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Widening horizons - preparing to leave school

Posted Mon 22nd May 2017 at 07:00
by Tracey Francis


Life after school looming large? Whether you’re just weeks away from the big wide world or only beginning to consider your options, here are a few things to think about

Leaving school is exciting – everything’s new, different, more adult.  

You’ll spend time on things that matter to you, not your teachers or parents. Starting college or university means new ways of learning, possibly living away from home for the first time. An apprenticeship or work brings new responsibilities, with very different ways of relating to the people around you.

The main thing is that what happens now is increasingly up to you: the opportunities you take up, where you go, how you spend your time.

But how do you decide the right path? What if you try something and don’t like it, or if something you thought would be good doesn’t work out? Suppose exams don’t go the way you hope and you miss out on the grades you need?

The good news is there are plenty of things you and the people around you can do to prepare for stepping into the big wide world. The most important thing to remember is there are very few right or wrong answers; it might feel pressured, but time is actually on your side and there’s a lot that can help.

Give yourself as much time as possible to think about what you might want to do when you leave school. Guidelines suggest you start at least 2 years before leaving – if that sounds crazy, remember it’s not about making decisions at that point, just finding out about options so you can work out what appeals to you.

A lot of people start with what they’re good at in school as a pointer to what they could do. But that can be the wrong way round. The kind of person you are, what you like or don’t, and how you want to live your life can all be just as important in deciding what might suit you. Want to work abroad? Maybe run your own business? Don’t rule anything out. Lots of things that may seem like obstacles can be overcome given time, planning and creative thinking.

You also have to work out what you need to give yourself the best chance of succeeding at what you want to do. Qualifications are part of that, but it could also be support with things you find difficult – if you might need particular disability or mental health services for example, or special equipment. These things take time to organise, and you’ll want them there from the beginning. The sooner you start to plan the more likely you are to get off to a good start.

It’s a really good idea to talk about any thoughts you have. Speak to people in your family, school, or anywhere else, as long as they know you well enough to say honestly if they think something might work for you or not. And don’t be afraid to change your mind – there’s no rule that says your first decision is the best!

This makes it sound like it’s all down to you, but other people also have a role to play. Your family, guidance teachers, plus any support workers or health professionals you’re in contact with, should all be involved in creating a plan for you that reflects your abilities, ambitions and hopes. This is really important, because it means everyone can check if things are on track, and make adjustments if anything changes. It’s often a teacher who is responsible for coordinating everyone and making sure things are progressing as they should. Once you’ve left school it isn’t so obvious who should do this, and it’s likely to be left to you and your family, so it really helps if you know what was discussed or decided. It’s also useful if something doesn’t work out as you expect, because going back to your plan can be a good way of focusing your thoughts and identifying a different path.

There’s no doubt starting the next stage can feel like climbing a mountain, reaching the top of every slope only to find there’s another ahead of you. You’re offered a place on the course you want, but now you have to get the grades. You’ve been accepted, but now you have to find somewhere to live and will be sharing with people you don’t know. You’ve applied for a job you like but now there’s an interview, and if that’s successful you’re only at the start of getting to know your colleagues and learning the skills you need.

That’s why qualifications are only part of the story, especially if you’re someone who’s missed time in school or not completed exams. You can get the impression grades are all that count, when in fact being confident in who you are and what you can do will greatly improve your ability to find a way round any unexpected twists and turns. Then there are essential skills for life – whatever you end up doing, it’s good to be able to cook basic meals, use public transport, understand your bank statement, manage your own medication and make appointments with your doctor or dentist. Even if you’ll be living at home, it’s worth practising these along with thinking about how to organise your time so everything that is necessary gets done (including a social life and time to relax). If you struggle with any of these things, make sure working on them is part of your plan so they don’t cause you anxiety when you want to concentrate on other things.

Many people sail through the first weeks of a course or work experience, but it’s also perfectly normal to feel stressed at first – with so many changes it’s hardly surprising. This is definitely something to keep an eye on. If stress continues for too long or escalates into anxiety or panic, share your feelings with someone as quickly as possible – a tutor or student counsellor if you’re studying, or your supervisor in the workplace. If it feels like your concerns aren’t taken seriously don’t be afraid to get advice from other people in authority or your family. And if you have difficulties eating or sleeping, or you begin to have thoughts about harming yourself, it’s essential to speak to someone who can help: with the right support feelings like this can pass quickly, but you may need to see a doctor or other specialist.

Heading into the world beyond school means taking responsibility for your own health and wellbeing. So spotting when something isn’t right, and doing something about it, is really important.

That brings us to the last question you may want to think about. Everyone has to decide how open they want to be about their diagnosis or difficulties, and although it’s good to find out what your family and teachers think, it’s ultimately your call. Some people welcome the chance to make a fresh start without others even realising they have Tourette’s. Some tell college staff or work supervisors, but not colleagues or fellow students. Others prefer to be completely open with everyone. Do think in advance what will work best for you. The advantages of keeping at least some people informed – tutors for example, or people you share accommodation with – are that if you find yourself running into difficulties it’s much easier to discuss the need for special arrangements. It may be less stressful and easier to relax if flatmates know you need to tic sometimes and are comfortable with that. And it may make it easier to link up with others who have Tourette’s themselves and understand some of the challenges.

On balance most people find complete honesty is the best policy and that people are more likely to be supportive if they have an explanation for behaviours or adjustments they notice. But this is something only you can decide.

As you prepare to leave school, whatever stage you’re at in the process, it’s an exciting time of new beginnings. But remember that securing the college place or the job is only a stepping stone: what you’re actually doing is getting your adult life off to the best start you can. The important thing is to make sure it works for you, gives you what you need for the next steps in your journey – and hopefully, friendship and fun along the way.

Tracey Francis is a writer, researcher and campaigner, committed to improving chances and life choices for young people who face barriers to learning.  You can follow Tracey on Twitter: @Tracey88903



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Widening horizons - preparing to leave school

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