Prepare young people for right steps after school - Hurstpierpoint College

Prepare young people for right steps after school

The final bars of Jerusalem fade away, the eyes are dabbed with hankies, the childish (but forgivable) final day pranks have all been performed – and school’s out, forever. But while the Upper Sixth Formers stride out into the midsummer sunshine on their final day of compulsory education, confidently expecting to conquer the world, one question rattles edgily through the mind of every parent and teacher proudly watching on. Are they ready and have they been well prepared for their launch into the world beyond school?

Have these school-leavers developed sufficient self-awareness and resilience to cope with a less structured, more independent young adult lifestyle? Have they made the right choices about their future, to ensure their next few years are packed with purpose, meaning and joy? Do they know how to use a tin-opener?

The right education can answer all those questions and more. If parents and teachers collaborate on an effective and enjoyable ‘launch sequence’, there’s plenty of time in the last few years of school to give young people the skills and perspectives they need to complete a smooth transition into university or its alternatives. Not everyone gets the help they need – last year, a faintly depressing 26,000 young people dropped out of uni without finishing the first year, a sure sign of misjudged advice and insufficient preparation. But with a little thought and planning, those next steps after school should be on the sunny side. Here’s a thorough pre-flight checklist.

Start the countdown early

Whenever I talk with university admissions officers, their consistent complaint is that young people engage with their post-18 choices too late. Their open days are crammed with Year 12 students, but they wish they were packed with Year 10s. That may seem very young, but remember, most students settle on their A-level choices by the February of Year 11. It is heart-breaking to have to tell a Sixth Former who has fallen in love with the idea of Economics at Warwick that their decision to drop Maths at 16 has left them without a hope. The Russell Group’s Informed Choices web site is a very helpful resource to start perusing early, and university events for Year 10 and 11 students are a great investment of time. It’s not ‘tiger parenting’ to start researching early, it’s prudent.

Learn to coach, not preach

The key to preparing young people to leave school is ensuring they are heading in the right direction – for them. That direction might bemuse or even disappoint the adults in their life, but if the decision-making process has been thorough, thoughtful and sincere, so be it. Wouldn’t you rather build a happy computer-game designer than a miserable dentist? At Hurst we have employed executive life coaches to train our Sixth Form teachers to guide students towards decisions based on self-awareness and self-honesty, through the use of questioning and listening techniques which prevent staff from diving in and delivering solutions that may not match the individual. The process – which we call Finding Your Why – takes time and patience, but it’s the right approach. Never forget (in the nicest possible way) how long it’s been since you left school.

T-shaped or I-shaped?

The final two years at school are all about finding the balance between two shapes of people. Employers consistently say they are looking for ‘T-shapes’, people with a breadth of experiences and skills, but also the capacity to focus and specialise in one area. A good Sixth Form, with a full spectrum of co-curricular activities and a strong academic core, should produce just that shape. But university admissions officers are different, they are focused on ‘I-shapes’ – committed academic specialists who love to study beyond the classroom. That means schools must offer a strong ‘super-curricular’ programme of academic enrichment and extension, and students and parents must make careful choices between immediate applications and long-term development.

Explore the alternatives – but cautiously

The alternatives to university are certainly improving, with 36,000 Higher Level apprenticeships introduced a couple of years ago. It’s a great idea to make young people really stress-test the idea of a conventional degree – is it worth it, or can I do better elsewhere? But there must also be a strong note of caution. Of those 36,000 spaces, only 2,000 were actually offering degree-level training, the remainder only offered training to the level of a foundation year or higher education diploma. As a comparison of scale, there were over 450,000-degree places available from UK universities two years ago. Suffice to say, there’s much to be said for apprenticeships, but there’s also a lot of (government-led) hype surrounding them, too.

Now’s the time to encourage ambition

The final years at school are not a time for crushing dreams. The arguments in favour of letting students shoot for aspirational post-18 goals are more than just psychological, they’re also pragmatic. One impact of recent higher education reform is that universities now offer many more unconventional routes to long-term success, meaning students who aim high and fall short have more choices than they once did. Want to be an engineer, but made a mess of your Maths A-level? University Maths Foundation Years for engineers are now commonplace. Missed that steep uni offer for Law by a grade? Your excellent Extended Project Qualification might mean you still get the place. No offers from any medical schools this year? Gap year applications to medicine are now absolutely the norm, as is the pathway of taking a Biomedical Sciences degree first. If a school is using a lot energy persuading your child of what they can’t achieve, it may mean their knowledge is outdated or their agenda is self-serving. Either way, it’s worth reminding them that one characteristic every new arrival into adulthood will need is persistence. That, more than anything, will fuel a successful launch from school.

Hurst operates a number of strategies to bridge the gap between school and post-18 options. The most significant is St John’s, a co-educational house which incorporates the whole Upper Sixth year. With only final year students, St Johns is able to operate as a hybrid school house and hall of residence, giving the Upper Sixth a valuable preparation for the years ahead. Hurst also tailors its tutoring system towards school-leavers, by using academic Heads of Department as Upper Sixth tutors, with students allocated tutors according to their favoured degree choice. Tutors are then charged with developing specialist knowledge and contacts within Higher Education and are trained as executive life coaches to facilitate students’ decision-making. A programme of Bluffer’s Guide to Adulthood training also helps Sixth Form students prepare for the financial, legal and health choices they’ll face after school.

Brian Schofield, Head of Politics and Sixth Form Registrar, Hurst College


Please follow the links below for further information about Hurstpierpoint College, an independent, co-educational, day and boarding school for pupils aged 4–18, located just to the north of the village of Hurstpierpoint, West Sussex.

Prep & Pre-Prep

Senior School

Sixth Form


College Campus



Hurst College’s inspection reports and reviews:

ISC Inspection reports 

Good Schools Guide