Senior Headmaster's Blog: A remarkable range of opportunities

It is that time of the year when the last of the Universities have called their new students in to start their courses.  Of the Felsted cohort, almost 70% have gone to their first choice of university, with nearly 90% getting in to their first choice or insurance offer.  Universities include Oxford, Cambridge, Durham, Exeter, Bristol, KCL, UCL and many more besides, with courses ranging from Architecture to Zoology, including Neuroscience, Music, Classics, Law and Medicine.

 In addition, we have leavers who have gone to European and American Universities, apprenticeships, employment, Art Foundation, Gap Year and professional sport.  In other words, a remarkable range of opportunities lies open these days, and selecting the right route (as the current Upper Sixth are doing now) is not straight forward.  This is why we have put so much more resource into our Professional Guidance team, in an attempt to support the whole range of possible routes for leavers.

One trend in University applications is towards the Unconditional Offer.  Nearly 20% of all applicants last year received at least one unconditional offer.  About 7% of the places at University were taken up by students, who accepted an unconditional offer, as increasing numbers of universities seek to fill courses, and get ahead of the competition.  The Press carried stories this week of how Heads are strongly opposed to the increase in unconditional offers.  I do not agree with this position, and think that many unconditional offers are a great help to students, at a time when pressure is at its highest.  As long as the student is identified as one who is right for the course, and the university, an unconditional place (which is only given in March, when most of the course has been covered) seems to provide a really beneficial route to university, without the stress of needing particular results.  The learning will have been done, and there is no reason why that individual cannot go on to get good results, but avoid the strain of many of their peers.  At a time when we must be ever more mindful of the pressures facing young people, this seems like a really positive approach to me.
Of course, this leads on to another consideration with university.  Last year, there were an increasing number of high profile stories about students not coping with life at university.  Schools have made great strides to improve their care for young people's mental health, and while there is much still to be done, the transition to further education is often a very challenging time.  Candidates are understandably reluctant to say too much when applying, in case they are in some way disadvantaged, but with no real handover, the risk at the next stage increases significantly.  Universities are beginning to become more aware of what needs to be done, but there is still a risk of a drop in care, at a time when the need can be very significant.  My hope is that schools will work much more closely with universities in the near future, to help with this transition.  An open relationship between school and university is critical to providing good continuous support.
I know that this may all sound a bit frightening, but for those who are going to university, it should still be a really good experience.  A chance to study something you love, while developing independence and friendships.  In fact, it can be some of the best days of your life, almost up there with being at school!
Chris Townsend
PS I was at the HMC Conference (for Heads from Independent Schools in the UK, and around the World), and one of the speakers outlined the perfect curriculum for an outstanding school.  It should contain joy, curiosity, good mental health, knowledge, physical health, happiness, focus, aspiration, creativity, moral purpose, flexibility and emotional literacy.  I hope that everyone will experience all of these in their time at Felsted.


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