New research exposes stark class gap in accessing career advice and work experience, leaving disadvantaged students behind their more privileged peers

Data from over 4,500 university students, collected by the social mobility charity upReach, shows that state school students are left behind their more-privileged peers in being prepared for their future careers, with those from disadvantaged backgrounds and at low performing schools faring the worst. 

Less-privileged students have more limited access to careers advice at school, are less likely to have completed professional work experience, and lack useful social networks to learn about careers or access work experience opportunities. The full upReach report can be found here.

Launching the research at the Institute of Student Employers Annual Student Recruitment Conference, John Craven, Chief Executive of upReach, said:

“The research shows that professional work experience is as much a proxy for privilege as it is for talent. Graduate employers need to recognise other forms of experience can be just as valuable, whilst offering more work experience opportunities to those without access to professional networks and not at elite schools.”

The data collected by upReach shows:

  • Compared with students from state schools, students from private schools have far better access to careers advice, and better access to professional work experience – often secured through their networks of friends and family. 
    • Students who attended private school were 4.5 times more likely than their state-educated peers to say that they secured useful work experience through “the family of some of their friends at school”. 
    • Students from private schools were 45% more likely than those from state schools to say their school helped them explore different careers that might be suitable for them.
  • Students from state schools within the bottom quintile of academic performance experienced less useful careers guidance and work experience opportunities than those who attended more academic state schools from the top performing quintile. 
    • Students from top quintile state schools were 127% more likely to have had opportunities at school to connect with parents working in careers such as law, medicine, finance or accountancy than those from bottom quintile state schools.
    • Students from top quintile state schools were 28% more likely than those from bottom quintile state schools to say their school helped them explore different careers that might be suitable for them.
  • A double disadvantage is faced by students from lower socioeconomic backgrounds who attend poorly performing state schools compared with their peers from the same socioeconomic background who attend more academic state schools.
    • Not only are they less likely to receive support from their school, but they are less likely to benefit from network effects: If they attend a state school with low academic attainment, the families of their friends are far less likely to be providing career advice or access to work experience opportunities. 

This research shows that a student’s socioeconomic background and the type of school they attend has an impact on their opportunities to do well in their future career. These findings follow the recent “Elitist Britain” report from the Sutton Trust and the Social Mobility Commission, which found that those who are privately educated are 5 times more likely to be members of the “elite”. To address this imbalance, quality careers advice is needed for students at state schools, particularly those who face the double disadvantage of being from a disadvantaged background and also attending the lowest performing state schools.

On the research, John Craven said:

“Not only does this research highlight the disparities in provision of career support between the state and private sector, it also reveals substantial disparities between state schools based on their academic performance. This leaves students from less-advantaged backgrounds who also attend the lowest performing state schools at a double disadvantage, facing additional barriers to preparing for a successful future. With inadequate career support from school, a lack of work experience opportunities and less access to useful social networks, students are making uninformed decisions at pivotal moments in their lives.”

Tolu Akinboboye, an upReach Associate who just graduated from King’s College, London, added:

“At school, I do not recall receiving any career advice. We did not have any speakers, workshops or career events at my secondary school unfortunately. 

I didn’t feel as though I knew much about career options. I knew about the traditional careers which are presented in books and on TV such as being a lawyer, writer, actress,  a doctor etc but, I didn’t know what I might be able to do once I graduated. I chose my degree purely on my interests and what I excelled best in, rather than career opportunities. 

It’s a shame that I didn’t but I believe that a lot of students who study in schools in low income areas suffer from a lack of knowledge / information.”

To help students like Tolu make more informed decisions at school, upReach have launched the aspire project

  • aspire is designed to encourage sixth form students to aim high, stretch themselves and achieve their potential. 
  • The aspire resources provide inspiration, information and advice to help sixth formers who lack adequate support make informed decisions about their post-18 options. 
  • 2,500 state schools across the UK have been sent a copy of the 36-page aspire guide, which includes information about a range of post-18 options, from university to school leaver programmes and apprenticeships. aspire also provides important role models: students who have come from less-advantaged backgrounds and broken into careers that can otherwise seem hard to reach. 
  • The aspire guide is available to students, parents and teachers online, along with the aspire toolkit, a resource pack for teachers and videos featuring the advice from inspirational university students who are from less-advantaged backgrounds and have made outstanding achievements. 

On the launch of the aspire toolkit, John Craven added:

“We want to counter decisions students are taking that are not necessarily optimal for their future careers. The aspire project is an important intervention in the lives of young people from less-advantaged backgrounds, equipping them with the information and inspiration they need to achieve their potential.” 


John Craven | Chief Executive, upReach
Tel No: 07971 274469
Email: john.craven@upreach.org.uk

upReach is a charity supporting less-advantaged undergraduates to achieve their career potential. Currently supporting over 1,300 students, upReach deliver a comprehensive programme of professional development, through partnerships with top employers and universities.
Learn more at www.upreach.org.uk.

aspire is designed to encourage sixth form students to aim high, stretch themselves and achieve their potential. The aspire resources provide students, parents and teachers with information about a range of post-18 options, from university to school leaver programmes and apprenticeships. aspire also provides important role models: students who have come from less-advantaged backgrounds and broken into careers that can otherwise seem hard to reach. aspire resources are created by upReach and are available online free of charge.
Learn more at www.aspire.upreach.org.uk 

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