Around the time kids are 14 or 15 years old, they are probably getting some rough ideas in their head as to what they want to do when they leave school.  After all, those GCSE choices will open and close several doors for them – and that’s when they pick them and have been accepted.  That pivotal day for them has already been and gone many years before they have to find that job that they want.


Throughout your GCSEs, you’re encouraged to think about your future and what you want to do at 16 years of age, when you’re finally able to make your own mind up about what to do next. The thinking is… whatever you happen to do at post-16, you’ll be prepared and ready to move on.  When you get to post-18, you’ll be even more prepared.

The reality, however, is quite some way off the mark.  For all the dreams and aspirations that our generation have, it’s quite clear that schools haven’t got the hang of it.

From my experience at school, I can remember feeling let down. It’s also interesting to note that nothing has changed in the years since I went through it.

The Material

I firstly think the main problem starts with the careers material that the school uses to help kids along.  Generally, schools get a massive pack of information from a local ‘advice’ service, such as Connexions.  From my experience, I can remember there being a distinct lack of information if kids wanted to leave school at 16 and get on with something like a job.  There was some limited information on apprenticeships and other vocational options, but nothing if you wanted to go straight into a job.

For some reason I got the impression that the school didn’t want to advocate this.  After all, if all the kids left school at 16 and got a job somewhere in their local area, could you imagine what people would start thinking of the school.  Whilst there would be people that think ‘well, at least the school prepared them for working life’, there would be large sections of the local community would question what the school was doing if suddenly everyone wanted to leave!

Suddenly the material we got was based solely on educational routes out of school.  Whilst this was what I felt I needed to do in life, I was concerned this wasn’t for everyone.  To be honest, I still am.  And, with the government’s plans to keep children in education until they are 18, I get the impression work-based information is going to become increasingly scarce.

The experience

Work experience for me was one week of my school life in Year 10.  For me, I went to go and work with an architectural firm, seeing as that was what I was thinking about doing (look at how that turned out for me…!)

My year group was the first one to have had their time away on experience cut from two weeks to one.  I wonder why that might be?  There was such emphasis on exams and education that all of a sudden the whole world seemed for forget some children actually like working.

School work experience doesn’t ever seem to be taken too seriously on the basis that, despite it being compulsory in the majority of cases, my school careers service spent most of its time arranging places for students.  Despite this being as proactive as they get when it came to student engagement, it meant that the work experience was devalued by employers.  I arranged mine myself, though I had the benefit of knowing the right people.  I got a lot of my experience, but there were a lot of people who were put off working life a little.  Another blow to those who want to work.

OK, so many people could argue that your chosen career starts at school with what you study.  However, since schools are little more than exam factories nowadays kids spend so much time preparing for the next test to fit them into the system that they don’t actually have time to reflect.  By the time they’ve done their work experience and given their options some consideration, BANG.  It’s time for them to get on with some more education or find something to do.  Where’s the time to think?

And then you move on to Sixth Form.

Things looking brighter?

When we got into Sixth Form, we were told that they’re helping you to leave and get on with your life.

Ah excellent!  We’re getting somewhere, maybe this is a bit more career-related then. I spoke too soon didn’t I.

Any option other than going off to university was frowned upon, if I’m honest.  All of a sudden you’re delaying that actual career for another few years.

So, to summarise… you spend many years of your school life just preparing for exams without stopping to think about what your profession and actual career will be.  Whatever happens from when you leave school, you get pushed into more education. Even then, higher education presents a major issue.

The university challenge

At university, you study in a subject that you think will help you find your chosen career.  Yes, remarkably by this stage you’ve been able to think about what you want to do and you’ve probably moulded your subjects at A Level around it.  Getting to university, spending vast amounts of money on that all-important degree… Only to find then that when you enter the job market it didn’t really matter what you studied, in the vast majority of cases.  All that matters is that you got a degree with a decent classification.

Even then, graduate jobs are in such short demand that many graduates find something they want to do that doesn’t even require a degree.

So what was the point in all of that?

Schools and careers services seem to act one dimensionally.  Do your education, profit from it and get a job that relates to what you’ve done.  After all, we can then be thanked for it at the end of the day.

So what’s the solution?

Schools need to stop trying to take the glory of their student’s successes.  The whole system has to allow kids to think about and pursue their dreams and potential career options.  The children make their own success, so I think the schools need to stop milking every potential opportunity they have to make themselves look better.  When was the last time your local school trumpeted a former pupil who broke the mould and actually thought about their career?  Never.

The last time they trumpeted the fact a kid went to Oxford?  Probably yesterday.

More people from industry need to visit schools to talk to kids about what they can do, what they definitely need to do and what they could also do to secure their future.

Careers services actually need to get out, find some qualified people with some experience in the subject and talk to children about the true facts.  Not every option out there has to involve a long drawn-out process of exams and tests.  You can still make your own success in another way.

Something the schools seem to have forgotten.





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