GCSEs are out of the way – which direction do I follow next?

For those teenagers who receive the results of the GCSEs today or the IGCSEs, which were released earlier this month, it is the beginning of another process. The next step is the post-sixteen studies – where these young people have a choice between studying academic subjects or vocational ones. Around three decades ago, qualifications at the age of sixteen were the highest that many would obtain in terms of formal education. The government has now adopted a policy, which compels young people to do some sort of study until the age of 18 – particularly in aspects of English and Maths. On the whole, this is a welcome move, as it should make our young people more employable. I will explore that particular topic of conversation in a future blog. In this article, I will be looking at the options that are available to young people between the age of 16 and 18.

Options at post sixteen – A-level, IB or Cambridge Pre-U?

So many young people are confused as they try to choose between the varieties of options that are open to them for post sixteen studies. We have the academic options such as the A-level, the IB (International Baccalaureate) and the Cambridge Pre-U, which prepare students for degree courses at universities. The second choice includes vocational qualifications such as BTech and GNVQs. The apprenticeship programme for sixteen year olds is not as successful in Britain as it is in a country such as Germany for example, so the government is encouraging people to stay in school or college until the age of 18. In this article, I will focus mainly on the more academic subjects.

Is A-level still the gold standard?

The A-level is still the most popular of the three main options. A few years ago A-level was regarded as the gold standard. It still is but only just. A-level is still the most popular choice among universities – including the very top universities such as Oxbridge and the other Russell Group universities. However, both the IB (International Baccalaureate) and the less well known Cambridge Pre-U are considered to be academically superior to the A-level in terms of the breadth of study, skills and the level of independence that a student requires in order to obtain the top marks in those qualifications. It must be said that only the top public schools (the more prestigious traditional fee paying schools) and a few top grammar schools in the country offer the Pre-U. Although, less widely offered by institutions in comparison to the A-level, the IB is more popular nowadays as more schools and colleges now offer the IB. The fourth academic qualification at post sixteen is the Scottish Higher, which is offered in Scotland but not in other parts of the UK.

Follow your passion – yes, but…

One of the most popular phrases that is commonly used these days is “follow your passion.” Mrs Mary Curnock Cook – the Chief Executive of the Universities Admission body UCAS was the first public person in a key position that I heard say this in August 2014. Since then a few other people have said it. My take on this is that it is absolutely fine to encourage young people to follow their passion when making choices about which A-level to study. What they must not be allowed to do is to make that choice without being well informed about the potential consequences of their actions in terms of opportunities that are open to them in the future as a result of the choices they have made at the age of sixteen.

Whilst it is important that teenagers study subjects they enjoy, it is also the duty of us parents and teachers to objectively present to them facts and statistics about past students who have studied certain subjects and what they have gone on to do after that.

One thing I know is that it is quite difficult to succeed if you are doing something that you do not derive any enjoyment from and your chances of success are higher if you are doing something that you really like. What is incorrect is to assume that doing something you love will lead to automatic success. It won’t, unless you turn your enthusiasm into concerted action and study that subject with the discipline required to excel in it. You need to achieve mastery in a particular subject in order to achieve the highest grade and just your passion alone won’t cut it. There is no point in saying that you are passionate about a subject and that a C grade is good enough for you in that subject.

I will actually say that good progress and success in a particular field enhances interest and motivates and enthuses you, whereas a lack of good performance demotivates you and it is easy for something you like with a passion to turn into something you hate with a passion.

In my next blog, I will be recommending certain specific subjects for aspirational young people to study at A-level or its equivalence. Please see below for a link to that blog in case you would rather read it now.