We have arrived at the time of year where Year 11 start thinking about making some big decisions about their future; this should be seen as an exciting opportunity to reflect on their current post school aspirations. I have used the word ‘current’ in relation to what they want to do in the future. No doubt for a lot of the girls, there will be many evolutions of their plans over time and in some cases there may even be abrupt changes of direction. And that is fine! Research shows that in the next generation “individuals are likely to have three or more different occupations and/or careers during their lifetimes” (Wilson, D.N: The Education and Training of Knowledge Workers) and that around 65% of primary school aged children will end up in jobs that do not yet exist. So focusing on relevant skills and attributes is far more important than agonising over subject choices.
For instance, if I reflect on my own career path, the skills and attributes I gained as a lawyer have often stood me in good stead as an educational senior leader. My years studying the law were not wasted even though I didn’t stay in the profession; at the very least they opened the door for me to teach Law at A Level, hopefully inspiring another generation of young lawyers and frankly there is nothing more satisfying than that!
This leads me to my best (and simplest) piece of advice for choosing Sixth Form courses: follow your heart and focus on the subjects for which you have a passion or interest, because through those passions you find the drive and determination to develop the attributes you will need to unlock opportunities and to find the right career path.
Sixth Form should be such an exciting time, but it won’t be if students don’t emotionally connect with their subjects. Sixth Formers have to be independent in whatever courses they take, they must have a desire to learn more about their subjects and be willing to read around and to find links between different areas of study. It is not possible to be successful by simply turning up to lessons and reading one textbook, as the novelist E.M. Forster, said: “One person with passion is better than 40 people merely interested”. If you can’t muster up passion for chosen subjects, so that you cannot vehemently argue your point during class discussions, then it is not the right course for you. There should be real academic joy in being a Sixth Former, being able to submerge yourself in subjects you love and to start to consider yourself an expert in your chosen fields.
At BGS, girls are lucky enough to have two pathways open to them: A-Levels and International Baccalaureate Diploma Programme (IB). We always recommend all students consider both pathways before making their final decisions. There are merits to both of them and each student must decide which is best for them. With A-Levels, students have the opportunity to narrow down their focus to three subjects, which they will cover in depth. For those students who are already very sure about what they want to do in the future, this is a good route, providing expertise and depth of knowledge in specific subjects for students with very clear direction.
Nevertheless, many argue that only studying three subjects at this age is too limiting. In fact the new leader of the Russell Group Universities, Dame Nancy Rothwell states “I worry that in the UK we specialise very early for young people and I think we miss out”. She supports the idea of restructuring A Levels so they are a bit lighter and students could take a broader range of subjects giving a more balanced education and in her view be better prepared for university. This is where the IB Diploma comes into its own, allowing students to keep that breadth for longer, to cement key skills, whilst still allowing students to immerse themselves more deeply in their passions in the form of their Higher Levels. With the IB’s international mindedness and focus on education for a better world, it really does help equip our students for their exciting careers (plural) to come, as they balance interdisciplinary skills and learn to view the world through many different experiences. I am in no doubt it prepares them extremely well for being global citizens and moving into the wider world. Over the next few weeks, girls and parents will receive lots of information about how to make the best choice for the future. We are here to support each girl through this process and to ensure that it is an enjoyable one. With this in mind, I shall leave you with a quote to have in the forefront of your mind when making these decisions from the American Pastor, Bishop TD Jakes “If you can’t figure out your purpose, figure out your passion. For your passion will lead you right into your purpose.”