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  • Writer's pictureThe Parents' Guide to

Helping your child make (the right) choices at 16

Mother and son hugging: The Parents' Guide to
Helping your child make the right choices at 16

The transition from making all the decisions all the time, to supporting a growing person to use the information available to them to shape their own future is arguably one of the trickiest parenting tasks. If you’re staring down your child’s post-16 strategy, you will likely have supported them in making choices before.

We’ve been looking at the daily survey app Parent Ping to find out what parents think about their teen’s choices after GCSE. Parent Ping is a free app enabling parents to find out what other parents think and do by taking part in a two-question daily survey. We’re all about parents of teens, so took a look at questions relating to Post 16 options. Here’s what we found:-

It seems most parents feel the role education plays at sixth form is less about preparing teens for adulthood and more about getting them on the right path for their careers. However, outside of traditional sixth form choices (such as A level and BTEC), many parents don’t know what else is on offer. Does this hold them back from being able to give their children sound advice when it comes to what choices to make after GCSE?

A levels and adult life

When asked the extent to which parents thought that A levels prepare young people for adult life, only 1% felt that they were essential and 39% felt they had little or no impact at all. 45% felt neither one way nor the other. That’s not to underestimate the value in studying A level at sixth form, but to acknowledge that the direct benefit is less to do with developing life skills and more to do with acquiring knowledge.

Outside A levels , what other qualifications are on offer post-16?

94% of parents had heard of BTEC qualifications; 89% knew of the International Baccalaureate; and 62% of parents had heard of the recently introduced T Levels (which were an option for the first time ever in September 2020).* Only 2% of respondents hadn’t heard of any other qualifications outside of A levels.

A summary of the results from daily survey app Parent Ping:

*Based on a survey of 525 parents

Are you up to speed?

Secondary education is a dynamic landscape, and it can be hard to keep up with the changes. Here are a few highlights from recent years:

  • Since 2015, young people must remain in education until they are 18 years old. That doesn’t limit them to staying in full time education, although staying on at school or going to college are popular choices. For the less academic, apprenticeships, workplace or traineeships are all options – so long as there is an element of formal education within the offer. Before 2013, teens could head straight to the workplace at 16, and between 2013 and 2015, the school leaving age was 17.

  • In September 2020 the Department for Education introduced a new qualification, the T-level. This is equivalent to 3 A levels (also taken over two years) and offers a mixture of classroom learning and ‘on the job’ experience – with the emphasis on practical learning.

  • BTECs (UK wide), NVQs (England, Wales & Northern Ireland) and Scottish Vocational Qualifications continue to be available and offer predominantly classroom based, vocational options.

  • Apprenticeships have become much more popular in the last few years and there are a growing number of under 19s that pursue them - approximately 2% of 16 year olds enrolled on one in 2020 (ONS/DfE). For Under 19s there are two types - Intermediate and Advanced levels equivalent to 5 good GCSEs and 2 A levels respectively. New to the apprenticeship offering is degree apprenticeships for post 18s, which weren’t launched until 2015.

One way to think about the differences between qualifications is the place that you learn (in a classroom or in a work place) and the focus of the content (subject or work based). The diagram below provides a pictorial summary of the qualifications - particularly highlighting these two dimensions.

*Created by Liz Taylor, Learning with Parents

Want to know more?

We’ve got a range of specialist guides to help you understand your teen’s options, but why not start with our summary on all their Post 16 choices (academic and practical) - click here to view the full range.


About the author: Liz Taylor is currently working with Learning with Parents on their Parental Engagement forum - a collaborative forum for individuals and organisations focussed on supporting parents with their children's learning.


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