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To think there's nothing wrong with not being academic

(27 Posts)
TheHamstersOnTheWheelAgain Wed 04-Jun-14 11:15:20

and not wanting to do A Levels/go to university?

This is going to be long, so bear with me...

When I finished my GCSE's seven years ago it was expected by my parents that I would do A Levels and then go to university. They wanted it so much that I never really stopped to think about whether that was what I actually wanted. I don't know if it was because both my parents left school at 16 and have worked ever since and they were from a generation where going to university was pretty much a guarantee of a good job?

Truthfully I wasn't academic at school and just scraped seven GCSE's, 4 B's and 3 C's, and if I'm honest I think I would have been far better off just starting an apprenticeship - I was desperate to leave the classroom environment and start earning my own money but my parents wouldn't hear of it. No, I must go on and do A Levels so I would end up with a better job and a better life than them. I found A Levels hard and I hated them so much but whenever I brought up the possibility of quitting and getting an apprenticeship or a job instead I just got shouted at that I would ruin my life by doing that so I stuck it out. In the end though I flunked my A Levels because I found them hard and wasn't interested in the subjects at all. I told my parents I wanted to take a couple of years out and work for a bit instead of going to university and they were devastated. Again, they thought I was going to ruin my life by not going to university.

I've worked since then and am starting an apprenticeship in digital and creative media in a few weeks time which fits me perfectly and I think I'm a lot happier than I would have been if I'd gone to university. I just wish I'd have had the guts to get an apprenticeship at 16 because chances are, I would have been further ahead right now and wouldn't have been miserable for two years.

Seriously, am I mad to think that there's nothing wrong with not being academic and being more practical instead? It seems these days that not going to university is seen as shameful. This might be a controversial statement, but I really do think we send too many people to university these days and there are lots of people who go to university just because that's what's expected of them. I also think that lots of people who go to university would be better suited to an apprenticeship instead. The 50% university target is just madness IMO.

I know when I was at school anyone who left at 16 was seen as a failure and thought to be throwing away their lives, though looking at them now, most seem to be doing well for themselves and in the career they wanted to be in so it all worked out.

I've even heard parents say that they'll be making it clear to their children that they are expected to do A Levels and go to university and they can do whatever they want after that. When questioned on what happens if their children don't want to do that, the parents are insisted that's what they will do. Fair enough if they genuinely want to do that themselves but pushing a non-academic child through A Levels and university just seems sad to me. sad

whynowblowwind Wed 04-Jun-14 11:17:01

I agree and I would add I think it's a myth that A levels and a degree lead to a well paid career.

A lot of people I know who are fairly well off didn't go to university.

Bonsoir Wed 04-Jun-14 11:18:08

There is nothing at all wrong with not being academic. There is something very wrong with an educational system that doesn't make adequate provision for vocational and practical education and training.

On a side track - children have to stay on until 18 now don't they?

GhoulWithADragonTattoo Wed 04-Jun-14 11:24:52

YANBU - the academic route isn't for everyone and your parents should have taken into account your wishes more. Having said that I tend to think staying in education until 18 (even on a more vocational course) is probably a good idea, unless the young person has a very strong idea of what they want to do as a career. I think staying at school until 18 does give you something more to fall back on if starting your own business or whatever doesn't work out. University is not suitable for everyone though.

pleaseaffixstamps Wed 04-Jun-14 11:25:11

I think it's fine not to go to university, if your natural inclinations and talents lead you in a different direction. My big brother is the most successful (and the richest, though that's not saying much) person in our family, despite not being academically-inclined and not going to university, unlike the rest of us. He's got a good business brain, and a good practical talent, and found other ways (working his way up, plus evening courses) to train.

I don't think it's fine to be forced to miss university (because of money) if that IS where your natural talents lie.

Nocomet Wed 04-Jun-14 11:33:34

Bonsoir hits the nail squarely on the head.
There is nothing wrong with not being academic (or being academic, but not wanting to spend another 3-5 years studying).

But vocational post 16 is very patchy. Information for pupils and parents about opportunities for DCs who want or are forced to step off the GCSE/A level/university escalator at 16,17 or 18 is woeful.

Young people are being expected to stay in education for longer and longer at greater and greater personal expense. Yet career services are being cut to the bone, so information and advice is incredibly difficult to find.

It's no wonder parents take the 'easy' stay on the escalator, stay in education stance.

Crinkle77 Wed 04-Jun-14 11:36:04

YANBU, I followed the academic route but it didn't help me get a job. When I left uni I found it difficult as I didn't have any experience. Most of my friends who didn't go to uni are actually doing better than me financially.

TheHamstersOnTheWheelAgain Wed 04-Jun-14 11:37:11

On a side track - children have to stay on until 18 now don't they?

They have to stay in education or training until 18. They can still leave at 16 if they want to and do an apprenticeship or even get a job as long as sufficient training is provided. So really, it's not much different.

LRDtheFeministDragon Wed 04-Jun-14 11:38:16

Agree with Bonsoir.

I think there's something wrong with your parents pushing you that hard, too.

maninawomansworld Wed 04-Jun-14 11:41:03

Agree 100%. Lots of very successful people didn't have a particularly academic background.
There are professions such as medicine, law and the like which you will never get into without a stack of education behind you but some of the most successful people I know never went to university.

Idontseeanyicegiants Wed 04-Jun-14 11:43:16

As the parent of a not particularly academic teenager I agree completely. It worries me that the focus is on A levels and Uni even in year 8, apprenticeships and vocational courses are never mentioned at all, he's started to look into them himself instead.
It doesn't seem to have changed since I was at school. My choices were presented as 'University or the dole' and I stupidly went in to do my A levels. Briefly...
Thank God I had the backing if my parents, I found a vocational course and quit college. Never looked back after that!
DS will not be pushed, he's got a good idea of what he wants to do and how to get there with or without the 'help' of his school.

MaidOfStars Wed 04-Jun-14 11:48:40

I gather the push for academic success (at the expense of valuable and well-planned career advice) is the bane of teachers' lives as well. A teacher friend of mine had a male child who, at 14 or so, was very clear that he wanted to leave school ASAP and train/work in his Dad's garage, which would one day be his. She found herself having to persuade him to stay on for further education, despite thinking it was entirely the wrong path for him.

LemonSquares Wed 04-Jun-14 11:49:44

There is something very wrong with an educational system that doesn't make adequate provision for vocational and practical education and training.

^^ So true.

I did A-levels and degree as I didn't see any alternatives career wise. I am academic so it worked for me but it really didn't feel like there were any other options.

OnIlkleyMoorBahTwat Wed 04-Jun-14 11:50:10

Agree 100%. And there's lots of skilled trades that pay as well as, if not more than graduate jobs.

Anyone starting an apprenticeship at 16 will have a 5+ year head start on learning their trade and could be competent, relativley highly paid adn without close to �50k in student debt when their graduate peers hit the job market.

Thanks Hampster smile


My nephew is not academic but good with his hands. He became an apprentice and did very very well and now has an extremely good job on a much higher than average wage.

My niece is currently at union as she is more academic.

As the saying goes it is horses for courses.

Runesigil Wed 04-Jun-14 12:45:28

There's nothing worse for someone than being pushed into a career choice that they are not comfortable with, whatever age they are and whether it's academic or not.

Long, sorry.

Here's a very simple and quick approximate history to show how attitudes to an academic education have changed over 3 or 4 generations.

Many school leavers in the WWII generation had to leave school at 14 and get a job to support the younger members of the family so if they had academic aspirations it was tough, night school on top of a full time day job was their only option but a degree was out of the question and the career was more likely to be local opportunity rather than a chosen specialised field.

The early ones of the Baby Boomers generation had the educational opportunities and financial security to pursue the academic and degree path if they wanted to, if not, as the education system was grammar and secondary modern, then the practically inclined were also steered towards very good careers. All of them were virtually guaranteed jobs for life and a good pension. Universities offered 'good' academic degrees and people who had them were respected in their communities. The later Baby Boomers saw the introduction of the comprehensive education system. For the Baby Boomers' children and this is also applicable for today, their primary and secondary education was vastly different, achievement and competition were no longer seen as desirable, social bonds like marriage being for life were breaking down and a degree although costly was available in so many subjects that it hardly related to the employment world any longer.

Currently industry bosses are continuing to bemoan that people are leaving Uni with degrees but are woefully ill-equipped for the workplace in attitude, in aptitude, in written communication, in people skills and in any basic application of intelligence. General automatic respect for someone with a degree no longer exists as many degrees are seen to be easy to obtain and frankly the behaviour of degree-educated people is in a lot of instances no longer something that the less well-educated would desire to aspire to.

Your parents' view of what a prestigious thing degree is and their assumptions of the doors it would automatically open for you will have been formed due to their upbringing and will not reflect the current attitude and reality at all.


MissThang Wed 04-Jun-14 12:54:19

Nothing wrong at all in not being academic or not having gone to Uni etc etc. some of the most academic people I personally know have absolutely sod all common sense and in actual fact aren't bright at all. That's not EVERY academic person (I'm one myself) but some. Many non academic people are very quick in other ways, namely quick to take initiative and also savvy at reading people's characters. That's my experience at least. On another note...non academic friends have gone on to pass their driving tests easily and are brilliant drivers. I am struggling learning to drive...dh struggled driving and is extremely intelligent with a top instructor actually told me yesterday that in his experience, the more 'clever' someone is, the more they struggle to learn! He said he's had doctors lawyers and head teachers finding it awful and taking ages! Anyway, besides the point, yanbu at all

mollypup Wed 04-Jun-14 13:00:54


I dropped out of uni twice, simply because i did not enjoy the endless assessments and exams.

I am now in a job that pays £25k, offers 50% home working and I'm only 23 purely thanks to hard work. A lot of graduates I know are still in menial office/retail roles. I am proud of my achievements, especially considering the pressure on young people nowadays and the view that one must attend univeristy in order to be successful.

mollypup Wed 04-Jun-14 13:02:28


minipie Wed 04-Jun-14 13:11:00



1) What Bonsoir said. Good apprenticeships/vocational training are sadly not that easy to come by.

2) Some teenagers may confuse being bored with school with being unacademic/better suited to working. Just because a teenager is bored with school doesn't mean A levels aren't right for them in the longer term. (Not saying this is the case for you OP but I can see how lots of teens could be tempted to ditch school just because they are bored).

3) There's a big difference between not going to uni and not doing A levels. I agree with you that many people are not suited to uni. Not sure I'd agree about A levels.

Lioninthesun Wed 04-Jun-14 13:26:45

I didn't go to uni. I was offered several places and declined as I met someone and got a mortgage instead. As I have said on another thread I've never really had a career in mind, unlike some. I do however know people who have known from 4 they wanted to be a lawyer or doctor etc and they have tremendous drive to get academic quals left right and centre.
I think for most of my friends, going to uni was par for the course. A lot of people who did far worse than me at GCSE's and A'levels went and plodded through and now have good jobs in completely unrelated areas. IME most jobs are actually not very academic (as in pushing boundaries, going over science and debating real changes for development) - most jobs seem to based on specific rules that rarely change and it is mainly formatting and tweaking these to tailor them to the current subject/client.

TheHamstersOnTheWheelAgain Wed 04-Jun-14 14:00:19

I agree that good apprenticeships can be hard to come by. Some of them really do seem like cheap labour and an excuse to hire someone cheaply and not pay them NMW. I've seen several "apprentice sales assistant", "apprentice receptionist" and "apprentice waiter/waitress" advertised and I think that's really dodgy, I mean why do you need an apprenticeship for these things?

There's a big difference between not going to uni and not doing A levels. I agree with you that many people are not suited to uni. Not sure I'd agree about A levels.

For me, A Levels were worse than school. My parents were insistent that I had to stay in education but I think I would have been more suited to a BTEC than A Levels. I don't think there's anything wrong with that but I know a lot of people do look down on them.

ghostmous3 Wed 04-Jun-14 14:10:19

I went to uni because it was expected of me, i scraped my gcses, got 4 in the end, scraped A levels and scraped clearing so I ended up in a bog standard uni where i got a 2:2 in English Lit.

my parents micromanaged everything, including what choice I took in A levels, degree course, everything,

ive never used it, got straight out of uni and went straight into a factory job, got pregnant and had four kids over the years and endless shitty shop jobs and now am at home with the dc

I wanted to do an apprentiship and I wanted desperately to work with horses, parents said no they didnt want me coming in smelling of horshshit and saidthey would be ashamed if I never went to uni.

Any sort of career is to late for me now. I am late thirties with young dc,

ouryve Wed 04-Jun-14 14:10:36

YANBU and it's such a shame that your parents' projecting got in the way of you settling onto a path where you could make the most of the skills that you do have (you come across very well in writing, btw).

"Apprentice" receptionist and waiter/waitress roles would only be appropriate as part of a package involving vocational training in hospitality or administration in general. I agree that some of them are spurious. I would have hope that things would have moved on from 10 years ago when BIL was an "apprentice" electrician with a series of cowboys who didn't give him his days in college and just used him as cheap labour.

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