Friday, 26 February 2016

how much advice is enough



Helping children grow up is challenging. There is so much more to it than keeping them safe and happy. There is for example education and how to prepare the children best for a life after school. It is terribly worrisome. Sam is at a stage in his life where he seriously needs to think about his future. He is so young still and it seems too early. What advice should I give him? How far should my support go? Tiger mum or slacker mum? How do I even notice which category I am in? What if my advice turns out to be wrong? Sam definitely wants to go to University, which narrows the options down. Richard and I live and breathe academia, which helps, too. Still, I am biting my fingernails.

We had S4 parents night last night. It is an important year for Sam as the end of it he will be sitting seven National 5 exams, leading way to the National 6 exams the year after. If you live in England, National 5 exams are equivalent but different from GCSE's and National 6 exams are equivalent but different from A levels. Entry requirements for University are five National 6 qualifications or three A levels. After you sat your National 6 exams you can technically go to University but in reality, most students sit sixth year to deepen and further their studies. The options are to 'pick up' a couple more National 6 qualifications, or to undertake Advanced Highers (I am not sure what these are called in the 'new' curriculum). University entry will normally be based on the the second last year of school. This is unique to Scotland, doing your qualifications a year before you finish school. It may sound a bit weird but if you think about it, there are some advantages. For example to possibility of taking up subjects that are really cool but don't add to your University entry requirement portfolio. It is not a compulsory year. 

Sam is a bright spark and he is generally doing really well at school. Recently he sat his prelim exams (you may call them mock exams) to assess where he stands. The results were mixed, in some subjects he did better than his target grade, in other he did worse. Where he did worse, it came as a surprise and is largely due to exam technique. I suppose that's a relief. When he made his subject choices last year, he was thinking of engineering. But a lot happens in a year, work experience for example, maturing, finding out more about himself and his likes and dislikes and whatnot. He is more interested in the computing sciences now, and some aspects of the life sciences. He has to drop to subjects at the end of the school year and finds it difficult to decide what to persevere with and what to give up. If he drops his weakest and and least liked subject, he will not be able to do life sciences. Some subjects he enjoys are not entry requirements and he may have to drop at least one of these. He can't do more than five National 6 qualification due to timetabling and workload issues. The National 6 qualifications for University entry have to be taken in one single year so he can't spread it into sixth year. You have to feel sorry for the teenagers in this country. Difficult decisions about the seemingly distant future when you are struggling with becoming an adult.

I am also trying to remember what kind of career advice I had when I was Sam's age. Not much I don't think. I remember going to visiting career advice service much later and leaving with a pile of information about a variety of careers. I did some work experience, too, but essentially, my decision to study biology was a spur of the moment decision based on a fascination with viruses and very little knowledge about careers in the biological sciences. Knowing what I know now and being who I am now I would probably choose a social sciences subject. 

So, to cut a long story short, what advice are we giving Sam? We think it is really important that Sam chooses subjects that he enjoys and hopefully excels in. It is impossible to keep all the options open in a country where you have to narrow down your education focus so early on. By choosing what he loves he may loose some opportunities but he will enjoy his education. Careers are much more fluid than they used to be when I was his age and they are also more multidisciplinary. There is a great focus on postgraduate education, opening up many more possibilities at a later stage. He will find his way, it may be circuitous route, or a straight one but he will find his way. I'd be interested to hear about your own experiences, personal or with your children. 

On a completely different topic: my camera packed it in. I have been without for two days and feel bereft. A new one is on its way and once it is here I shall disassemble my broken one and see what is wrong. I don't quite have the guts to open it up without a backup. The photos above were the last ones taken before it inexplicably and without prior problem stopped working.

I am finishing this post during work time at home and I just got a phone call from Richard saying that a colleague had made doughnuts for us to share. How unlucky is that??

Have a great weekend! I'll go dancing tonight and hope to do some other fun things over the weekend. Be sure to come back and find out what we've been up to. xx

18 comments:

  1. My goodness it all sounds incredibly complicated, how on earth a teenager is expected to navigate through all of this and make a decision about the rest of their life I do not know. I do know though that you will guide Sam and give him the best support and advice that you can, and that he will do as well as he can, and that all will be well in the end. Good luck to Sam with it all. xx

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  2. I hated this point of the decision making process when my girls were this age. In the end we advised our girls to choose subjects they enjoyed in the belief that life is too short to be miserable. Wishing him well with his decisions.

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  3. Your school/university system sounds so complicated. Our daughter always knew we wanted her to go to university, but her class choices were hers. She loved math and excelled at languages, but was accepted at university for pre-med, she briefly thought she wanted to be a doctor.
    She ended up doing a BS in Political Science, a Masters in the same field, and most of a Doctorate in the same field-she stopped with still needing one more class and a thesis.
    So what did she do with her degree--she lives in Japan where she is in IT for a Japanese company.

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  4. The advice we were given over English A levels was to pick subjects that big daughter enjoyed as she would be more likely to do well and that would potentially increase the grades needed for uni. There is such pressure to do well in mock exams from the schools (unfairly so, in my opinion); we have told big daughter to treat them as a signpost to understand where to focus her studies for the real thing. Finally, although the world is a different place to when I was this age, it's not the end of the world not to go to university. It can be more difficult in some ways, but freer in others. The opportunities to work for yourself are much greater now, thanks to the internet, and the Open University is always a good option (I have two degrees through the OU so am a big fan). As long as Sam knows that you are there to support him, that whatever he does his family will always be right behind him and his decisions and that he can always come home, he will find the right path for him. It takes some of us a bit longer than others, but we always get there in the end xx

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  5. I thought the English system was bad enough! This is one of the reasons that I don't send my children to school. I have thrown the whole system out of the window and we are working with our own. If my children don't want to sit exams at the ages their peers do they won't they can do them later. I think we put far too much pressure on our children too young. They have so much emotional physical growing to do that choosing what they want to do for the rest of their life is an added burden. No wonder so many children leave the school system and feel that they have failed. It is impossibly hard as a parent to support them through this, be there for them when they need someone and support their decisions.

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  6. What so much to think abut. I find it hard to understand why children are pushed to make such life long decisions at such an early age. My oldest son is 22, finishing university next year and is still figuring it out. My middle is in college and is taking the required courses before he decides on a particular path. I knew I wanted to be an Occupational Therapist, but that is very unusual. I have no advice on the advice. Hang in there Mom.
    Meredith

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  7. Gosh Christina, I completely understand where you're coming from. We're going through the same with my eldest child, who is sitting his GCSEs this summer. He's had to choose his A'level subjects for next year. He has NO IDEA what he wants to do when he grows up, so it's all about studying subjects that he enjoys (history, politics, psychology). He is good at sciences, though, and had a childhood ambition to be an astronaut (for which you surely need maths and physics). I suppose nothing is cast in stone but it is hard making decisions now for an uncertain future. Thinking back, I had next to no advice whatsoever and my school specialised in benign neglect. I survived. Have fun dancing. Sam x

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  8. It's so hard to know how to help isn't it. And as you say, so early to make these decisions. I think I've just about worked out what I want to be when I grow up now. Or at least I've narrowed it down. Ready to make my A level choices now. It would be good if we could go back and have another go wouldn't it. I hope Sam finds the subjects that he enjoys, I'm wishing him luck with whatever he chooses. CJ xx

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  9. We're at a similar stage and also choosing a different school so decisions to be made here too. I've given advice but I'm not sure she is listening. Enjoy your dancing !

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  10. I was forced to choose between art and music at the age of 8, and was steered to prepare for university rather than home economics because my grades were high enough. Those choices seemed unfair, but have given me opportunities I have enjoyed. Aiming to choose subjects one holds close to their heart seems to make the most sense to me. I am cheering you and yours on as you make your decisions! xx

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  11. I don't have any advice, not being a parent, but I can sympathise. It's so hard to know what you want at that age. At 32, now I know what I should have studied, what I'd like to do, what I wish I'd done a degree in, and what I want to be when I grow up. It doesn't match with what I do, what I did choose when I was younger or what I thought I wanted to do, but I can't really change things now (can't afford to go to university again!) so I have to make the best of it. I wish I'd know myself better when I was a teenager and had more confidence in myself. I didn't have much in the way of career advice and there didn't seem to be many options open to me, so I took what I thought was the best for me. It has served me well enough and I do like my job (if not the school I'm at!) but if I could go back, I'd do things differently!

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  12. I am way off this but I am a bit liberal and wishy washy. I always wanted a creative life but my father steered me towards teaching and although I like it, I wish I had followed my heart - you might have noticed in my prolific output of creativity I HAVE to do when I get home from teaching 16-19 year olds English and Maths!!! But on the plus side and thanks to my dad I have rarely been skint. Jo x

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  13. We are at about the same stage with our boys, our eldest is sitting 5 Highers in May, and our youngest is choosing his subjects for National 5's in March. Our advice is just 'choose subjects you enjoy', rather than choosing subjects specific to possible careers. As you said, so much can change in just a few months at this age. Life is tough for teenagers. X

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  14. they are such hard decisions, my daughter chose her A levels last year, and I'm not sure know if they the right choices...... If he makes choices that leaves as many options as possible open then that is probably the best you can hope for xxx

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  15. Goodness, I didn't realise that the exam system in Scotland was so different to England. I think you've given the best advice you can to Sam, I definitely think they have to choose subjects that they enjoy otherwise they're on a hiding to nothing. Saying that, Eleanor loved English at GCSE but hated it at A level so that was the subject she dropped after her AS levels even though she got a better grade in it than a couple of her other subjects. Daniel still didn't know what he wanted to do for a career even when he'd finished his A levels so the university course he decided to take was still based on what he enjoyed, Physics with Astrophysics. He's in his final year now. It's very hard for them to look to the future and decide what they want to do for the rest of their life at such a young age and the subjects they decide to take won't necessarily be what they decide to follow later on. Eleanor's taken Biology at A level but never thought for a minute that she'd want to study it at university so didn't take any other science subjects. Her interest in the subject has grown and she's now passionate about it and has decided that the course she'd like to take at uni is biomedical science but because she hasn't taken another science subject, she's limited in the universities which will accept her. It's all a minefield and the decisions they make in their mid teens can indeed have an impact on what they can do in the future but there's always a way round things. Eleanor has received offers from all five of the universities she's applied to so she just needs to get the grades now, fingers crossed. Good luck to Sam, I hope he does well in all the subjects he decides on.

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  16. I've always said 15 and 16 is way too young to make major life decisions. Personality has a lot to do with choice. All three of my boys just went with what they were enjoying at the time. That was usually linked with getting on with certain teachers and not others. They have all come through uni safely but only one is doing a career linked with his degree. The main thing is they have had an education that will hopefully allow them to chop and change as they mature. All you can do is be a good listener and hopefully suggest ideas if they make sense..good luck :) B x

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  17. Hey Christina,
    Apart from the complicated system and the pressure heaped upon young shoulders, I think all kids would benefit from really solid careers advice. And also vocational options. My Sam had very little advice through school, and had to organize his own work experience. He chose his A Levels based purely on subjects he enjoyed, and those that sparked his interest. He's at Uni now, but is still unsure what he wants to do after. I never knew. I still don't. Your Sam has two great parents who will always support his endeavors. That's always a good start.
    Leanne xx

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  18. I'm not sure there is any right or wrong answer. My advice to my boys was always to follow their dreams and do subjects they loved. Probably because I was discouraged from following an art career and always wished I had. But they've all turned out doing things they didn't expect to be doing.

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Thank you for visiting and leaving a comment, I love to hear from you, I really do. I sometimes reply by email but I am not all that reliable... Christina xx