Girls are nurses, and boys are doctors – I’m sure we’ve all heard pupils role play as healthcare professionals using these exact gender stereotypes. It makes you question why children develop such fixed ideas so early in their lives. But then how often do see nurses’ uniforms for boys in a costume shop?
In my role as project lead at NHS South Yorkshire, I believe that by Years 5 and 6, preconceptions around job roles have often already been formed from the views of families, friends and the media. It is therefore important to challenge these stereotypes early to ensure children keep open minds.
But we also need to raise awareness of the multitude of roles in health and social care that move beyond doctors and nurses - to learn about dieticians, radiographers and phlebotomists, for example, as well as non-clinical roles.
Current and predicted workforce shortages across all roles in health and social care, alongside widening participation issues, and the need to reverse constructs around multi-generational worklessness - particularly in our ex-mining communities - have been key drivers for a programme we’ve been running in South Yorkshire.
Jobs for Everyone is part of a wider strategy to reach young people at various stages across their academic year to build their knowledge about NHS roles, as well as the confidence and inspiration to become part of our workforce.
The programme introduces reception and Year 1 pupils to more than 20 different jobs in health and social care, including porters, catering assistants, receptionists, care workers, physiotherapists, speech and language therapists, social workers, accountants, radiographers and many more. It promotes equality and diversity and dispels stereotypes around the roles, particularly in relation to gender and ethnicity.
To make it immersive, we provide each school with a dress-up/role play kit with gender neutral uniforms and authentic props. The children learn a song and every class meets two different jobholders to find out about the work they do. Delivering the jobholder sessions has been a challenge during Covid restrictions but it is now a lively and interactive a live stream event with movement, activities and a question-and-answer session.
Junk modelling homework and the parent/carer assemblies help to involve families, and an optional visit to a local care home brings communities and generations together.
The package of resources supplied to participating schools supports the use of stories and play to underpin the Early Years Foundation Stage (EYFS) statutory framework and are key features of our programme.
Using big words
The programme resources use correct vocabulary with phonics to aid pronunciation of job titles and age-appropriate definitions of the roles. It was important not to shy away from the big words so that job titles could become more widely recognised and understood by teachers, pupils and their families. And after all, children of this age can cope with dinosaur names!
Equality and diversity
The Jobs for Everyone equality and diversity module uses fun, age-appropriate activities with powerful analogies, props and imagery to investigate how things might look different on the outside but be similar on the inside.
For example, white eggs and brown eggs have just the same contents! The module challenges long-standing stereotypes and the overriding message is that anyone can aspire to do any job and that personal characteristics such as gender and ethnicity shouldn’t hold you back. The virtual sessions from our career ambassadors also support this ethos by providing excellent and relatable role models.
So far more than 2500 pupils in 40 schools have taken part in the programme and the feedback has been brilliant, with teachers noting that children’s preconceptions before the programme had changed by the end. One of the modules focuses on what the children would want to be if they worked in healthcare when they grow up, and the range of answers we get is fantastic. Teachers confirmed that children picked a variety of roles including paramedic, midwife, and radiographer.
One teacher told us how impressed she was by how many students put their hands up to show their desire to do different NHS jobs, and never thought she would hear the words “I want to be a blood scientist” shouted in her reception class. Another observed children playing at being phlebotomists during free play time.
There is no doubt that the programme has inspired pupils, who now know much more about careers in health and social care. Before starting the programme, all responding teachers indicated that their pupils had a partial or no understanding of health and social care, but by the end of the programme almost 90% had a good or excellent understanding of the sector. They said that the children enjoyed taking part in the activities and particularly loved the role-play kit, jobholder sessions and a story about a boy who broke his leg.
The number of roles that classes were able to identify more than doubled on completion of the learning activities, when compared to the start of the programme. The post-learning data also showed a shift in gender preferences with over 50% of girls preferring the idea of being a doctor to a nurse and 8% more boys choosing nursing.
Teachers have stated they find the package helpful, intuitive and easy to teach, and has led to increased engagement among children.
‘Growing our own’ workforce
The Jobs for Everyone programme also has the backing of HNS South Yorkshire. Christine Joy, chief people officer, said the lessons formed “part of a long-term strategy to attract new talent” and added: “We want young people to know who we are, what we do and to be enthused by the fabulous, varied and rewarding careers we can offer them.
“Recruiting from our own populations will help us to provide the best possible care to our patients, reduce health inequalities and improve the socioeconomic status of our communities.”
WHAT THE TEACHERS SAY
Director of careers, guidance and student leadership at Astrea Academy Trust
“This important work feeds into our Personal Development Strategy from the start of a child’s educational journey. At an early age, we are proud to challenge stereotypes and widen every child’s awareness of all the opportunities available to them.”
Assistant head and early years foundation stage lead at Windmill Hill Primary
“We had a ‘Meet a Radiographer’ session and it was pitched at exactly the right level for the children. We looked at the letter X for x-ray and U for ultrasound. We saw a healthy hand and investigated our own hands by looking, feeling and holding them up to the light.”
Year 1 teacher at Bramley Grange Primary School
“As a result of the programme so far, the children are talking about jobs, their own experiences of work within their families and asking lots more questions about what people do and what is involved.”
Caroline Boot is the project lead and creator of Jobs for Everyone. For more information, visit the Jobs for Everyone website.