The world beyond School has changed immeasurably in the last ten years alone, let alone when you or I began our own post-18 journeys. Generation Z (those born between 1997 and 2012) have vastly different expectations of work, rejecting traditional hierarchies and desiring more collaboration in their work and the greater community. They are more likely to have ‘portfolio careers’ – moving between jobs as technology advances rather than remaining in one or two careers for life. They are also a generation that has become fearful of failure – the average age of learning to drive in the UK now is 26, not for lack of need or expense, but for fear of the difficulties in achieving success in it.
Reflecting these changes, the world of post-18 options is also a changing beast. For many of our boys university remains the route they wish to take even from a reasonably young age. However, even this sector has changed vastly in the past decade. For boys and parents of any age, understanding the wider landscape of the post-18 world might help them make better choices at GCSE and A Level.
Students are more discerning than ever before about university as a post-18 option. The average History student has just eight hours of lectures a week, and medicine has around 19 hours or lectures (plus clinical labs and similar). With less than half of UK students seeing university as ‘good’ or ‘very good’ value, it is crucial they pick somewhere that is right for them. The term ‘Russell Group’ is often used as a benchmark of ‘good’ universities – these are 24 elite universities committed to research and teaching excellence. However, some notably excellent universities are not in this group, such as Loughborough and Bath. It should not, therefore, be the only consideration. Equally, students often neglect the global picture – universities in Europe, the USA, Asia and Australia offer huge opportunities to students and many are able to support students with additional bursaries. With the increasing cost of a UK education, looking abroad is something far less to be feared than previously.
Statistics and league tables can be equally misleading. The ‘Teaching Excellence Framework’ (the TEF) was introduced to identify those universities who may not spend as much on research but whose teaching and care of undergraduates was truly excellent. Universities can be awarded Gold, Silver or Bronze in the TEF and for students looking for value for money, it is one way in which they can consider the advantages of each university. Like any measure however, some universities can focus only on achieving highly in this award, and therefore it should be just part of a consideration.
Finally, for universities, students should be aware of both of the league tables. Importantly, they should not look necessarily at the overall league tables, but at those for the specific subject, they intend to study. Some universities have specialisms that make them renowned in certain areas but not others. For example in my own subject of Politics, as well as some well-known universities being excellent, so are Keele, Lancaster and Aberystwyth. Similarly, the league tables also reflect student satisfaction at each institution; knowing what current students think can only be useful when making university decisions.
But what about other routes? I have written previously about the degree apprenticeship route – a fantastic opportunity for a student to spend 3-6 years gaining either a bachelor‘s or master‘s degree whilst earning a good salary. We had our first candidates offered places on degree apprenticeships in 2020, and with the increasing cost of university nationally, this is a fantastic way to get a degree whilst gaining the work experience that many graduates lack.
For some students, the world of work alone may beckon after school. This may be through an apprenticeship scheme to allow them to earn a salary and learn the skills of a trade immediately. For boys who have a very clear idea of what career path they would like to follow this can be a very appealing route as it can put them three years ahead of their graduate peers on the career ladder. Obviously, they may start on a lower salary than a graduate but may advance more quickly through a company because of the gained skills. Alternatively, boys may choose a route such as the military which can provide short- or long- term contracts in a secure and well-paid job. We usually have one or two boys annually taking this route.
Finally, for students who find all of the above simply too much to countenance as they consider their post-18 options, they can look at a gap year. This should be more than just a ‘year out’. A well-planned gap year can help a student find direction in their future plans, develop independence and gain valuable experiences to help them grow as an individual and to develop their CV. With the notably high cost of routes such as university, a student might be better placed taking a gap year and really considering their next step rather than jumping into the wrong choice, university or post-18 route. Dedicated gap year companies offer volunteering experiences in far–flung locations or the opportunity to work in summer camps in the USA, whilst other students may choose to spend time gaining work experience and paid employment. There are longer–term opportunities such as becoming a gap year student in an independent school in Australia for a year. Taking the opportunity to travel is never a wasted option, developing important skills in planning, communication and resilience.
The teenage brain goes through vast changes, beginning at about the age of 13 and in some cases continuing until the age of 28. This, coupled with the pace of the 21st Century and the vastness of information that can sometimes overwhelm us, means that boys may not know what they want to do at 18, let alone any younger. However, knowing the routes that are available to them can prevent them from simply falling into a path they believe they are expected to follow, rather than one that will fully unlock their enthusiasm and potential.