September 4, 2014 1:01 am

Plan now for your 16-year old’s career success

The coming months are critical in preparing post-GCSE children for their careers

It is back to school for most young people this week, and for hundreds of thousands of them only a couple of weeks have gone by since their GCSE results were published.

There was, of course, the usual furore about whether the exams were harder or easier than before. The headmistress of Oxford High School for Girls was even quoted saying the exams didn’t matter because everyone will have forgotten about them in a few years.

It may be true that once you have your A-levels on your CV, your GCSEs rarely appear. But GCSEs matter as a gateway. However, what matters even more is what you do next – not over the next few years, but in the next few months.

So, as a careers professional, I have some advice for parents whose children have just returned to school fresh from their GCSEs.

First, do not despair if they were not the straight slate of A*s that everyone else’s children seem to have.

I don’t have straight A* GCSE children and neither do most of the people in the country. And remember, as film star Elizabeth Taylor once said: “Success is a great deodorant. It takes away all your past smells.”

So, A-levels are a second chance if the GCSEs were not quite up to speed.

Next, this is the best time to do some university thinking, not – as many schools seem to think – at the end of Year 12. It is the things you decide now that will make the difference.

Two years ago, at the drowned out Thames diamond jubilee Pageant, I met a 16-year-old who was in the middle of his GCSEs. I was thrilled to be able to talk to him at exactly that stage of his development.

The start of the school year following your child’s GCSEs matters more than you think

He told me he aspired to an engineering degree at a prestigious university. I encouraged him to apply to Headstart, the access course to engineering and science run by the Engineering Development Trust, which happens at the end of Year 12. But this is the crucial part: applications are due at the very start of the academic year. The applications for the courses running in June 2015, for instance, opened on September 1, requiring almost as much advance planning as the Chelsea Flower Show Gala preview.

My chance encounter in the rain on the Thames that day led to the young man attending a Headstart course in June 2013, which in turn gave him a much better platform from which to apply to university.

In his case he did also have a string of excellent exam results, so I can’t claim to have given the deciding piece of advice.

Nevertheless, attending an access course signals to admissions tutors that the applicant has clear intent, and is unlikely to have chosen the wrong degree course. He is off to Oxford.

Even if you want to go to university in the US, post-GCSEs is the time to really start motoring. It may even be a little late: Lisa Montgomery of Edvice, arguably the most sought-after college preparation consultant in the UK, ideally likes to start work with US college applicants in year 10.

So returning to school after GCSEs is a more important time than you may think. Even if your child is among the elite 7 per cent educated privately, do not assume that the school will be on the case early enough. There are plenty of other resources to turn to.


My top tips for parents of GCSE children.

Send me yours via twitter #MrsMList

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