjidemetriou.

Vanessa represents all the potential scientists lost to social exclusion. Accompanying Vanessa are empty frames, designed to evoke other lost scientists. The ‘thesis’ placed next to Vanessa echoes the other dissertations in the Wolfson rooms and others, to remind us of the contributions that she and others like her might have made. In this way, the exhibition challenges us to re-think assumptions about the underrepresentation of women, racially minoritized and working-class young people in STEM. It invites the excluded to claim their rightful presence in elite scientific spaces.

Vanessa’s bust and an empty frame displayed amongst those of white scientists Photo credit: Yolanda Hadjidemetriou.

The ‘Lost Scientists’ exhibition will be on public display from January to March 2024 when it is being hosted by the Geological Society. If you are interested in hosting the exhibition in the future, or have any questions about this work, please contact our research team on ioe.stemparticipationsocialjustice@ucl.ac.uk.

ASPIRES 2 Research featured in Education and Employers Research Report

By qtnvacl, on 20 May 2017

Following the 2016 International Conference on Employer Engagement in Education and Training, where ASPIRES 2 Research Associate Dr. Julie Moote presented project findings on careers education provision, our research has been published in ‘Research for Practice: Papers from the 2016 International Conference on Employer Engagement in Education and Training’, edited by Anthony Mann and Jordan Rehill.

Our contribution to the paper presents findings based on data collected in the first data collection cycle of ASPIRES 2, when students were in Year 11, aged 15-16. Alarmingly, our data showed that careers education provision in England is not just ‘patchy’, but ‘patterned’ in terms of existing social inequalities. Our findings therefore indicated that schools are not only failing to provide careers education to all, but that the students most in need of this support are the least likely to receive it.

Watch Dr. Moote’s presentation here.

The full paper can be found here.

The ASPIRES Project Spotlight on careers education provision can be accessed here.

In an-depth analysis of our findings on careers education can be found here.

Failing to deliver? Exploring the current status of career education provision in England

By qtnvacl, on 17 January 2017

Our newest project paper, ‘Failing to deliver? Exploring the current status of career education provision in England’, has been published in the Research Papers in Education Journal with Taylor & Francis.

The paper, written by project Research Associate Dr. Julie Moote and project Director Professor Louise Archer, investigates students’ views on careers education provision and their satisfaction with this provision.

Careers Ed Abstract

The paper, which is open access, is available to read online and download here.

ASPIRES Book now out!

By IOE Blog Editor, on 10 October 2016

Our new book, based on the findings of the first phase of our project (ASPIRES), is now out. Understanding Young People’s Science Aspirations  is by ASPIRES and ASPIRES 2 Director Professor Louise Archer, and ASPIRES Research Associate (now ASPIRES 2 co-investigator) Dr. Jennifer DeWitt. The book offers new evidence and understanding about how young people develop their aspirations for education, learning and, ultimately, careers in science. Integrating findings from ASPIRES with a wide ranging review of existing international literature, it brings a distinctive sociological analytic lens to the field of science education.


Book Launch: Science Education, Career Aspirations and Minority Ethnic Students

By IOE Blog Editor, on 26 August 2016


Last month we attended the book launch of our former colleague Dr. Billy Wong, who was a Research Associate on the first phase of our study. Billy now lectures in Education Studies at the University of Roehampton and has published in science education and sociology of education journals.


His book, Science Education, Career Aspirations and Minority Ethnic Students, builds on his work on both the ASPIRES and Enterprising Science projects at King’s College London by exploring the science career aspirations of minority ethnic students. It investigates the views, experiences and identities of British Black Caribbean, Bangladeshi, Chinese, Indian and Pakistani youths in relation to science.

Order Billy’s book here.

Follow Billy on twitter.

ASPIRES 2 responds to inquiry on science communication

By IOE Blog Editor, on 14 June 2016

— Emily MacLeod

In May, ASPIRES 2 researchers Professor Louise Archer and Dr. Julie Moote submitted evidence to the House of Commons Science and Technology Committee’s inquiry into science communication. The purpose of the inquiry was to investigate how the Government, scientists, the media and others encourage and facilitate public awareness of, and engagement in, science. Following the submission Professor Louise Archer gave oral evidence to the Committee at the Natural History Museum on 14th June.

The evidence submitted used findings from ASPIRES 2’s national survey of over 13,000 15-16 year olds, and focussed on the science communication strategies being taken to encourage young people to study STEM subjects post-16 and to encourage those young people into STEM careers. We recommended that science communication efforts must work to diversify the image of ‘who does science’, and showcase science qualifications and skills as useful for a wide variety of careers.



First ASPIRES 2 Project Spotlight Report is published

By IOE Blog Editor, on 15 March 2016


— Emily MacLeod

Last month we launched the first of our Project Spotlight reports; ASPIRES 2 Project Spotlight: Year 11 Students’ Views of Careers Education and Work Experience.

The report, written by ASPIRES 2 Director Professor Louise Archer and Research Associate Dr. Julie Moote, summarises our project findings on careers education provision following our most recent data collection. Using survey data from over 13,000 Year 11 students, and interviews with 70 of these and 62 of their parents, we found that there is a demand for more and better careers education from students.Cultural-Capital-Info-236x300

One of our key findings was that careers education is not currently reaching those most in need it; careers provision is not ‘patchy’, but is ‘patterned’ in terms of social inequalities. Girls, minority ethnic, working-class, lower-attaining and students who are unsure of their aspirations or who plan to leave education post-16 are all significantly less likely to report receiving careers education.


Download the Project Spotlight here.

ASPIRES 2 responds to inquiry on careers education

By IOE Blog Editor, on 10 February 2016

— Emily MacLeod

In January, ASPIRES 2 researchers Professor Louise Archer and Dr. Julie Moote submitted evidence to the House of Commons Sub-Committee on Education, Skills and the Economy’s inquiry into careers advice and guidance. The purpose of the inquiry was to assess the quality and impartiality of current careers provision, and evaluate how careers advice in schools and colleges can help to match skills with labour market needs. Following the submission Professor Louise Archer gave oral evidence to the Committee at the House of Commons on 8th February.

The evidence submitted used findings from ASPIRES 2’s national survey of over 13,000 15-16 year olds to report on students’ experiences of, and satisfaction with, careers education and work experience.