Querying views of further education in independent schools

Quest Professional’s Claire Granados challenges the misconception that it is a failure if a student from an elite school doesn’t attend university

Analysis from the most recent annual census from the Independent Schools Council (ISC) shows that 91% of independently educated pupils went on to higher education in 2017. Whilst there is much to be applauded in the success of individual students, this exceedingly high figure raises questions for the independent sector.

Sending children to an elite school can often be viewed as a fast-track in to a Russell Group University. With school fees costing an average of £286,000 over the course of a child’s education, this is hardly surprising and in many ways understandable. However, this view highlights a problem with the perception of further education and training – that it is a failure on the part of the child, school and parents if a student from an elite school doesn’t progress to university. 

Moreover, with so many young people now entering higher education, expectations have increasingly inflated, with Oxbridge seen as the level of attainment to which students should aspire. This view needs to be challenged urgently – what can schools do to help counter the misconception?

“Schools must guarantee that careers education focuses on preparing students for options outside academia.”

Rather than opting for lower-tier universities, students must be encouraged to consider alternatives such as apprenticeships or alternative education. In the past, further education was recognised as a valued route to enter not only the trades, but also highly esteemed professions such as accounting and finance. There are still many options in these fields open to young people. Apprenticeships offered by the likes of Rolls Royce, KPMG and Barclays can see young professionals emerge on salaries far higher than the average university graduate. Similarly, business apprenticeships or executive PA courses allow students to enter the job market quickly and gain the lead over their peers at university. 

To ensure that students are fully aware of these choices, schools must guarantee that careers education focuses on preparing students for options outside academia. This means overhauling the current focus on UCAS, writing personal statements and drafting CVs, and instead teaching practical skills including teamwork, time-management, interview skills and sector awareness. Students armed with these skills will be able to confidently progress from education with an awareness of the sectors and options open to them.

Claire Granados is Principal of Quest Professional.

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