‘I want to know that I’ll be able to get a job…’

The days of a degree guaranteeing a graduate level job are gone; there are, quite simply, too many young people studying for a degree. The percentage is almost 50% compared to 17% in the early ’80s.

Many companies are now reducing their graduate intake and putting energy and emphasis into their Apprenticeship recruitment due to the initiation of the Apprenticeship levy. This is a corporate tax on organisations with 300 employees or more. The levy is designed to encourage the increase of apprenticeship provision and, although it is early days, many big companies are choosing to increase the number of apprentices rather than pay the levy.

We will and should always have the choice about studying a subject for the sheer pleasure and for many young people, this is a conscious decision and they accept that ‘discovering’ which area of work they would like to get into is part of the package. Many young people, however, want to embark on study or training which they know will lead to a job. Finding the balance between a specific training and keeping options open for the future can feel tricky.

Let’s take an example of a 16 year old who really feels that A levels will not suit them, they can’t see the point and can’t identify any subjects they’d want to do. This student wants ‘a training’ but doesn’t want to feel stuck in one thing.

Gaining a level 3 qualification ( A levels or Btec) will keep more options open for future decisions. Choosing the qualification to suit the individual is key. A levels are exam based, academic qualifications. Extended Btecs are course work assessed and often include more practical assignments. A Level 3 Extended Btec passed with 3 star Distinctions has a higher tariff score than 3 A levels  at grade A ( UCAS tariff calculator)

Some Btecs have a career focus whilst still offering lots of choice e.g. Construction and the Built Environment https://www.ucasprogress.com/course/2170132/construction-the-built-environment-btec-level-3-diploma.

Uniformed Public Services  https://www.ucasprogress.com/course/2165622/public-services-uniformed-btec-level-3-extended-diploma

There are many specialist training colleges such as Plumpton College which offer career-specific courses for example Fishery Management or Horticulture or Metalsmithing.

Taking some time at the age of 16 to consider strengths and interests and perhaps ambitions and then seeking out qualifications which suit the individual can save a lot of stress further down the line. Not all schools and colleges offer a varied choice so more decisions then have to be made about location, friendship groups etc. This can feel tough but not as tough as ‘failing’ the first year of A level study and having to think of Plan B.


How do we find out what we really want to do in life?

It’s the perennial question, worded in different guises.

What do you do?

What do you want to be when you grow up?

Our society is obsessed with labelling everyone and this is often by the job they do. We make judgements about a person’s ‘success’ and this is too often measured by what we think they earn and how ‘professional’ they are.

More important and more honest, in my opinion, is to ask ‘how do you want to live your life?’ ‘what is important to you in your life?’

At the age of 16/18 an average young person has experienced family, school, an activity or two and perhaps a part time job but  so often we expect them to pluck a career idea from their existing knowledge or an idea that someone else has planted.

Generally in life we are happiest when we are occupied with something that interests us. We feel more motivated, more inspired and more willing to work hard. We can only discover these interests if we keep our eyes and ears open to the world and engage in as many opportunities as possible.

If you or a young person you know is saying ‘I have no idea what I want to do!’ or ‘but I don’t really do anything’ then here are a few strategies to help.

Make a mind map with an interest or two as the centre points. The ‘interests’ can be absolutely anything (it doesn’t matter if they seem shallow ) – think of things you like or are fascinated by or enjoy doing …now consider how and where these activities can be performed, what they link to etc.

You might end up with something like this;

clothes and fashion – styling – TV and film – costume design – wardrobe supervisor

clothes and fashion – shops – business/retail – international – languages

clothes and fashion – history – galleries/museums/heritage – conservation

I sometimes suggest that the sixth formers I work with read a broadsheet weekend newspaper cover to cover and then think about what has grabbed them/intrigued them/made them angry etc. It may sound a bit 20th century but they will come across ideas and viewpoints which may open the mind – the environment, health, education, sport, politics, entertainment, charity, design…

Many young people no longer watch TV  but making a conscious choice to select a programme can also be really enlightening and can be very inspiring.

Whatever your age, consider what you react to and what you hear about which makes you think – ‘that sounds amazing’. Its a good starting point!


How to choose a Level 3 qualification: A levels? Btec?

The English (and I use that deliberately, as other parts of the UK are different ) education system asks young people to narrow their subject choices at a very young age which can pose real dilemmas for many.

In Year 7, we learn a whole range of subjects which we then narrow down for GCSE level. After GCSEs, we tend to narrow down even further and this can have real implications for future decision making.

The choices after GCSEs include A levels, Btec, IB (International Baccalaureate) or other more vocational qualifications. From 2018 we will also see the introduction of Technical Levels  (T Levels). These are Level 3 qualifications and this level will be required for university entrance and for many Higher Apprenticeships, Degree Apprenticeships and School Leaver Programmes.

This post will focus on A levels.

September 2015 saw the introduction of a new wave of exams – a return to a linear, 2 year programme of study (Years 12 and 13/Lower and Upper 6th) rather than AS exams in Year 12 followed by A2 exams in Year 13.

We are in the middle of this transition which means that there are different offerings at different schools and colleges (all very confusing)

The ‘norm’ has been to choose 3 full A levels and 1 AS level. The AS level ends at the end of Year 12. From September 2017, it is likely that the ‘norm’ will be 3 full A levels only.

This pattern continues in many schools and colleges although the AS will soon simply be a year of study in an extra subject i.e. no exam.

Some schools will offer 4 or 5 A levels – these will usually be in the independent sector as the state sector cannot fund this number. DON’T WORRY. NO university asks for more than 3 A levels  (not even Cambridge). Universities HAVE to make offers based on what everyone has access to studying. The extra subjects will give the student extra knowledge/ breadth etc but this can be covered in other ways (see below). Very competitive universities will look at the structure and number and of A levels offered at particular schools and colleges.If a student has the opportunity of studying a 4th subject or an additional AS, the university may question why that student has only taken 3….

The most important thing is to acknowledge that A levels do not suit everyone – they are exam based, structured, curriculum based sets of learning. The second most important thing to consider is that students should choose what they are interested in and will enjoy.

If a young person aspires to applying to university for a particular subject area then it is really important to ensure that they choose entry-specific subjects. For example – Medicine requires Chemistry A level and  commonly Biology as well. Many Engineering courses require Maths. However, the majority of university courses are not prescriptive about subjects although they may strongly suggest that some subjects will be preferable.

A mix of Sciences and Humanities is usually very welcome and shows a rounded student with multiple skills

e.g. Maths, Physics, Art would be welcomed in many areas of engineering, is perfect for Architecture, very relevant for computer science…

Biology, History, Sociology would be welcomed in Psychology, Education, Nutrition….

Geography, Spanish, Maths would be welcomed in International Relations, Politics, Surveying….

Hopefully you get the idea….

The creative subjects including Drama, Art, Design Technology are still highly regarded even for ‘academic’ degrees as they show creative thinking, solution-finding, problem solving skills. Combined with more ‘academic’ subjects they make a very valuable offering.

Many university degrees are not confined to one narrow subject area – most will be a combination which will draw on the various interests of the student

e.g. put the word ‘Politics’ into the UCAS search tool and you will find 112 universities offering a vast range of courses which have some relevance to politics.

UCAS course search – politics.

UCAS – the university application organisation – has information covering everything you need to know Advice on choosing A level subjects and is well worth a look to get the FACTS.

I say FACTS as, sometimes, students can be misinformed by teachers and by parents and this can create some very sad and frustrating scenarios where young people struggle and ultimately fail in their studies.

Alongside the A level subjects, students are strongly advised to retain some extra curricular activities. These could include sport, drama, music, a part time job, volunteering, a language conversation group etc.

Many schools and colleges will offer the EPQ – the Extended Project Qualification. This is an independent project which the student chooses and its aim is to show some in depth research into an area of particular interest. This can be a great way to complement the A level subject choices and the end product can be almost anything – an easy, a film, a piece of music, a play, a piece of artwork etc etc.

Students who undertake the EPQ need to be good time managers and able to work independently. The EPQ is graded and some universities will base their offer on inclusion of this. Here is one student’s advice about the EPQ.

A levels are usually a ‘stepping stone’ to Higher Education or an Apprenticeship and grades count! Students can achieve the best grades in subjects they enjoy so make this the deciding factor.

Good luck

Look out for future posts about Btecs, the IB etc




Help! My child has just crashed and burned in their exams

You may already have a sinking feeling that your son or daughter has not done as well as hoped for in their impending exam results. AS and A level results are out on August 17th 2017 and GCSE results on August 24th 2017 and this can be a very stressful time for all.

Your child may have a sixth form  or college place hinging on whether they have the requisite grades, they may not be allowed back into Year 13 if their AS and school exam results are too weak and for A level students, a university or school leaver programme place may be dependent upon what’s in that envelope.

You have options;

1. You can all bury your heads in the sand and hope that it will all be ok

2. You can hope that you can make a last minute plea to the school or college to allow your kid back in.

Both these scenarios are a recipe for family argument, banging doors and tense conversation so I recommend that you take a moment to think about and discuss ‘Plan B’.

The options after GCSEs

You may want your child to continue at a school with which you are familiar and they are comfortable. HOWEVER, A levels are a huge step up from GCSEs and really don’t suit a lot of our young people. Your local FE college will offer a range of alternative qualifications which can still keep options open for higher level study if that is what your child wants. A 2 year Extended Btec is worth 3 A levels and gives access to most university courses and Degree Apprenticeships.  The learning style is different to A levels and students are assessed in a more continuous and practical way than the exam-driven A level.

Register with a college NOW as this at least gives your son or daughter and option in September. They are very used to accepting students who have to make last minute plans but courses fill up.

Your son or daughter must be in education or training until they are 18 so an apprenticeship may suit some as it will include qualifications. Finding an opportunity is not always an easy process and you may need to be a bit patient but the best starting place is www.apprenticeships.org.uk. The number of high quality apprenticeships is increasing rapidly and many companies are investing heavily.

For Year 12 students  who don’t meet minimum Year 13 entry

If there has been very good reason for why your son or daughter has not done well (illness, impactful family circumstance etc) you may be able to negotiate for them to start again in Year 12. This isn’t an easy option and many young people feel a sense of failure with this scenario so the option of moving elsewhere (see above) may be a healthier choice.

Many young people simply have enough of formal eduction. They may return to it later on but it can be a motivating option for some to leave school at the end of Year 12 and start an Apprenticeship. All apprenticeships include qualifications and this change of environment may be the catalyst for striving towards a goal.

For A level students who miss their University offers

We’ll use the familiar motto of ‘Be Prepared’. Ensure that your son or daughter is accessing their emails the day before results day as some universities will make contact to honour an offer even if a student misses a grade. On results day; make sure your child gets up early! University clearing telephone lines open very early and many schools and colleges will have staff on the case from 7am. It’s competitive so have phone numbers ready for both the Firm and Insurance offers universities as well as others which offer a very similar course with slightly lower entry requirements. It is the APPLICANT  who needs to make the call – not you, the parent.

University is a costly investment and a course decision mustn’t be made without a lot of thought so a gap year may be the answer. It gives some breathing space, allows for a new application or even resits of exams.

A Degree Apprenticeship will suit some young people better than a university education. This programme is a job, a salary and a fully funded degree. There are some incredible offers out there – they are no soft option and the application process is much lengthier than a UCAS application but the rewards are high.

Remember that fate plays its hand  – sometimes we need to ‘fail’ in order to make us realise what is important to us. Don’t fall out with your child but you might just have to stand back and let them work it out for a while; that’s tough I know….


Exciting and credible alternatives to going to university

Our teenagers have spent their school days being told that university is really the only choice for anyone who wants ‘a good job’ and, unsurprisingly, it’s proving difficult to dispel this. Parents, likewise, remember their own pathway and many will similarly extol the idea that ‘university is the only way’.

It’s absolutely true that, at present, many jobs are only open to graduates but we have all become victims of our own success if we look closely at the percentage of young people who now go to university. Its now about 50% which is what Blair declared he wanted back in ’97. In the early ’80s it was 17% so it’s not hard to see that there are a lot more graduates around. The quality of graduate jobs and salaries on offer have not kept pace and many ‘graduate jobs’ now are the sort which were previously on offer to A level students.

So, where does this leave an 18 year old and how on earth do they decide what to do?

Well, they are lucky! There are more genuine options open to them than for many years. A university education is, of course, a necessity for some  career paths (medicine, dentistry, teaching, architecture, vet science and some engineering) and a very worthwhile experience for many but I see too many young people committing to courses which they don’t enjoy and still leave them unprepared for the world beyond. The main problem with the options is the vocabulary; the word apprenticeship still has connotations of manual work and the choice for those who ‘aren’t academic’. We now have Higher Apprenticeships, School Leaver Programmes and importantly, Degree Apprenticeships – they are similar in structure and are open to those who have a level 3 qualification i.e. A levels or a Btec. There are some incredible opportunities out there which really should be considered. There are some sectors which are much better provided for than others and these include Finance especially Accountancy, Banking,  Risk Insurance, Engineering, Media including broadcasting and advertising, Fashion,  some areas of Law and  Business and Management.

Many of the programmes include a fully-funded degree which participants study in a variety of ways – day release or block study. Many pay very well from day 1 – £20,000 + with all company benefits at 18 years old with zero tuition costs.

It is quicker and easier to make a university application so a student needs to show tenacity and commitment but the rewards are high.

We now have some forward-thinking companies such as EY who are offering deferred programme places so that young people can still enjoy a gap year in the secure knowledge of knowing what they are returning to.

Many opportunities are listed via www.apprenticeships.org.uk and Which? offers really good information Higher_and_degree_apprenticeships_-_NAS___Which_Uni_-_Web.pdf


How do we approach career change as an adult?

It is said that divorce is the most stressful thing we may face as an adult followed by buying a house….this sounds rather flippant when we consider how many friends and acquaintances we encounter who are miserable or dissatisfied in their working life. This surely is one of the most destructive and depressing of life’s scenarios, isn’t it?

We’ve perhaps also met people who, having experienced a challenge such as illness or redundancy, say that , in hindsight, this was the best thing that could have happened to them as it ‘made’ them do something about their situation.

With planning, honesty, some bravery and effort we can make make changes to our work life and re gain the enjoyment, satisfaction and self esteem that we may have once known or have always craved. We do have to face the practicalities in our lives – children, money, location etc – but these do not necessarily prevent us from following a new path; we just need to approach the task in hand, compartmentalise the ‘problems’, consider how we can delegate, consider where we can seek assistance and admit that our own well-being and happiness is very important and impacts on those around us.

Whatever your age or circumstance you can make changes, learn new skills and take on new challenges. Ask yourself the following questions;

Why am I considering change?

What is the dream?

Why have I not made this happen before?

What am I really good at?

When am I at my most happy?

There are many resources where you will find help but if you identify with any of the above and would like to explore your options, do get in touch.


Having an end goal really helps motivation during exams

We’ve all been there; the impending feeling of EXAMS and worrying about how to keep focussed and motivated.
As a parent and a career guidance professional, I am absolutely positive that young people find this time much less stressful if they have a clear idea about where they are heading and feel motivated by the future ahead of them. As adults, we feel that time whizzes by in a flash but we need to remember that 6 months or a year can feel endless to a young person. When they hear ‘come on, you’ve just got to keep going for a few more months’ these words can feel like a life sentence.

I often work with de-motivated teenagers who are heading towards very low grades at AS level and a self-imposed sense of failure. This is such a damaging emotion and can often lead a young person to simply bury their in the sand in the hope that it will all go away. By talking through the options and choices ahead of them, considering their learning style and challenging other underlying factors, we can turn miserable, stressed teenagers into young people who assume responsibility for their own efforts and feel excited about their future.

We can introduce simple tools for people of all ages who are feeling overwhelmed. Creating a wall planner or time line is a great visual reminder of what needs to be achieved – block out known events such as family gatherings or outings and then divide the remaining time into achievable slots for revision etc.
Taking time to visit a university or college even during a period leading up to exams can be inspiring.

Taking time to create a CV and focus on skills can help an undergraduate remain confident in their ‘saleability’.

Considering alternative qualifications is a healthy exercise for young people who may be working hard but just are not achieving. Remember that A levels and Btecs are both level 3 qualification and can both lead onto university. Btecs are not assessed by exam and often include varied ways of learning.

If you or someone you care about is about to face ‘exam season’, I wish you the best of luck and if you feel that I could help, please get in touch.