Making Post-16 Choices: Key Issues to ConsiderBlogs
Making Post-16 Choices: Key Issues to ConsiderOne of the big problems for young people today in trying to decide on their next step after school is the issue 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."< /blockquote> Which is right? They both are! Or putting it another way - neither is right. Either of these options might be the right one for you depending on the answers to a number of key questions. Here are the main ones:
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.
- Do you have a clear career aim in mind? If so, you may need to aim for specific courses in further or higher education or seek out a relevant apprenticeship.
- Are you 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 you have 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 you enjoy most ones which involve being active or creative - like PE, technology, art or music?
- In the career field you 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 you the "bookish" type? Do you always have your nose in a book and enjoy the challenge of expressing your ideas clearly in essays or other writing projects? Or perhaps you have an unusually strong ability at number work and can "see" the solutions to mathematical problems in your head and find mental arithmetic something that just comes easily?
- Are you doing well at school and expecting mainly As and Bs in your GCSEs?
Choosing Between Sixth Form and CollegeIf you have looked into the pros and cons of the apprenticeships route (or indeed simply applying for straightforward jobs) but decided against this then you are choosing full time study over the "learning while earning" route. This may not be the end of the decision making process as it may be that your chosen course is on offer from more than one provider of further education. What are the possibilities? This depends mainly on where you live but, for many, the choice will be between:
- Staying on at their present school
- Applying to join the Sixth Form of another school
- Applying to an FE college
- Applying to a Sixth Form College
Things to ConsiderThere are pros and cons to all of these options. These are some of the things to think about.
Advantages of staying at your existing schoolIf your school has a sixth form and you are considering staying on you will be in a familiar environment, surrounded by teachers and students you already know. Sixth forms are smaller and tend to provide more structure and support than colleges. In some cases the standard of teaching in academic subjects will be higher in a sixth form or sixth form college than at an FE college. Also, a disabled student will already know how their school accommodates disabled pupils. This can vary widely from one school or college to another, and you shouldn't underestimate the value of studying in a familiar environment.
Sixth Form versus CollegeSome FE colleges are very large and a bit impersonal - like attending a university. This can be fun but the students do need to have the maturity and self-discipline to stick at their studies and manage their own time and deadlines in the absence of teachers watching over them. Sixth form colleges are a half-way house between sixth form and FE college in this respect. It could be argued that this more informal environment will give you the opportunity to learn new skills which will come in handy at university or in the workplace. School sixth forms also tend to have a more relaxed style but, as they are still part of the school, they may have a more formal and structured timetable than if you went to a sixth form college or an FE college. Sixth forms can range from between 100 and 400 students so the range of courses and subjects you can study will depend on the size of the sixth form. Some schools will have arrangements with other local schools or colleges so they are able to offer more options. If you stay on at a school sixth form you will have the option to take AS subjects in your first year and then choose the subjects you want to take at A level (or A2) in your second year. Many schools now offer a range of other more work related courses such as BTEC Nationals and NVQs so you should find out what's on offer at the sixth form you are thinking about going to. Because they are usually bigger, colleges can offer a wider range of study options. This could mean a wider choice of A level subjects and a big choice of vocational courses. Students moving to a college also get to meet lots of new people and make new friends as colleges take students from different schools.
FE CollegesFurther education colleges are usually larger than sixth form colleges, although what they provide varies depending on what else is on offer locally. If most local schools have sixth forms, or there are local sixth form colleges, the FE college may specialise in subjects which closely link to the needs of commerce or industry. These could include subjects such as art, agriculture or technology, many of which can lead to university entry. In areas where the FE college is the only, or the main option after 16, they will offer everything you could get in a school sixth form or sixth form college. Some FE colleges will have more than one site and some will have separate 'sixth form centres'. Although most students at FE colleges are over 16 all colleges will have part-time and adult students. If you are a young person with a disability and have difficulties getting around, studying at an FE college can be an excellent option. This is because many will let you combine your college learning with learning at home. You'll also find that all FE colleges have a Learning Support Advisor who you can talk to about the courses and support that is available to you.
Best of both worldsWhatever your circumstances, if you're unsure whether to stay on at school or go to a sixth form college, some schools run link courses at further education colleges to let you see what college life is like by attending one or two days a week.
Find Out MoreAll colleges publish a free prospectus which includes information about their facilities and the courses on offer. They also have open days so that you can go along and see what is on offer and discuss any issues you have with the college. These are great opportunities to see what a college is like, find out information, meet tutors and other students, have a look around and ask lots of questions! Chris Speedy is the site author of www.careersadviceforparents.org
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