Informing Teenagers’ Choices is a Huge Responsibility – submitted by Peter Hogan, former Headmaster, Loretto School

08 May 2011

Peter Hogan

One of the most important and life-changing decisions of a teenager’s life should never be left to chance. Nationally careers advice is patchy and although good in parts sometimes teenagers are informed by the second hand notions of those around them who are not necessarily equipped with up-to-date and accurate knowledge. Advice in what is now an increasingly complex and competitive field can be flawed and not always as focused on an individual’s needs as it should be.

The reality of the situation is that a parent or even a teacher’s personal experience of University may not accurately reflect the current and ever-changing landscape. Also the grade requirements for admissions to certain courses may be determined by location and even the lifestyle offered by a particular institution rather than the quality of the teaching and the courses themselves. The UK has some of the most highly regarded universities in the world with admission criteria to match. However this does not mean we should disregard or downgrade the importance and relevance of the excellent courses at more modern universities whose entry requirements are not always as high. The employment market today is dynamic and the competition for jobs is international and our graduates should be ready and prepared for what is to come. UK universities may earn their reputations for top class research but they are also obliged to prepare their undergraduates for employment beyond their walls. The challenge for schools, parents and would-be students is to develop an accurate understanding of what is on offer and how this will match the need of individual young people. Painting an accurate picture of what it is like to study at different universities is not always easy.

Too often the goal of pupils (and some schools) is to get into University but this is a new beginning and not an end in itself. We are in danger of failing in our responsibilities, especially as competition for graduate jobs intensifies, not to base advice on the long-term career needs of the students. This is one of the reasons Loretto has linked up with Edinburgh Napier University to create a bespoke programme to provide pupils with access and insight into the university services, including taster days and sample lectures with a key focus on Engineering and Business.

Essentially, it is about offering pupils a test drive – first hand insight into what university life will be like. Just as no-one should buy a car without a test drive we want to send young people off to university with a lot more than vague notions of what the experience will entail.

The university experience is life changing with may important aspects. One significant part of being a student is how well a particular course will prepare them for the world beyond university. While theoretical, academic focused courses are appropriate for some increasingly there is a demand from industry for more ‘job-ready’ graduates who are working hard on increasing their own employability before they graduate.

Edinburgh Napier, for example, is forward thinking and embeds industry links across the board – its record for graduate employability underlines the worth of such a strategy. In some cases that translates to yearlong placements as part of a course, providing valuable insight and experience of work environment.

This generation of young people face huge competition at every turn – getting into university, getting jobs, getting promotions or even just staying employed. Grades alone will not enough. Anything and everything that they can do that makes them stand above the crowd is important.

We have to support young people as much as possible. That means offering real advice based on evidence, focusing on their particular needs and ambitions, and encouraging them to find ways to make them shine.

Peter A Hogan



Loretto School