One of the big issues for young people and parents today in trying to decide on the next step after school is the problem of marketing.  Schools,  FE colleges,  training providers and universities are all competing to attract “customers” onto their programmes.

Marketing messages are everywhere.  Adverts on the telly, on the web,  in newspapers and even on the sides of buses.  Go to a careers fair and you will return home laden with brochures and flyers.  Further education and training (apprenticeships etc) is a huge market and the sums of money involved are immense.

There is a clear and obvious problem here.  Can you trust what you are being told and, even if you can, how can you decide between different options which appear equally good but for different reasons?

Take these contrasting pieces of advice:

“If you’re academically able you should get a degree.  The statistics prove that this will boost your career prospects and not having a degree could drastically reduce your options in the jobs market.”

“Why build up a mountain of debt when you can work towards higher qualifications through an apprenticeship or a school leaver training programme with a major employer.”

Which is right?  They both are!  Or putting it another way – neither is right.  Either of these options might be the right one for your child depending on the answers to a number of key questions.  Here are the main ones:

  • Does she have a clear career aim in mind?
  • Is she interested in a career in which certain qualifications (like a degree) in certain subjects (like engineering,  nursing,  teaching, medicine, social work etc.) are really the entry ticket to that first job?
  • Maybe he has done OK at school but has always found study,  writing assignments and sitting exams a bit of an effort.
  • Are the subjects and activities that he enjoys most ones which involve being active or creative – like PE,  technology, art or music?
  • In the career field they have in mind,  are there well established non-graduate entry routes direct from Year 11 or after one or two years in the sixth form or at college?
  • Are they bookish types who always have their nose in a book and enjoy the challenge of expressing themselves clearly in essays or other writing projects?  Or perhaps they have an unusually strong ability at number work and can “see” the solutions to mathematical problems in their head and find mental arithmetic something that just comes easily?
  • Is she doing well at school and expecting mainly As and Bs in her GCSEs?

If the answer to that last question is “no” then in many cases it would be advisable to consider switching after Year 11 to more vocational learning; which might be doing NVQs and technical courses on an apprenticeship or staying in full time education and following what is called a ‘general vocational’ course at a local college of further education or perhaps in Sixth Form.

Such courses are available in a wide range of work-related subjects (such as technology, science, social care, design, construction, hospitality and catering etc) and can be taken over one, two or even three years with no fees to pay.

There are a number of other issues to weigh up when deciding whether to apply for a course in the Sixth Form (or at Sixth Form College) or at an FE college.  I will go into these in detail in my next article in the series!