Career guidance and international schools

Posted on 10th Aug 2018 in Careers guidance, International schools

It may be some time before your children need to make decisions about their career path after secondary education – but when assessing secondary schools it is always worth checking what each offers in terms of career and university guidance, writes Geraldine Raison.

In the UK the Department for Education recently (January 2018) published a paper setting out the benchmarks of statutory career guidance that UK secondary schools must achieve. In short all schools must provide independent and impartial career guidance to all pupils throughout their schooling. The eight benchmarks against which this is assessed include:

  1. Providing a stable careers programme
  2. Learning from career and labour market information
  3. Addressing the needs of each student
  4. Linking curriculum to careers
  5. Encounters with employers and employees
  6. Experience of workplaces
  7. Encounters with further and higher education
  8. Personal guidance

International schools vary greatly in what they offer in terms of career guidance and some of these benchmarks relating to work experience, alternatives to higher education and exposure to the local job information market may not be appropriate or easily achievable. There may also be cultural considerations, or safety issues to consider. However, good careers guidance counsellors will encourage students to take advantage of the opportunities available to them to engage with the world of work and to develop the skills needed to become part of the flexible workforce necessary for the 21st century economy.

As a qualified career practitioner and UK university specialist I have visited many overseas schools over the years. Some schools are very impressive in the knowledge, careers and university advice that they offer; for other schools it is a low priority. Parents may wish to ask whether the school considers each student as an individual? Do they offer personal and impartial guidance including advice on choosing the right curriculum and subjects? Often inexperienced teachers are given the responsibility of dealing with higher education advice and guidance, others may base their advice on how the university admissions system worked when they themselves applied. Admissions requirements and preferences are continually evolving (particularly at the very competitive end of the market) and up to date, relevant advice on university admissions requires specialist knowledge.

Many students attending international schools will be looking to continue their education at a higher level. It is really important that students are given solid career guidance and information about applications so that they can make informed and realistic choices. This is important when decisions regarding what curriculum to follow and what subjects to study are being made as well as later on when university shortlists are being drawn up. Without the appropriate advice and guidance students may not be given the knowledge and opportunity to weigh up all the options available to them and to understand where each may lead.

Deciding what and where to study is vital given the lifelong impact of such decisions. Within the UK university sector the decision about which subject to study is just as important as which universities to apply to. On average 6% of students drop out of their degree course within the first year of study and many more are unhappy with the course they have chosen – an expensive and stressful mistake to make.

Looking at a school’s ‘Destination Figures’ – the universities that sixth form leavers are attending will give some indication of the university preparation provided by the school. Be aware that sometimes these lists will cover a number of schools in a group or cover a number of years. Ask for specific information about the previous year’s destination figures and whether there is a planned and organised programme aimed at university admissions.

Students attending top UK schools will have access to specialist preparation which may include independent assessments such as Centigrade (which help students to work out which courses suit their interests, abilities and qualifications) as well as targeted enrichment opportunities. Students attending international schools may not have access to exactly the same opportunities but should be able to appreciate the advantages that their exposure to an international community gives them.

Families can also take advantage of opportunities to become more informed outside of the school environment. For example, when travelling in the vacation, take the time to visit universities. Speak to an admissions officer and book a place on a student-led guided tour for parents and students. Students can attend summer school programmes during the holidays with many to choose from in London, Oxford and Cambridge and elsewhere. These vary from general courses for ages 13 and upwards to subject specific taster courses for sixth formers. Oxford and Cambridge hopefuls can ‘try out’ the Oxbridge tutorial system while staying in typical college accommodation to see if this is an option that would appeal to them.

Try to help with obtaining work experience or work shadowing opportunities. Some UK university courses (eg. medicine, dentistry, veterinary) will expect to see evidence of relevant work experience and others (eg. engineering, architecture, law) will prefer it. For other courses it not important what the student does but rather that he/she is able to demonstrate skills such as good communication, time management, empathy, resilience, problem solving etc.

Geraldine Raison is an independent UK university adviser, her company is Graduate Study Options Ltd With a background in admissions at the University of Warwick she is a UCAS adviser, a Board member of the Society of Education Consultants, member of the Career Development Institute, International ACAC (Association of College Admissions Counselling) and UKCISA member (UK Council for International Student Affairs). She holds a Cert Ed (Bristol), a BA Hons Warwick) and PGCert in Career Guidance.

Geraldine works closely with her colleague Wendy, who was an experienced careers adviser in a local grammar school. Wendy specialises in competitive entry applications; medicine, veterinary science, law, economics as well as Oxbridge applications. Wendy holds a BSc Hons (Exeter) and a MSc (City).