30 years ago, both Julie and I had left school by this stage; Julie now and me the previous year. We both went to fairly local schools: I went to the Castle School, in Taunton,and; Julie to the Huish Episcopy Academy, out in Langport. Emma went to Heathfield Community School. But, at our various times, we’ve all been faced with the same problem; choosing the right college after school.

Wow, but that brings back some memories… the school I spent 3 years at, before going to Huish.

When Julie and I were faced with choosing the right college after school, things were quite different. Our options were:

  • The Richard Huish College, which was an academic facility in Taunton
  • The Somerset College of Art and Technology (SCAT), which was more arts and vocational based, in Taunton
  • Cannington College, which was horticultural and agricultural minded, and out Bridgwater way
  • Bridgwater College, which was a bit of everything, and based in Bridgwater

There was a very real choice. If you wanted to be a farmer, you went to Cannington. For those that wanted to be a hairdresser, you went to SCAT. If you wanted to go to University, you could go to any of them, based on which you lived closest to but they had different approaches. Huish was like a school, you attended 9 until 4, regardless of whether you had classes or not. SCAT was like Uni, you attended when you needed to. Unsurprisingly, Huish had much better academic results.

In my case, choosing the right college after school was simple. Huish would treat me like a child, SCAT would not. I had to go to Huish!

This, despite the fact that SCAT was literally just over the road, and next door to my school. And despite the fact that virtually everyone I knew was going to SCAT. I knew that I was far too lazy to be able to succeed in SCAT, so I chose Huish. Julie chose Huish on the basis of the best reputation and the closest location. Julie’s always been something of a swot!

Julie’s first year at Huish was during my second year there. She actually shared classes with my brother, Simon. Apparently, Simon brought her round our house one time. I have no memory of any of this. Julie does, though; that’s when she fell for me…

Nowadays, though, Emma faces a completely different situation when choosing the right college after school. The institutions are all still there, they’re just run slightly differently. Today, it goes a little something like this:

  • The Richard Huish College, which is a predominantly academic, but increasingly mixed, facility in Taunton
  • The Bridgwater and Taunton College, Taunton Campus, a part of the old Bridwater College, in Taunton
  • The Bridgwater and Taunton College, Cannington Campus, a part of the old Bridwater College, out Bridgwater way
  • The Bridgwater and Taunton College, Bridgwater Campus, the original Bridgwater College, in Bridgwater
What used to be SCAT and then became The Somerset College, is now just a Campus of the Bridgwater and Taunton College… which is just Bridgwater College in disguise.

Emma, who is considering a future in the pharmacological or veterinary fields, wanted the most academic-minded option, which tended her thinking towards Huish. That Julie and I had both been there and enjoyed our time, tipped the balance. For Emma, choosing the right college after school was simple; it was Huish.

Except it wasn’t that simple at all. There’s a lot more involved in choosing the the right college after school than there used to be.

It actually starts in Year 10. Ceri has recently had a College Fair at the school, where she was able to look at the prospectus for each college. There was also a talk built into the work experience she did back in May. Hers was at the hospital and one of the lectures was about the right college to choose.

But the process of choosing the right college after school starts in earnest at the beginning of Year 11. Which does include, of course, the option to not go to college at all…

In September, there was a Careers/College day, where the options available to school leavers were laid out. Because the school leaving age is now 18 in England, Emma will have to do one of the following:

  • stay in full-time education, for example at a college
  • start an apprenticeship or traineeship
  • spend 20 hours or more a week working or volunteering, while in part-time education or training

As such, there was representation from more than just further education institutions. There were options for apprenticeships and traineeships, as well as stands for the military, the NHS and more.

But Emma was only really interested in choosing the right college after school, so she got a couple of prospectuses and left it at that.

To help with choosing the right college after school, you need every prospectus you can get your hands on.

The next thing on offer were the Open Days. Each college had days when pupils from Year 11 could attend and actually sit in on a class for the subjects they were interested in. Huish was no exception, so Emma signed up to have a look at Maths, Biology and Chemistry. And, according to Emma’s friends, it was very useful. Unfortunately, Emma had Laryngitis and couldn’t attend. She opted not to go to the Open Days for any of the other colleges.

After that, was an Open Evening, when students could show their parents around the college, allowing everyone to get an idea of when to expect. As you can imagine, Emma was thrilled that I was able to come along. I tried to be on my best behavior; I really did try.

And it was fascinating. Not least in how much everything had changed since I was there. I think Emma was excited by what we saw. I know I was. By the time we finished looking around, I was feeling jealous of Emma. She, I think, was simply feeling embarrassed of me…

And then, having decided where she wanted to go, it was time to find out if they actually wanted her there. It seemed so unlikely…!

The application forms had to be filled in and returned by the end of January. The application form was a simple check list of who you were and what you wanted to study. It went back to the school, where the predicted grades were added, and the school sent it off to the college.

The other thing that the application form included, among it’s check list, was boxes for:

  • Hobbies
  • Work experience
  • Interest in enrichment programmes

But it didn’t allow space to expand on these points. Which meant that Emma also put together a Personal Statement to go with the application. This utter work of fiction was good practice for the  utter works of fiction she will have to produce in later life, when applying for jobs, and the like. Actually, it was disappointingly lacking in fiction, despite my best efforts… Still, there’s always Ceri, next year.

But the process of choosing the right college after school wasn’t over yet. In due course, Emma got a letter inviting her to an interview for a place at Huish. An interview! Pah! Emma should be interviewing Huish; they’d be lucky to have her… Which is, more or less, how it turned out to be. Well, it was certainly a two-way street, where Emma was encouraged to ask questions to make sure she was happy with the college. She was. The college would be happy with her, providing she got the right grades. Everyone left happy with everyone else.

The college sent Emma a letter of acceptance, along with a confirmation slip for Emma to indicate:

  1. She was definitely going to Huish
  2. She was probably going to Huish but keeping her options open
  3. She would be going elsewhere

Emma signed option 1 and returned it. She would be going to Huish.

Decisions, decisions.

Since then, Emma has completed her GCSEs and left school. She’s largely just cluttering up the house now. I mean, sure, she might have climbed a mountain, or three, but she’s essentially just a deadbeat. Which is my job!

But the college wasn’t finished with Emma yet. Or us. We were invited to a Welcome to Huish talk a few evenings ago. It was a way for the college to connect with us and to explain what we should expect of the college.

It was also, however, laid out in some detail what the college expected of us, as parents. That aspect of the talk was completely unexpected, for me. We were told about a portal access we would be given to allow us to keep an eye on what classes Emma would have in any given week, or day. It also included details of her attendence. And then there was mention of the form that would be sent home with Emma on a regular basis and how we might like to introduce questions about this form into our nightly conversations with our daughter.

It was around this point that I started to feel a little uncomfortable with the tone of the presentation, which was quite condescending towards the students. I understand that you play to your audience and giving teenagers a hard time for being lazy is what parents do. But Emma was there. A lot of the potential students were there. Why were they being talked down to in such a manner?

And why were we, as parents, being asked to be so actively involved in monitoring what Emma was up to? This is college. Not Secondary School. And elements of what I was hearing reminded me more of Primary School, than anything.

Surely Further Education is a time for youngsters to be encouraged to become more independent. Less reliant on parental overwatch. Less monitoring, not more.

Everything you need to know to effectively snoop on your offspring.

Don’t get me wrong, I still think Huish is the best fit for Emma but this did leave a bit of a sour taste in my mouth. Emma, for her part is still excited by the prospect and looking forward to starting there. And that’s all that matters, really.

And, with that in mind, she attended the two Huish Experience Days. During these she followed a timetable of classes that was put together to give her a flavour of the courses she would be attending. As Emma had already made her mind up about the courses she would be following, these classes simply reiterated what she was expecting. For those people undecided about the courses they wished to take, these classes may well have been more useful.

What Emma did find useful was the information about enrichment.

Enrichment is the stuff that you do on top of your courses. The bits that Universities like to see to make you appear as a more well rounded person. These days, and perhaps always, it isn’t enough to get the grades you need. Lots of people do that. It’s about what else you can offer.

So, Emma put her name down for the Duke of Edinburgh’s Award (DofE),  Gold level enrichment. Which has become a tried and tested way to tick the boxes of university expectation. Because of that, an increasing number of people seem to want to do it. There is also now the feeling that DofE isn’t enough on its own.

Which is fine, because Emma also signed up for the Medical Enrichment programme, which sounds helpful. She also learned about the Extended Project Qualification (EPQ) that she’d need to be doing in the second year. An EPQ is a research based 5,000 word written report. A baby dissertation, if you will. It carries the same points value as an AS level but can be targeted in a very career specific way. Again, a useful, if somewhat scary, sounding option.

The other thing Emma was given, at the Huish Experience Days, were Summer Assignments. Homework! To be done over the summer break and handed in at the start of term… What’s that all about?!

I’m sure that if it was me in the process of choosing the right college after school, something like this would not have been well received…

But despite this cruel and unusual punishment, Emma will still be going to Huish in the Autumn. Her enrollment day is on the 30th August, when it all becomes official.

And then it all kicks off in September, with the Enrichment Fair, amid a first week in which only Emma’s year will be present. A, hopefully, lower key version of a University Fresher’s Week.

I’m probably remembering this wrong, but when I signed on for Huish it was much simpler. I applied to go. Huish said I could, if I got the grades. I got the grades. I went.

No doubt there was an element of written correspondence involved. And I’m sure I visited site at some point. But Huish was effectively a school and I needed a school to keep me on the straight and narrow. So I didn’t worry about looking elsewhere.

The funny thing is, I think that Huish is still a school. It tries to hide it but, if you scrape the surface, it’s still there. Sure, the students no longer have to be on site all day every day, where they can be watched by the staff. Instead they’re allowed to come and go as they please, but the parents are encouraged to keep an eye on this with a portal designed for the job.

And maybe this isn’t a bad thing. Maybe this illusion of independence is just the step you need before gaining actual independence in the workplace, or a University. I certainly think it is just the sort of staging post that Emma will find helpful.

In terms of choosing the right college after school, with The Richard Huish College, I think Emma has made the perfect decision.

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