Tuesday, November 23, 2010

What lies ahead

I’m still out of my depth with the meanderings of the English school system. It’s so different from what I experienced in America and in Portugal (and my husband at German school), where everything seemed to go according to clearly set out paths...

I seem to have mastered primary school level idiosyncrasies just as Clara is about to move on to secondary school but I still have to achieve precise understand of how “Sixth Form” works to feel at ease with the whole preparation for university process. “Sixth Form” is the name the English give to the last two years of secondary school - Years 12 and 13 (which correspond to 11th and 12th grade in most other countries – they have to be different in everything!) and Ana will start it next year. The possibilities are so many – clearly designed to accommodate all sort of student profiles – that the whole business is a bit daunting and confusing. Furthermore, getting into a good degree at a good university is so difficult nowadays that headmasters recommend that pupils not only achieve top marks at the most relevant subjects for their degrees (in Ana’s case, Maths, Physics, Biology and Chemistry), but also get part-time employment, volunteer for charity work, enthusiastically participate in community councils, have interesting hobbies and practice sports to maximize their chances of being accepted into their first university choices.

With soaring higher education costs and unprecedented levels of graduate unemployment, the whole thing is a big source of anxiety in our household right now, even though Ana is still only 15!

Autumn trails


Trulyfool said...


I never did understand what the TV shows have related to me about 'sixth form' or other. And 'Take Firsts in ...'.

Our system here now has Running Start programs to let high schoolers get the early couple of college years paid through an exchange of budget dollars between the K-12 system and the college systems.

So I wind up teaching a sizable amount of 16-17 year-olds, even though most of my students run from late teens into their 50s, average late 20s.

I get an idea of the pressures. To get into a good school -- passing through humble institutions along the way -- a 'top' student learns to think, at least, of having more than just 'good grades'.

Recruiters look for 'stars' of one kind or another, whether that be geniuses or creative artists or athletes or musicians for their bands or racial/gender balance and social/environmental action.

Whatever. The schools like to appear as though they represent a 'microcosm' of society, aren't playing an aristocratic game. They'll get the sharpest minds, but disguise that grab under an interesting array of unexpected choices.

Here, some schools will grab 'best-first' with an early commitment -- if you 'sign on' a year before, they'll guarantee a spot.

Some of the English system sounds as though it's still got a hint of 'the Aristo' to it, but then America has its East Coast top schools, snobbery as layered as the colors of a repp tie.

Good luck to Ana! One of my friends has a daughter ready to go to university, likely Stanford. Her intelligence is very high, but aside from the 'math/science' skill, she's seriously involved with theater arts: staging and set design!


Karen at Pas Grand-Chose said...

This vividly brings to mind my daughter's panic (and mine) at being pressed, age 15, into making course decisions and university choices in a country she'd barely moved to!
The whole process of those last two years of school and university application was highly stress-inducing, thanks to all the factors you mention. I never take for granted the fact that she got a place at a good university, doing what she loves - I am so thankful. I also believe that doing the International Baccalaureate gave her an edge over the increasingly discredited A-levels. With so many kids getting high grades in A-levels and fewer available places, no wonder they're trying to impress with other achievements. Even though my youngest is heading for the IB, I'm looking to European universities as options for her.
I wish Ana (and you) the best of luck ...

Anonymous said...

Just yesterday she was baby, I can hardly believe you´re already thinking about university!!!! I wish we could help and all I hope is that everything works out. Try not getting to stressed out. Not good for anyone. I love you very, very, very much!!!!!
Send Ana a few million kisses from me:-)

Peter said...

I believe most countries have similar problems. Not easy to find what is "best" and when reforms are planned, there will be protests all over, demonstrations... and the reforms will be delayed or cancelled. The real issue today for the youth is of course that their chances to find the job they wish is so limited; it may come after years ... or never. So discouraging! I belong to a generation where the employers waited for you and the choice was yours. My youngest daughter studied to be a lawyer / barrister. After seven years of studies (excellent results) it took her a year to find a first job.