So, the examination season is upon us and I am very impressed by the calmness and determination of the students in U6th. The IB final exams and Language orals for A Level having been running for the last week or so and I am grateful to the many teaching and support staff who have been involved with the invigilation schedule, even on Bank Holiday Monday – the International Baccalaureate being no respecter of a national Bank Holiday. Lower 6th students of Maths, Classical Civilisation and Russian will also have public exams shortly, being the last year of the modular system.
As the tide pulls out on this (now ‘old’) modular structure that was set in play in the Curriculum 2000 reforms, it is timely to ponder on the purpose of the headlong rush of qualifications that dominates the hours of study for the average 16-18 year old. I see students being, perhaps more than ever, concerned about what they will be doing next. ‘Next’ in this context means after their IB or A Level and also ‘next’ in terms of after their degree. The problem is that it is easy to feel that all of the ‘nexts’ need to be mapped out ahead of time. Now, a spot of forward planning is generally good. We also spend a lot of time encouraging our students to learn how to manage longer-term deadlines such as that which they experience in the Extended Essay which runs over around 7 months in total. I spoke to a student recent who was in dilemma about her career. “But that option won’t give me a flexible working pattern and a high income”. Whimsically, I replied that she was probably looking for the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow and probably needed to be a bit more realistic! Her concern was however, more along the lines that she might feel more content if she could map out the next 6 to 10 years of her life with sufficient certainty. Only then would she be able to deal with the opportunities that were being presented to her in the next month.
Actually, this is an understandable stress. The pressure in the UK university system is usually to focus on one subject from the start of the degree. This means that the end of the L6th onwards is geared towards that subject. Of course, this is no problem for many who are delighted to be able to fulfil their dream to focus their study in this way. However, anxiety can increase where students are perhaps not quite sure about the choice of subject or just wondering where it all might lead to.
With so many of our own students having a global outlook and perhaps having lived in other countries, I am having more conversations with students who are surprised to be forced into making such narrow choices immediately post 6th form. Into this scene please welcome the broader courses, some of which are modelled on the North American system of Liberal Arts, alternative options from overseas and some very good joint honours degrees allowing a combination of subjects. Fortunately there are some superb options to consider in the UK and abroad.
It is also good to remind ourselves of a broader perspective on the value of a university degree. Indeed, Curnock Cook, the outgoing Head of UCAS comments in a recent interview with the Daily Telepgraph,
"You have plenty of time to figure out how to be successful in the workplace, so I think obsession with graduate employment within six months is unhelpful. … It’s about broadening your horizons, it’s too utilitarian to think you’ve got to go to university and then land a career straight after that. It’s terribly unhelpful”.
I am not sure that Ms Cook perhaps appreciates the difficulties of student debt that many face at the end of their degrees when she says this! However, I do appreciate her sentiment which is based on a desire to promote a considered approach to finding the first job and also to the value of volunteering and temporary employment which can be a great way to build the skills and characteristics that are more relevant for the workplace in comparison with the academic rigours of that final year dissertation. I am not sure where that leaves us and advice to our students other than to say that such matters are definitely personal and best advised and supported on a one-to-one basis which is exactly what we do.
Our university advice day will be on Wednesday 14th June with visiting speakers from Cambridge, Newcastle and Nottingham Universities. We are joined by Unifrog in the evening for the parent session (also open to students and parents in Year 9 up). On Tuesday 27th June we will have a personal statement advice afternoon with a visit from UCL. I will be splitting the students into broad subject groups and we are delighted to also welcome some other experts from academia and business, largely from our parent body, who will be complementing our own subject advisers.
"You have plenty of time to figure out how to be successful in the workplace, so I think obsession with graduate employment within six months is unhelpful. … It’s about broadening your horizons, it’s too utilitarian to think you’ve got to go to university and then land a career straight after that. It’s terribly unhelpful”.“