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Imagining our futures - pupils Dream Big with Chiltern Railways

Three 6–7-year-olds from an East London school exploring the world of work by dressing up as engineers.

Chiltern Railways supported the National Literacy Trust’s Words for Work: Dream Big programme. This five-week programme introduces children aged 5 to 7 years from disadvantaged areas to the world of work, builds their vital literacy skills (reading, writing, speaking, and listening) and challenges early gender stereotypes that influence children’s later education, aspirations, and career decisions. Chiltern Railways’ generous funding gave the National Literacy Trust the opportunity to bring careers to life and encourage children to imagine their futures by meeting volunteers from different departments at Chiltern Railways.

Volunteers from Chiltern Railways brought careers to life in an online Q&A workshop

60 children aged 5-7 took part in the programme with 4 volunteers from Chiltern Railways taking part in an online business engagement. The volunteers were Clive, a planning manager, Jasmine, an analyst, Karen, Head of Procurement and Ryan, railway operations control manager. They demonstrated how they use their literacy skills at work and gave insights into their jobs. The volunteers’ range of roles showed the children the diversity of jobs within a railway company.

During the live Q&A, the children came to the front of the class and asked their planned questions with the volunteers answering the questions, providing the children with real-life experiences of how literacy skills are used in the workplace.

The children’s engagement with the volunteers was followed by literacy lessons and role play activities led by the class teacher that supported early career related learning, including the picture book Izzy Gizmo by Pip Jones, about a young female passionate about science.

One child dressed up as an engineer taking part in a literacy activity.

After the workplace adventure, the children took part in Dream Big lessons back in the classroom. As part of the programme, the school received a free Dream Big Box which included glorious picture books, corresponding reading, and writing lesson plans and a selection of props and dress up items relating to careers. With direct links to the national curriculum, the children’s class teacher could incorporate the early careers learning into the children’s everyday literacy lessons.

An example of how the children used their writing skills during the programme.

The teachers reported that the programme was an engaging and impactful learning experience for the children, and that they would recommend the Dream Big programme to other schools.

To explore the jobs through play and bring them to life, pupils used props and dressing-up items from the Dream Big box. Such items included pipettes, beakers, and goggles to become scientists, and stethoscopes and prescription pads to become doctors.

The class teacher recalled - “We’ve got so many lovely resources now that the children just love to use them and it’s been really good to see how they develop their oracy by role-playing, dressing up and just having fun!”

The teaching team at Thomas Buxton indicated that the programme offered increased exposure to new job roles for children and that the programme widened children’s perceptions of careers.

“Your scheme has helped to show that there is no glass ceiling, it showed the children that you must work hard, try your best and you can have a go at whatever job you want in the future.”

The programme was particularly successful in supporting the children’s career awareness around STEM jobs (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics), with the teachers agreeing that the programme helped children to develop an awareness of various careers.

“After one of the lessons, a girl in my class said she wanted to be a scientist, and one of the boys said, “Oh no, only boys can.” This sparked a discussion with the teacher. It was really good for children to get that opportunity to realise that it doesn’t matter if you are a boy or girl, you can have any career you want.”

It was widely reported by the teachers that one of the positive impacts of the programme was the improved confidence in the children’s communication skills. The teachers reported that the children’s speaking and listening behaviours were now better than before. When asked to explain this further, the teacher responded with: “Having the opportunity to do your lessons gave us a lot of time to do role-play, it helped children to develop their vocabulary and it gave the children a different meaning for their writing, a new purpose for writing.”

The teachers reported that the programme was an engaging and impactful learning experience for the children, and that they would recommend the Dream Big programme to other schools.

“Thank you so much, the children had such an amazing day and still talk about it now. It was obviously a very episodic memory for them. It just shows how meaningful it was.”

If you’re a teacher and you feel as though your pupils would benefit from our Words for Work programme, please get in touch! Email us on

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