Senior Headmaster's Blog: What is the right time to start thinking about careers and next steps?

I would imagine that there are a number of parents reading this who are still unsure about future career plans, a huge change since I was at school, when careers were seen as being for life, and you were expected to make your choice and stick with it.  I was never a very good person for the somewhat limited careers department at my school.  I was frustrated at questionnaires that seemed to ask me what I wanted to do, and then repeated that back to me, under the guise of advice!  I would then go into interviews, and whatever question I was asked, I would say that I wanted to be a cricketer.  The follow up question, asking me what I wanted to do for a living was met with the same response, and a quick finish to the interview.  I was fortunate that, when I realised that I was not going to make the grade, I found teaching, which has been a hugely rewarding career over the last twenty plus years.

The outlook has certainly changed, even with University places.  For so long, a place at University was seen as the best route, and the one to which all should aspire, but with the introduction of the degree apprenticeships, and the upward curve of tuition fees, the post-18 landscape is starting to shift.  There is also a greater interest in international University options, as many European Universities now offering courses taught in English, sometimes at lower fee levels than in the UK, and in the case of the Dutch Universities, more easily accessible than some of those in the UK.  With many work places also offering training and development as a key part of their recruitment process, starting work at 18 is no longer quite such a barrier to progression, and the increase in university on-line learning will, I believe, see even more adult learners, adding to their qualifications as they need to in the coming years.  
So what does this mean for careers advice in schools?  The Government have recently been looking at this, and careers advice from the age of 11 upwards is now mandatory.  In fact, there have been some articles suggesting that 11 is too late to start children thinking about what next (  As always, the headline can be misleading, and while we don't want primary school careers departments, of course we want children of all ages to be curious about the world, and interested in what opportunities might be there.  This is one of the most important aspects of careers education for schools to seek to provide - the widest possible range of opportunities and experiences, so that young people develop the skills and interests that will make them successful in a range of different career paths.  Discovering that there is something that you do not want to pursue can be as important as finding something that you are really interested in.  For this reason, we run a broad range of careers seminars for Years 9 and 10, with a more focused approach starting in Year 11.  Individual meetings are offered, along with more detailed careers seminars.  As the pupils move up through the school, the focused Network events provide specific contacts, and careers fairs provide a wider range of information.  

The Careers Department has been renamed the Professional Guidance Department, and tackles everything from Oxbridge entrance, to International Universities, Apprenticeships, Career opportunities, and even post 16 vocational courses.  University in the UK remains the most common destination for a pupil at Felsted, but it is far from the only destination, and the key is doing what is right for the individual.  The input of OFs and parents is crucial to providing mentoring, guidance and advice, and if you would like to get involved in any way, please do contact, or 

If nothing else, having conversations with your son or daughter about future plans, to see if there are ways to support them, is a hugely beneficial thing to be doing, even if they do just say that they want to play cricket.
Chris Townsend


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