T has reached the stage of sixth form where the school want them to apply for Uni. T doesn’t want to go to Uni. He’s thought it all through; it’s not a snap decision, it’s based on information/talking to people, not under any influence from K or I. He’s made his intentions clear to relevant staff: he wants to apply to join the Police Force on a 3 year degree apprenticeship when he turns 18 next year. He can’t start the process until he is officially 18, not even allowed to fill out a form, but he has a plan.
Unfortunately, school have other ideas. They insist that every student registers with UCAS, completes a Personal Statement and looks at which course they want to take and where to take it. He has complied with their requirements, written his PS and registered on the UCAS site. Short of applying for a course he has no intention of taking, at a Uni he has no intention of attending, there is little else he can do. He has felt a bit badgered by this whole process, feeling that perhaps his future plan is not seen as worthy somehow, that the only acceptable route is the Uni one. On Thursday last week they had a whole year assembly where he got the message that unless an application was submitted, free period study leave privileges (where students are allowed to leave school premises when they are not in lessons) would be withheld.
I find it staggering that in 30 years nothing much has changed and that students are still being made to feel that Uni is the only viable option, anything else is somehow second best. In an age where apprenticeships are being given a new lease of life, student debt is a hot topic, mental health issues are prevalent amongst students, it is ridiculous that schools are so inflexible and unsupportive of anyone that does not fit into their prescribed ideal. If T was wavering, unsure what to do, no clue as to a preferred future career then yes, I can see that making him follow this process may be useful, if only to make things clearer for him. But he is not wavering. He is certain. And he is certainly not the only one.
I emailed the school to ask what their reasoning is on this rule, explained how badgered he has felt, how he feels that what he wants to do is not deemed acceptable. The response was as expected: not intended to cause any distress, not intended to make him feel unsupported. The reason they ask all students to register is so that they are “in the system” in case they change their minds and wish to apply a few years in the future (apparently this happens from time to time). I was assured that T has fulfilled all the requirements and that nothing further would be asked of him. Nonetheless, I stressed the point that perhaps going forward they consider an alternative approach to students who wish to do something other than Uni, or at least to be more flexible and accept that it is not for everyone.
I am happy to admit that I was doing this for him, but also partly for myself. I had the exact same experience when I was his age; having made it clear that Uni wasn’t for me I felt like I was a second class citizen in the school’s eyes. I was no longer included in study discussions, was no longer encouraged in my studies, was not asked what I would be doing instead, was given no guidance on the alternative options available to me. Unlike T, I had no idea of what I really wanted to do (that idea had been stamped on during GCSE’s – being told that I was too bright to waste myself on an NNEB qualification, I ended up in 6th Form) other than get a job, but equally I knew what I didn’t want to do. I am not anti-Uni, I am totally in favour of further education and would encourage both of our kids to go if they want to. The important point in that sentence is the “if they want to”. It felt good to get this point across for him and for 18 year old me.
On a more positive note, T had his annual awards evening at Cadets last night. He has been a cadet for 3 years now and last year he won the Cadets Cadet of the Year award. Although pleased to receive the award he felt he was given it somewhat by default, as the person who was originally voted as winner had won the previous year and you’re not allowed to win 2 years running. T was voted second place so was given the award. So, it was deserved but he didn’t make a big deal out of it. This year we were told we didn’t have to bother going if we didn’t want to as he was certain he would not be getting an award, having won last year. I quite enjoy the evening, apart from the standing around feeling like a spare part, talking amongst ourselves, sipping warm wine part. Unfortunately, K was going to be late home and I didn’t really want to go alone. I’d resigned myself to not going when A said she would come with me. She quite enjoyed it last year and was happy to come again and keep me company. Love her. The evening played out the same as every year: the cadets do drill practice, get inspected by the visiting dignitaries (more on that later*) and then parade in for the awards. We watched the parade and then found seats towards the back. The awards were handed out and it was lovely seeing some of the new cadets getting recognised for effort, etc. The final award of the evening – Cadet of the Year – was announced. The leader explained that this award is decided by the group leaders and said that this year it was unanimous. He proceeded to talk about a cadet who had “been with the group for 3 years, showed excellent leadership, was a valued member of the team and would make a great asset to the Constabulary when they join in the future” followed by T’s name. A and I both looked at each other and did a little squeal. We were not expecting that! From T’s face when he went up to collect his award from the Chief Constable, he wasn’t either! I was very pleased that we had gone along.
*During the inspection, I saw T being spoken to by one of the dignitaries. He obviously said something to make T laugh before moving on. As they prepared to parade back in, the dignitaries walked past where A and I were standing. The man that had spoken to T was amongst them. He was really very handsome. I quietly remarked as such to A. I don’t say stuff like that often (hardly ever in fact) but her normal response would be something along the lines of “oh god, mum, shut up, you’re too old to say things like that, urgh you’re so embarassing“. But, it seems my girl may be growing up because what she actually said was “oh yeah, I had noticed”. I laughed and laughed. Not since the day when she was 3 years old and shoved a copy of a magazine under my nose saying “mummy look at the handsome man!” showing me a picture of Ryan Reynolds (she wasn’t wrong), have I heard her comment on the appearance of a male of the species. Boys are gross, boys are idiots, boys are pathetic. They are not handsome. Oh, how she makes me laugh.
Times are a-changing. And she has a good eye. And no, it is not wrong for us to comment on the aesthetic appearance of a male. We were not objectifying him, or drooling or making lewd comments. We were simply stating a fact; he was handsome. And apparently what he said to T to make him laugh was that, if he was there for the awards next year please could T stop growing as he was just too bloody tall and made him feel short. A man with a sense of humour – even better than a handsome face.