Understanding your child’s post 16 options

The COVID-19 pandemic has led to education being a combination of remote learning and face-to-face contact in schools. Despite these uncertain times,  there is still a vast amount young people can do to prepare for the next steps with your help. 

There is no question that the process of making decisions about the future is particularly challenging at present. Though nobody is under any illusion that the labour market is going to be under pressure following the pandemic, there are many grounds for hope and optimism. The crisis will pass and the most powerful way of preparing for the future is through education.

If your child is in secondary school, advice and guidance will certainly still be provided. All schools are required to have a careers education and guidance programme and will be able to point to a whole host of online resources which provide information and insights into all kinds of careers. Nevertheless, there is nothing employers, college and university admissions tutors like more than young people who have shown the initiative to find out what they have to offer and ask questions. 

Here are some tips and ideas for parents

  • The range of opportunities out there for young people is vast and exciting. Don’t let them be demoralised by the often gloomy messages in the media.
  • Encourage and help them to use the increased time at home to explore different careers. Help them to find out as much as possible about the different jobs people do, what the entrance requirements are and what would help them to prepare.
  • In the 21st century job market, it is highly unlikely that any young person will remain in one job for life. As new technologies and ways of working develop they will constantly be learning new skills. This is why the pre-16 curriculum is designed to provide a broad basic education. When making choices at 16 there is, therefore, every reason for young people to choose those courses that motivate and interest them and are suited to their aptitudes.
  • Young people do not need to choose a specific career at this stage. There is plenty of time for that and it makes sense to keep their options open.
  • Now that everyone remains in education or training until 18 there is a range of pathways at 16: Going into the sixth form in their current school or at a college. Most school sixth forms offer A Levels in most subjects and some BTEC options which are more vocationally oriented. Access to these courses will depend on GCSE grades so it is important to understand entry requirements and ensure those course choices are realistic.
  • Now that everyone remains in education or training until 18 there is a range of pathways at 16:

a. Going into the sixth form in their current school or at a college. Most school sixth forms offer A Levels in most subjects and some BTEC options which are more vocationally oriented. Access to these courses will depend on GCSE grades so it is important to understand entry requirements and ensure those course choices are realistic. 

b. Applying for vocational courses in a further education college. These courses are operated at different levels depending on GCSE grades achieved at schools. It is not too early to pick up a prospectus and go along to open days or check the college website for virtual tours. 

c. Applying for an apprenticeship. At the age of 16, these will tend to be at level 2 which is equivalent to GCSE standard. Often successful apprentices at this level progress into high training after completion but there are plenty of routes into apprenticeships including ones at degree level at the age of 18 so that route does not need to be chosen at 16.

  • Choices at 16 will depend partly on any ambitions they might have for the next steps at 18. Whichever route is chosen, it will be important to research these early and take professional advice from a careers adviser.
  • University is one option which will continue to be suited to many young people. If university is the planned destination it is probable that a traditional A Level course will be most suitable. If they want to go for a specific degree such as medicine subject choice will matter and it is important to take advice. They can find out about universities via the UCAS website and even do virtual tours.
  • But university is not the only route. Higher and Degree level apprenticeships provide the same qualifications through an employment route. There are a growing number of highly desirable qualifications with no tuition fees, paid work and lead to a wide range of different professions. I would certainly advise parents to research these highly desirable and competitive options seriously.
  • A key driver for these choices should be based on your child’s personality, interests and aptitudes.

a. Do they want to continue with academic study or would they prefer more practically oriented courses?

b. Would the school environment be more or less suitable than a college environment? 

c. If the school has a sixth form, will it be better to stay in a familiar setting where the teachers and students already know each other or would a change of setting such as a college be advisable? Where is the desired choice of subjects available and what do past results look like?  It will be important to research any change carefully, visit any other institutions and take the advice of teachers and professional careers advisers.

  • It is important to investigate the range of careers in different sectors. For example, when thinking about a career in health becoming a doctor is only one role. There are literally hundreds of others.

As young people approach decisions at 16 it is really important to explore what is available. Careermag for School Leavers and the excellent Careermap.co.uk website are a great starting point. 

My final piece of advice is to encourage your child to ‘think outside the box’. There is ample research showing that many young people tend to make choices based on their own limited experience or understanding of the range of opportunities available. Exploring a route to the next steps in their lives is an exciting process for you and your children to explore together.

About the Author

About the Author

Brian Lightman’s broad experience in education spanning 41 years, including two headships and president General Secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders.

Now a self-employed education consultant, he has a wide ranging portfolio including working with schools, and leading on careers education for the PiXL network of over 3,000 schools. Brian is a non-executive director of the Careers and Enterprise Company.

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