What next after post 16? What August brings!

First Thursday in August, big day for 17/18 year olds their families and teachers. A Level and Btec results out and some decisions about the steps after school or college. Here is a bit of advice from my 20 years as a head of sixth form

Don’t muddle up two pieces of news: Results and Next Steps

low angle photo of fireworks

1 Well done on your results, even if you wished you had worked harder or had more luck, you have your results. Celebrate the success, even if, or especially if you found it hard and persevered, you got them.

2 The more complicated bit is what you do next and for that I think there are three likely outcomes:

a) You got your dream

contemplationAfter all the UCAS stuff or maybe the searching for the right apprenticeship or even the  world of employment, your grades opens that door of opportunity. Still some advice for you: if you are continuing in education you’ll need to carry on with more and improved versions of what got you to here. Ok you might be and should be excited about University or leaving home or having autonomy and independence. More thoughts about the opportunities of student life than the messy sinks of student accommodation. However you are off to study and so whatever you’ve been doing you’ll need to step it up. More reading, more organisation, more independent learning, more work and probably less feedback and support than school or college gave you. The latter matters, you need to be more of your own judge and set your own standards. I recall a good friend excitedly awaiting her first feedback on an essay which got a β+ ( that’s beta plus) and she asked her supervisor what that meant. ‘Well’ he said ‘its not as good as an α- ( alpha minus) but better than a β.’ She asked what she needed to do to improve he took the essay back and said ‘maybe work on the English’. For a young lady with full marks in AS modules for English she realised at that point she had to work out what learning meant in this new world. Vital to success here is to img_0962read, read, read and to discuss the standard of work with peers and those on your course but a bit older. Heck and start now, yes now, find a book or two on that dreaded reading list and….start…reading. My own two daughters got fed up with me saying “you are reading for a degree in” Of course the new world offers wonderful opportunities but the priority one is your learning because….that gets you to the next step….( but lets leave that for now).

Meanwhile if its apprenticeships or employment, get the details right..know when and where to start, what to wear and find out about expectations. Be prepared to throw yourself in, be polite, listen, ask questions if uncertain and speak to those who work close to you to ensure you do everything you can to get off to a good start too. Put all your energy in for the early days, be fresh and optimistic and make sure you learn what you have to do and do it with skill, if necessary with the same inge=redients of hard work, perseverance and being part of a team.

b) You just miss your dream but get a healthy second

This is a bit tough, maybe you knew the first choice was a bit over ambitious and you are ok with second choice, maybe the HEI offers an alternative. However maybe you never thought second choice would become your next step. Make sure you know what you are letting yourself in for here. Did you visit the institution, was it a positive choice or one to get the form filled and get a sixth form tutor off your back? Well you can and should still celebrate those results BUT think carefully now. img_0951Think, research and write a few advantages and disadvantages down and talk, talk talk. Talk to peers, talk to family, talk to teachers or talk with local careers officers ( Futures in Nottingham) even talk to the Institution. Oh and I realise you hate talking , this isn’t email, text, whats app territory this is picking a person to speak to…rest assured it will help, people like to help! img_0959Take a bit of time but clearing can be mad and busy and you will feel pressurised. Remember you are off to study for 3 or 4 years, you will be doing lots and lots of ( *subject X*). Remember all the research you did for choice one, do it now to ensure you are making a good decision. If you are doing all this to please great Aunt Ethel and who keeps ringing to ask what you are doing next, just stop, tell her and yourself it’s not that easy and simple. Never make the decision to appease family or friends – they won’t be sat there as you wonder why on earth you ended up studying sand castle building at the University of Little Piddle in the Paddocks. If necessary visit the place, that is vast if you have not already visited, yes that’s right, even if you have a holiday job get some time off, surely you won’t sign up for big expense, big commitment and your next 3 years without doing that, surely! That’s like signing for a big mortgage on a house without seeing the property because you are staying home to watch “Cash in the attic”.

As one Dean of admissions told me ” I fear some students spend more time researching their post exam holiday in Ibiza than they do their future degree.” and the next day I was pulled out of a lesson by an urgent request from two A Level students arguing about which flat, in which island in greece….you couldn’t make it up. A student who had a B in my subject (Chemistry) and an E in Maths and ICT, was refused his first choice of computing but offered Chemistry at the same University…”should I take it Mr Dexter?” Me “Do you want to study Chemistry for 3 years or still try to do software design?” Steve ” I honestly don’t really like Chemistry Sir”. QED. PS He now works in the creative IT industry.

Much the same applies to apprenticeships or employment…do your research especially if it’s a late change of plan. Be realistic, some apprenticeships are more competitive that HE places, get on that internet and get answers and do your research too.

c) You miss both plan A and B

It’s not the end of the world, not at all, it may feel like it but plenty of people have been exactly where you are just now. Ok so hold tight, first of all well one on those results, and you might need a good reflection on them. There shouldn’t really be any surprises, your teachers and you should have known quite closely how you were doing. You might have been very optimistic and thought you would do better but this is reality now.

Should I retake?

Rarely works in my view. It might if you had a critical incident, a family crisis coming up to exams, a health issue which is resolved etc But the reality is that you are looking at doing a year of study that you struggled with for various reasons and staring at doing it again, with few peers and maybe not a full timetable. Evidence would suggest retreading isn’t as effective as moving on.  imageYou might even think about doing one subject again in the summer without attending school or College…don’t. It’s also a very competitive market in some areas, so if your offer was AAA for a competitive course and you got BBB, don’t assume that if you redo the offer of AAA still stands. You need to talk to the HEI urgently. Reflect on the situation this last two years on your learning, be honest, talk with staff and family and make a plan.

Should I take a gap year?

Some students think this option, especially made in a rush, allows for time to decide. How much time do you want? A year?img_3103 Planned gap years with mixtures of work experience, earning money, travel, new experiences can all be helpful, though as above they need thinking about. Don’t deceive yourself, the gap year isn’t  one big holiday, its work, new people new experiences, lots of challenge. I really like gap years, I think students get more out of their University experience and are a little wiser, I worked as a lab technician in a gap year so I am a fan. However don’t think you can ring a local company and get a job for six months, or ring the Raleigh Trust and build a health centre in Mongolia…you can but it needs planning and often fund-raising too – it’s all about commitment. If you are serious then find people ( from your school or college or community) who have done the very project. And if you are serious, well you had started some plans anyway, hadn’t you?. Lastly think if you are deciding to reapply, just how that works if you are abroad, not just interviews but that research, how will it be done?

So you are saying I’m stuck?

Not at all, you have qualifications, maybe A Levels or Btecs or GCSEs. You now need a rethink and support. Think if you really want to study and continue education, more of the last two years, or do you want a change, an apprenticeship or employment or a different sort of degree? There is plenty of choice, arguably too much so get the pen and paper out and do those exercises school or College made you do. What are you good at, what do you like doing, what are your skills, what do you NOT want to do? now talk to family, friends and professionals: teachers, tutors or take those notes to a careers meeting. Be patient and try to get it right but you are allowed to change your mind. Apparently around 40% of undergraduates try to change course and many drop out, so you are in good company.

So it’s a challenging and busy time – getting ready to leave home will be frenetic with activity and fitting it in amongst farewells is fun but keep a focus and priority. Unsure if you are doing the right thing, talk ( sorry not email/text but TALK). Uncertain about options seek professional help – HE staff, Careers staff, possibly your own teachers and family and friends.

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My best wishes whoever you are reader, and grab every opportunity by the horns, as sometimes they feel a bit like that but that too is your destiny.

 

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Thursday period 3 – UCAS deadline, hey maybe that can change.

ucasThere are some jobs you miss in the profession when you move on (up, sideways or down) and some you don’t. I am ambivalent about missing UCAS references. At my school sixth form tutors do references and do them spot on (pretty well) – another of the sixth form pastoral staff polish, check etc. Over the last 20 years I have done all that, and I enjoyed writing and most of all talking with students about opportunities perhaps not enjoy because some , most are very stressed. I saw it as a bit of a privilige really. So it was always good to add a calm voice, a sensible view but of course not magic wand. It was also a collosal amount of work for me, for tutors and for students and a massive pressure pot for staff, students and parents. I daresay HE might feel the same.

Even with a new job as Head I still did three references and forms this this last week. One of those was a “Please Sir do you remember me, I left years ago but… can you lastminutereference help me out?”. Soft that I am I did – just by hours!

Meanwhile in another Universe I am trying hard with subject leaders and SLT to work out how we manage the ‘dogs dinner’of a curriculum for post 16. Whilst some changes feel bad (please don’t ask I’m a Chemist, we change to new specs, new assessment and no practical assessment but at least the spec for teaching in 6 months is now approved (as of December!). Some specs change so AS does not count in the end but at least remains coteachable, some do not. I think the staff are pretty clear on their own subjects but across the piste? Mmmmm. And what they need to consider, not much chance of that because you politician types forget we aren’t sitting around waiting your latest ideas we are…teaching a generation now.

I have always been bothered to explain to our Y13 that it is harder than Y12 because it brings the sharp end of A Level , stretch and challenge, and final exam chances, but also all those big decisions. I am also convinced those decisions can motivate and if we help students get them right they can achieve well, and aim higher than they might imagine. That has been my experience. Despite this here is my suggestion after 20 years as a Head of Sixth form

  1. Get HE to decide IF they want AS or not ( I do remember working with UCAS predictions before the advent of AS – I can tell readers it isn’t easy!) Maybe it doesn’t matter, we seem to be in a new world already whereby AAA or better gets you into most subjects in most places and probably AAB – and it feels like the rest get that same offer even if we know they may not make it. [don’t scream at me about medicine and English and RG Uni and Oxbridge I know I know]. However have these decisions clear. For example
  2. Give staff time to plan their schemes understand assessment and nuances, get to exam board training and have time to talk with each other to decide the very best way to carve up teaching and learning. Consult with SLT to design a great curriculum offer. Four subjects or three; extended essays or not, and please can someone look at the funding.
  3. Halt the AS/A2 changes now. Get the new specs for all subjects sorted for start in 2016 not 2015. Do AS and let it count or do AS and don’t let it count. Teachers and learners just need the rules ( and preferably the same rules to each subject!)
  4. Be radical on HE entry. I’ve never much favoured PQA ( post qualification application) because of the motivation I mentioned above but try this:
Which way?

Which way?

  • Minimise Y12 AS exams – one paper ( maybe or maybe not cwk) whether it counts or not. Preferably forget them as we are abandoning predictions see below! [Save some time]
  • Start the end of Y13 exams ( A2 +/-AS) at start of May. This drags exams on longer in school but staff can stagger their work in terms of revising with Y11 or 12 or 13 and all that means for schools and Colleges.
  • It takes 6/7 weeks to results, replan this. These exams start May not mid June so can have results early July?
  • After Y13 complete exams maybe mid June schools and colleges start all the practicalities of UCAS PQA. We help look at courses, we have Open days visits and we prepare statements and references BUT no predictions because the button is pressed mid July when we all know results. We will do background stuff but not forcing so many decisions so early on
  • E. do not know need to think “how many will get the grade?” “how reliable is the referee?” The form arrives with grades.
  • Over the summer there can be interviews and if not the time for HE colleagues just start term a bit later for first year UG.

    Maybe a Chemist maybe an astronomer, maybe a paeleantolo Oh hang it. I can't even spell that

    Maybe a Chemist maybe an astronomer, maybe a paeleantolo Oh hang it. I can’t even spell that

I am sure readers will say what about medics etc BUT we all see many students who think they should apply for X or Y but their results make us think they may make it and it’s hard to say a definite you won’t for some. WE also see an element of immaturity at application time, uncertain ideas which is fair enough and we make some decide by October 15th. In this new world, this all evaporates, no student will apply for the AAA course with predicted AAA ( which might mean AAA or AAB ( stats show most grades predictions are correct within a grade or two overall I recall) now they apply with AAA. I can imagine many courses offering a range of grades and I suspect they could, surely they know students with AAA down to BBC do or do not cope with this course etc

As for motivation I do like my students to do some visits in Y12 – well they can do, they can visit and be inspired to aspire, they can be helped to understand the basics by which I mean to get into this course you need….. these grades/this interest/these skills. Entry profiles take on a new highly significant meaning, this is what you aim for. It might benefit a subject like mine Chemistry maybe others where Y12 still feels like we are teaching much basic stuff and some of the more interesting work comes late Autumn and Spring of Y13. As we now stand it’s a bit late for a student who having had few ideas of what to study but been badgered by home and school to decide, and now finds a real interest in Chemistry. In fact we might all have that responsibility in our Y13 work to trumpet our subjects even more with this is what HE looks like and being nearer than a present applicant we might get those choices right and get a few more young people into the right courses and see better progress in HE.

There I’ve said it


You might like to read other posts from my timetable of teaching – each is set out from lesson in the school week, before or after school or at the weekends, appropriate to the time of day. I have also started a  class lists or “set lists” which was to answer the questions: “why be a teacher?”or “why have other responsibilities in a school?” Shortly I am starting a new area about progress from one role or experience in teaching to another with hints and tips about successfully moving on in the job and your teaching career.

Some Questions:

Q1 Might this make an optimistic call over what feels like an unwealdy future for post16?

Q2 HE Univeristy Providers what do you think?

Q3 SChools and FE Colleges what do you think?

Q4 Most important, Students what do you think?


 

Links
UCAS

Complete University Guide

Push University Guide

Telegraph article on choosing HE

Guardian choosing University – ideas from students

Unistats support data for making informed choices

The Student room advice


 

For those in a Church school:

Psalm 25:5 Guide me in your truth and teach me, for you are God my Saviour, and my hope is in you all day long.

Psalm 139:10  even there your hand will guide me, your right hand will hold me fast.

Romans 12:6   We have different gifts, according to the grace given to each of us.

2 Timothy 1:6 For this reason I remind you to fan into flame the gift of God, which is in you

1 Peter 4:10 Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms.