Friday, 2 September 2011

Who are our Children's Role Models?

At the start of a new school year, classes may choose to undertake a study into role models. Or during the year, the study of role models may be part of the PSHCE or RE curriculums. The term role model may also appear in history, science and other subject areas when significant figures are mentioned or studied. The purpose of these studies and the use of the term ‘role model’ is to give children direction and someone for them to aspire to be or become more like. If we, as adults, refer to someone as a role model then the person’s actions, morals and achievements need to be something worth aspiring to.

The people seen by children as role models are more often drawn from contemporary society and modern culture and are often world famous. I would like to see children thinking more deeply about the term role model. What exactly makes a role model and are they someone that everyone can aspire to be more like?

From looking in the dictionary, I found: ‘role model (noun); a person looked to by others as an example to be imitated’. My parents were role models. I looked to and still look to them for inspiration, advice and direction. While, not all parents will be perfect role models for their children, they, even though children may not realise it, are their first role models, shaping and defining their early lives. A discussion of parents as role models could be a good place to begin the lesson. How do the children perceive their parents as role models? The teachers and other members of a school’s staff will also be seen as role models by some of the children they work with. Have any of the children realised or experienced this?

There are many people in a child’s life they will look to copy, turn to for advice and reassurance. These people (close relatives, teachers, club leaders or community members) can be looked to first in a lesson about role models. These are the most important role models as they are the ones children have daily contact with and may not even realise they are role models. Then the children’s idea of whom they see as a famous role model can be looked at, before possibly discussing some other role models that are possibly less well known.

Within primary education, on the news and in various other media I frequently hear the name ‘David Beckham’ being put forward as a role model. While I have nothing against David Beckham or his achievements I do feel there are other role models we can look to first. The Wikipedia entry for Role Models highlights children’s perception of what or indeed who a ‘role model’ is. Below are some suggestions of less mentioned role models:

Richard Branson – Found school challenging. Has dyslexia. Left school without qualifications. Multimillionaire!

Elizabeth Fry – Prison reformist. Features on £5 notes in England.

Maximilian Kolbe – Took the place of a condemned man at Auschwitz. Kolbe died, Franciszek Gajowniczek went on to live until 1995.

St. Thomas More – Refused to go against something he believed in.

Adam Smith – Earned a reputation and became one of the most influential works on economics ever published.

Aung San Suu Kyi – Political activist.

Margret Thatcher – Perhaps not a popular choice with everyone, but overcome boundaries to become the UK’s first female Prime minister.


  1. I'm glad to see you blogging about role models, it's a really vital discussion with increasing relevance in Primary at KS2. In collaboration with the TES Growing Ambitions people I’ve recently launched a new free tool for KS3+ called ‘The Talking Jobs Randomiser’. I see it is as blended learning tool for schools to use ahead of classroom/small group debate about careers, community and stereotyping. People’s responses to questions about their working lives, experience in education and family backgrounds are explored, yet randomised to help cut across social and economic divides. Company and brand names are avoided, and the interviewees were nominated by colleagues and employers as access to impartial Labour Market Experience (LME) is a core component of the work. It would be relatively easy for me create a KS2 specific version - do you think I should?

    Andrew Manson - founder Talking Jobs

  2. Talking about careers at KS2 happens. It looks like a great resource. What's there could be used in primary. If you want any help creating a resource for KS2 please let us know.