Private Tuition Blog: Archive for January 2011
Posted on 31st January 2011
Last week I discussed whether or not degrees prepare you for the world of work and whether or not they should. A survey by recruitment website totaljobs.com has just revealed some staggering statistics about students’ dissatisfaction with their educations and failure to find jobs after graduating, all of which contribute to the ongoing debate.
Nearly 50% of all recent graduates said that they did not believe that their degrees had properly prepared them for a job and around 25% would not recommend higher education to pupils currently in sixth form, which does not bode well at all.
The Office for National Statistics revealed last week that one in five recent graduates are currently out of work. With unemployment rising and the continuing cuts, this is terrible but perhaps not surprising news. According to totaljobs.com, 38% of graduates have claimed jobseeker’s allowance after leaving university. Again this is not particularly surprising. I certainly wasn’t the only one of my friends who had spent the entirety of their student loan and had been too busy revising for my finals to have a paid job, which meant that when I graduated I didn’t have a particularly healthy bank account, Luckily, I managed to find some temporary work in the summer to avoid dipping into the red, but many graduates are not lucky enough to find a job the minute after they’ve been handed their degree certificates. Claiming jobseeker’s allowance is an oobvious answer to being cash-strapped and searching for work.
Mike Fetters from totaljobs.com said, “the reality is that as a country we haven’t been very good at creating graduates who are specialised in areas that employers are demanding”. Perhaps students need to stop expecting that doing any degree is enough to make you attractive to employers, and should start thinking more carefully during their A Levels about what sort of work they want and then pick their degree accordingly. Or is it the responsibility of universities to ‘train’ undergraduates for the working world?
However, there is still the argument that creating ready-made employees is not what universities are there for. Should they become factories producing specifically trained personnel or should they continue as they are? Tell us what you think.
Posted on 28th January 2011
Learning how to read and write has been considered an educational essential for, well, about as long as humans have been able to scribble on paper. Having a working knowledge of computers however, is a far newer concept. And yet in our digital age, without it, many will find it hard to survive in our jungle of web pages, PowerPoint presentations, apps, word documents and all sorts of other technological delights.
Recently the computer giants that are those men and women at Microsoft did a survey, which revealed that a staggering 82% of 16 to 18 year olds use Facebook every day. Undoubtedly this is proof that the majority of teenagers at least know how to turn on a computer, access the web and write a ‘wall post’. But while one in five students use social networking sites such as Facebook to help each other with their homework, they are not translating these technological skills into work in schools.
A huge amount of time at home is spent behind a screen, but the level of engagement at school is very different. Microsoft discovered that according to 71% of teenagers, they felt that they had learnt more about computers and technology outside of school hours than in their ICT classes. Although it is heartening to know that learning doesn’t just stop the minute the school bell rings, perhaps it also highlights the fact that teachers may need to reconsider what and how they are teaching pupils in ICT classes.
There are around 2.5million computers in schools and a mighty 97% of 15-16 year olds have computers and Internet access at home. Yet data from the digital education charity, the E-learning Foundation, shows that over a million pupils do not have access to a computer at home and around two million are not able to go online. There is a clear divide between higher and low-income families. Unsurprisingly, it is in the low-income families that children do not have the same access to computers and the Internet.
Although this may not necessarily always be a bad thing, as I do believe that too much time can be spent on the internet rather than playing games outside or reading books, it is worrying that children without access to computers are being put at a serious disadvantage when it comes to completing their homework. Certainly the Internet is an excellent way of researching projects, and for me it is an invaluable resource which I would struggle without.
The Times Educational Supplement did a survey of 585 teachers, a fifth of whom said that access to the Internet was crucial for helping pupils with their homework. 55% said that those without Internet access at home were at a “serious disadvantage”. Evidently teachers are aware of the necessity of computers and the Internet.
Technology has become such a major part of the way we live now, we need students to be able to keep up. We also need to make sure that those who do not always have access to a computer are not going to fall far behind their friends who do have their own laptops.
Posted on 27th January 2011
I recently wrote a blog on the current debate about whether GCSEs should be moved forward and taken when students are 14 rather than 16. It now seems that there are possible shifts on the cards with other examinations as well.
Currently, unless students take a gap year, when they apply to universities they only have their predicted grades. Although these should hopefully be pretty accurate and based in evidence from previous work and progress, since not every teacher has psychic powers and not every student performs ‘as expected’ under examination conditions, grade predictions are not always spot on.
Research has shown that students from poorer backgrounds in particular receive grade predictions that are much lower than the marks they finally receive, which means they have less chance of getting into universities.
However, the government is now considering moving A Levels so that students could apply with their actual, rather than predicted, grades. A White Paper due to be published in the next few months will reveal further details.
If A Levels do stay put, then the importance of performing consistently well at school so that your teachers give you the best possible predicted grades that they can, will remain. A tutor to help you to focus on the key areas which you find tricky may make the difference between an A and a B.
Posted on 26th January 2011
Getting through the inevitable gauntlet of exams can be difficult. Writing essays, revising, doing coursework, university applications… sometimes the trials can seem endless. Surviving them with confidence can be extremely hard sometimes and we know how terrifying examinations can be if you don’t feel properly prepared.
January is speeding by and in a few months exam season will be upon us, but there is plenty of time to make sure you are ready when it does get here. Preparing early for exams is the best way to ensure that you feel calm and confident when the invigilator says,“you may now begin…”.
Many of you will have done mock exams, or at least received a fair amount of work back from your teachers and will be starting to realize which areas of your work need most attention. Baffled by how to structure an essay? Never can find the right words to express what you mean? Don’t have a clue what Shakespeare’s on about in Hamlet? Frazzled by fractions?
Luckily help is at hand. Here in Chelsea is a team of lovely people dedicated to helping you to succeed. We have an experienced team of tutors who can help with all subjects, and we do our absolute best to match the perfect tutor to each individual student.
Don’t suffer in silence, give us a ring today and we’ll make sure that when the calendar flips to May, you feel in tip top form.
Posted on 25th January 2011
With the price tag of an undergraduate degree being raised so significantly, candidates will be asking more and more what, to put it bluntly, ‘the point’ of doing a degree is. There may also be even more pressure on universities to properly prepare students for life in the workplace, since the need to get a well paid job after graduation will dramatically increase.
To be honest, I never really thought about the ‘skills’ I was acquiring during my English degree. I just enjoyed getting on with reading books and writing essays. It was only when I went to a careers event that a nice lady from the careers advice office told me that I was aqcuiring all sorts of skills which employers would find attractive. Apparently I can work to deadlines, prioritise tasks, have an eye for detail, take in and process large volumes of information quickly and communicate effectively. ‘’Really?’ I thought. Well, what a nice bonus to three wonderful years expanding my mind through encounters with Dante, Chaucer, Sophocles, Keats and co!
Should a degree be classed as ‘training’ rather than ‘education’? The economic climate may well force thisto become the case. Already subjects such as medicine, vetinary sciences and law produce graduates who are prepared for a job, but some universities may start to make things such as team-work, problem-solving, self-management and communication skills taught areas.
There are some universities, such as Brunel that offer predominantly vocational courses and are meant to be dedicated to serving industries, but this only works when universities have strong links with employers and these links result in graduates being actually employed.
In my opinion it would be silly to spend too much time during, say an English degree, trying to make yourself employable rather than actually studying Shakespeare. What exactly are you trying to make yourself employable for? Unless you know this, there is no point acquiring a random hotch-potch of skills which employers from some hypothetical firm might find handy. As the lady in the careers department at my university said, I was alread acquiring ‘useful’ skills withot even realising. There is then plenty of time during the university holidays for placements and work experience in specific areas wher you can get a taste for working life and begin to train yourself for a particular job.
Posted on 24th January 2011
Although I was still only a teenager myself, I distinctly remember disagreeing heavily with the government’s decision in 2004 to remove foreign languages from the list of compulsory subjects for children at GCSE level. Having a Dutch mother and being brought up bilingual has proved hugely beneficial to me. When I started secondary school I also had to study Latin and French for at least three years and then take up a second modern language (Italian, German, Spanish or Russian) for two years. When it came to GCSE choices, every girl in the school took at least one language and most took two. From being able to communicate on holiday when visiting France and Italy to reading Dante (not in translation), to understanding the roots of many of our own English words, I am enormously grateful for my time learning languages at school.
For the past few years, students have had a choice, and unless the school has stipulated that in order to take GCSEs there candidates must study a modern foreign language, students have been able avoid them. A great shame indeed. However this may all change.
Education Secretary Michael Gove is launching a review of the national curriculum and has said that “the door is open” for languages to become a compulsory part of the curriculum again. Personally, I think this is excellent news. Although English is so widely spoken and understood across the globe, I think it is unacceptable to assume that you do not need to make an effort to speak the language of a country you are visiting. Learning a language at school also provides a model and structure for how to learn other languages in the future, should you wish to take up say, Portuguese or Danish, or other languages not typically taught in schools, later on.
Gove has also criticised the English syllabus and the limited number of texts students study at school. He was alarmed by the fact that students can currently get a GCSE in Literature having studied only one novel, and on the whole, “they were overwhelmingly studying Of Mice and Men and Lord of the Flies”. These are both excellent books, worth reading and studying, but these are not the only two most important novels you should read while at school. I strongly agree that the breadth of children’s understanding of the canon should be expanded. Although I admit that as an English graduate and tutor I am somehwat biased.
According to Gove, the four key subjects should be English, Maths, Science and PE, and a panel will advise on the other subjects to remain or become compulsory.
We are living in a world where things are changing fast, the jobs market is altering significantly, and as a result of the recent cuts - universities are going to have to adapt in new ways. We need to think carefully about what really are the essential subjects for children to study and what will best serve them in the future. What do you think should be compulsory? Are there any changes to the curriculum that you would like to see take place?
Posted on 21st January 2011
The cost of postgraduate courses has always been a bit of a mystery to me. When I was researching which masters courses to apply for I was greeted by a huge range of price tags, ranging from ‘a just about justifiable investment’ to ‘an extraordinary amount of money I couldn’t possibly comprehend being able to find and/or pay back’. Even though all of the courses were in a similar field, each university or establishment seemed to be charging whatever they thought they might be able to get away with. I was mightily anxious about where I could find this money from. Having already received the full whack of student loan cash for my first degree, unless I was one of the very lucky few to get support from the AHRC (Arts and Humanities Research Council), I would have to think of new and inventive ways to fund my unquenchable thirst for more education. Having debated the following ideas: selling a vital organ, staging a bank robbery, or possibly both, the only conclusion was to spend a year working and saving every penny, beg my parents to let me move back in for a while and then continue doing part time work throughout my MA. Fortunately I still have all of body parts and no criminal record.
Recently it has been the cost of undergraduate degrees that have come under scrutiny, and unless you have been living in a warren tucked away from newspapers, televisions, radios and computers, you will be aware of the controversial raising of fees by the coaltion government.
Although up until now postgraduate courses have been mostly exempt from the funding debate, this is all about to change. Around £100m of masters funding is about to be axed and this will inevitably have a huge impact on universities and students alike. Since postgraduate students do not have the same access to loans as undergraduates do, they will have to pay not only higher fees, but higher fees up front, rather than after completing their course. This will almost certainly deter students from continuing their education, whch I think will be a terrible pity indeed.
Many who do go onto do masters courses and PhDs, especially in arts subjects, where there is the least amount of funding available (last year there were 32,735 students working on PhDs in the arts and humanities, but only 2,100 received financial assistance from the AHRC), have to have paid jobs in order to support themselves financially. The higher the cost, the more they have to work, and the more they have to work, the less time they have to devote to their studies, and so undoubtedly the quality of their written work will suffer.
There is a great deal of anxiety over whether the cuts will mean that the quality of the academic research in this country will be compromised and also whether it will only be the wealthiest students who will be able to continue studying beyond BA level. Both outcomes would be a great shame indeed.
Let us know your thoughts on the matter. Can you see a solution? What other problems are you worried about in terms of universities, fees and funding?
Posted on 20th January 2011
Many of you in year 13 and on gap years will already have applied to your universities of choice, but no doubt there will be some who have yet to become familiar with the UCAS website. Perhaps you are delaying because the thought of writing your personal statement is too terrible to bear and so you are just avoiding the whole thing all together. Sound familiar? Well, this blog is for you. It is also for any super-keen year 12s who want to make a head start with thinking about university admissions. With competition for places so tough, and the host of other things sixth formers have on their plates, it is never too early to start thinking about what on earth you are going to write down in that little box.
The first thing to keep in mind when you are writing your personal statement is what on earth its functions is. It is very easy to think about it as a mandatory hoop that must be jumped through, without really considering what the people reading it will be looking for. Ultimately your personal statement needs to make you stand out as a fabulous student that the admissions department would be foolish not to take. The two main questions that the tutors will be asking are: ‘Do we want this student and this particular university? And, perhaps more importantly, ‘should this student be studying this particular course?’ This last one is especially important. I remember the first open day I went to at a college in Cambridge and a rather stern fellow repeatedly emphasised that the main point of the statement and interview was to ascertain whether or not the student had applied for the correct course. If they had any sense that you weren’t going for the right thing then they would certainly not be offering you a place.
Essentially universities want candidates who are extremely passionate about their field of interest, hardworking, conscientious, organised, able to work to deadlines and deal with pressure, able to adapt to new environments and students who are adequately prepared for the rigour and demands of studying for a degree. Through your statement you need to show all of this. Although this sounds like a tall order, if you break it down into more manageable elements it can be less stressful than you may have anticipated.
To begin with I would recommend making a few traditional spider diagrams or lists, whatever format works best for you. These should contain your initial thoughts on the following areas:
-Which subject you want to study and why
-How your A Level choices link up to this
-Anything you have done which demonstrates an interest in your subject that goes beyond what you have done in school
-Personal experiences that have impacted on your subject choice
-Any work experience you have done which is relevant. This will be particularly important for those wishing to study something like medicine or vetinary sciences
Next you need to show what an interesting person you are beyond the restrictions of the academic curriculum. Have you had a part time job that will prove how reliable and responsible you are? What are your hobbies? Have you done any voluntary or charity work? Have you won any prizes or awards?
If you are on, or plan to take a gap year, then definitely write about this. You need to share what you are doing or plan to do and why. Is there anything in our gap year schedule that relates to your chosen course?
Having jotted down all of these notes you should be in an excellent position to start writing. Don’t worry too much initially about the structure, just start to write full sentences that incorporate the notes you made on each area. Write things down and then take a look later, maybe you have thought of a better way to phrase things, so tweak what you’ve written.
Once you’ve written and collected these little fragments you can start to put them all together, like assembling a trifle or other layered dessert of deliciousness. There are no set rules when it comes to the structure of your statement but I would recommend opening with a really enthusiastic paragraph on why you want to study this particular course. Then broaden out to talk about how other subjects you have studied have fed into this and what you have done beyond school to demonstrate your interest. You can also talk about relevant work experience and the skills that you have which you believe will equip you for this course. In the final third of the statement write about your hobbies and other interests so that the admissions tutors get more of a sense of your personality. My sixth for tutor told me: “remember they are looking for human beings, not robots”. Although this may seem rather obvious, I think we can often forget that they are looking for individual characters and not a batch of identical learning machines.
By now you should have your first draft. The next step is to make the statement as clear and concise as possible. Keep re-reading it and evaluating your language. You may suddenly think of a better way to put something. Also check that it fits into the box on the UCAS website as they are very strict on the length of them.
For more advice, take a look at the following website: http://www.studential.com/guide/write_personal_statement.htm#link_ucas
Of course we also have plenty of tutors here at Enjoy Education who can help with admissions, so if you do want more advice, don’t hesitate to give us a call!
Posted on 19th January 2011
Eager to see whether it deserved the hype, I recently went to see the – now award-winning- film The King’s Speech. Much to my delight the film did indeed match up to the praise with which it has been smothered. Beautifully written, shot and performed with exquisite music, the film is poignant, compelling and enlightening. I urge you to see it.
Aside from being a thoroughly enjoyable way to spend a couple of hours, the film also brings onto the stage a vitally important issue, and something which can have a major impact on a child’s development: stammering. For me, one of the most striking things about Colin Firth’s tremendous performance is the way that he shows us how a stammer can annihilate confidence.
I believe that confidence is a key ingredient to a child’s success. Self-worth and belief are extremely valuable both academically and socially. Many of the Enjoy Education tutors will agree that much of our work is about not only building knowledge, but also helping our students to grow in confidence in order to help them to succeed not only in examinations but in other areas of life as well. There is, after all, more to life than exams (even though occasionally this may seem far from the case).
Stammering is thought to be a combination of factors: genetic, physiological and exacerbated by negative experiences. Indeed in the film, King George VI’s therapist, Lionel Logue (played by the wonderful Geoffrey Rush) is convinced that the King’s unhappy childhood played a major role in affecting the way he speaks.
Surely bringing the issue to the forefront of people’s minds can only be a positive thing. And yet, in these bitter economic times, sadly services that help children with all sorts of speech difficulties are being cut.
According to The Communication Trust there are over one million children and teenagers who have some form of speech and communication difficulty. Often teachers and parents do not identify the problems quickly enough, which can lead to further damage.
Provision for children with communication difficulties is highly inconsistent and there is no standard structure set up for helping them. The NHS, schools, and local authorities all offer some services, but this will depend on where you live and ultimately the standard and amount of help available is a bit of a lottery. To make matters worse, a survey by the Royal College of Speech and Language Therapists in November 2010 revealed that out of the 159 respondents, a staggering 84% had been asked to reduce their services by around 30%.
There is a campaign that has been set up by the Royal College of Speech and Language Therapists called Giving Voice, which is trying to protect the services available for children and young people. Visit http://www.givingvoiceuk.org for more information.
Although they are cutting services to help children with stammers, the government has dubbed 2011 as the Year of Communication, and they are backing a campaign called ‘Hello’ which will be run by the Communication Trust. Take a look at http://www.hello.org.uk to get involved.
Hopefully The King’s Speech and campaigns such as the ones mentioned here will do a great deal of good by raising awareness about the issue, and with any luck will also result in some concrete results and improvements to services which will help children and young adults with stammers.
Posted on 18th January 2011
The education charity the Sutton Trust recently published a study which suggested that students should take GCSEs at 14 and then be free to choose either an academic, vocational or technical training route, as this would better prepare them for a job, and raise their chances of being employed.
According to the study, students would be happy to stay in education after the GCSEs, as long as the options were appealing enough; employers would be happy as it would mean that there would be more people with the skills to work in industries such as pharmaceuticals and engineering and in turn this would also benefit the economy.
The coalition government is keen to keep students in education and training longer, planning to raise the compulsory leaving age from 16 to 18. However, there are fears that students who do not wish to take A levels would then not have enough time after their GCSEs to follow less academic, and more vocational routes.
The Sutton Trust suggests that if pupils took GCSEs at 14 they would then have much more time to follow their own chosen route and would be in a position where they could prepare themselves more fully for the working world.
Arguably allowing students not suited to the A level system who have a passion and desire to follow a slightly different educational route, can only be a good thing. The student will be happy, and they will be in a stronger position to get a job when they leave school.
However, there will inevitably be plenty of students who will have no idea of what sort of training they want to follow aged only 14. When I was 14 I certainly wasn’t concerned with planning what sort of job I wanted. The varied nature of the GCSEs meant I could keep up both arts and sciences until I was 16. Even then, my A Level choices weren’t based on any kind of complex career plan, just the subjects I most enjoyed studying.
With university fees being raised up to £9000 a year, I’m sure there will be many students who will think twice about why they want to go to university. Personally, I fear for the students who, like me, wanted to do a degree just because they liked studying English and found it academically stimulating for its own sake. With such an astronomical price tag, arts degrees without an obvious job at the end may begin to be viewed as an expensive indulgence.
No doubt there will be some students who would benefit from taking GCSEs earlier and then following a more vocational route. Yet I think it is important that students who haven’t made up their minds yet to be allowed to keep their options open. I cherished the fact that I was able to enjoy learning for its own sake until I graduated from university, and believe it would be a terrible pity if other students who take pleasure from studying were forced to make hasty choices about their futures before being ready to do so.
Do you think 16 is the right age to take GCSEs? Should pupils make decisions about their careers earlier? Let us know your thoughts.