This year, A-levels results caused controversy across the UK and, for Guernsey students, even getting to University is looking problematic under Covid restrictions, so is it this is a wake-up call to look at alternatives on island? And are we making the most of the options available?
Respected local businessman, Pierre Blampied believes we aren’t, and points to the experiences of two young islanders as a case in point.
Pierre is Managing Director of SPF Private Clients which has been a long-term supporter of Guernsey College of Further Education (part of The Guernsey Institute). They fund team-building events, guest lecture to students and also sponsor the Higher Education Graduation reception event each year. It’s through this that Pierre became aware of Shauna and Andrew’s story.
Shauna Aslett and Andrew Freitas were both at the Sixth Form Centre in 2015. Andrew wanted to be an accountant and would either take A-levels and start work in finance, or head to university first. Shauna had yet to decide on a preferred career, so had opted for the subjects she enjoyed the most.
A year into their studies and both found it was not an environment that were thriving in. Shauna explains “I felt that students with a very clear academic path, who were already excelling, were getting the most benefit, but that I was a little lost in the system.”
Andrew was also unsure that Sixth Form Centre had been the right decision. He says, “At the time, I thought it was the only option if I wanted to get into accountancy, but after a year I knew I wasn’t doing as well as I could and so I stopped to think why. For me there was also an element of being a cog in the machine, but in addition, I felt that the range of subjects was not really moving me towards my goal.”
It was at this point that both considered alternatives and became aware of the BTEC in Business Studies offered by Guernsey College of Further Education.
Initially, Andrew was far from convinced “I’ll be honest, I really wasn’t sure about the College, I thought it was just for vocational studies and associated it with plumbing, hairdressing, etc. so I really wasn’t keen”.
Shauna also had mixed feelings, as she says, “I felt there was a general perception that it was second rate and that people looked down their noses at it.”
However, the course itself won them over and both decided to make the move. Their experience from there on couldn’t have been more different to that at the Sixth Form Centre.
Shauna says, “To begin with you get treated like adults. You call lecturers by first names and are given the responsibility to get through the work in the way that suits you. If there were aspects of the course you were weaker on, you put everything in to performing better on the next project to keep your grades up.
Andrew agrees adding “The atmosphere is very different, it feels less like a school and more like a university, and you took responsibility for your timekeeping and your course work. The Business Studies BTEC is graded entirely on course work which means that you have to apply yourself consistently, and to me that is better preparation for the workplace.”
Both praised the mentoring which is absolutely first rate, saying that everyone is treated as an individual and is given guidance on how to push themselves to achieve more.
The 2-year course itself offered an excellent grounding in all aspects of business including modules in marketing and HR. The qualification is recognised by local employers and both Andrew and Shauna had employment lined up before they even finished their courses. Shauna is at PraxisIFM, working whilst studying to be a Certified Accounting Technician (CAT). She says she has a world of opportunities to choose from in the future including Trust, Funds and Pensions.
Andrew is at one of the big accountancy practices, working towards his ACCA (Association of Chartered Certified Accountants) qualification and expecting to qualify next year, a little later than planned, due to COVID.
Opting to study at Guernsey College of Further Education means that neither has any student debt and thanks to their early entry into the job market, they have saved for a deposit and are buying a house together, which is where SPF comes in again.
As Pierre explains, “Andrew and Shauna were familiar with SPF from our activities at the College. To have them come in to us as successful young homebuyers, aged only 21, is a testament to the College in general, and as an option for finance careers specifically.”
He continues, “Having mentioned their experiences to quite a few friends and colleagues, I was surprised how few were aware that Guernsey College of Further Education provides a viable alternative to the Sixth Form and university route. Sadly, I was not surprised at the number who don’t view it as a top tier option, which I think is in part due to ignorance and in part to the standard of the facilities.”
Andrew and Shauna echo Pierre’s concerns with Andrew adding “I think the buildings do let the College down; with so many different places to go to, it doesn’t feel like a campus, and to be honest some of the facilities could do with improving. However, given the quality of the education we received and the opportunities it has given us, I can’t believe that more Guernsey students don’t consider Guernsey College of Further Education as an option.”
Looking back on their experience, both say that given the time over they would have gone straight to the College, although Shauna reminds Andrew that if that had been the case they might never have met!
Pierre ends saying “What this has highlighted for me is that we are not showing our young people that we value our educational establishments equally. We celebrate exceptional numbers of A levels or A*s gained but give little thought to other achievements, and that needs to change. As careers evolve in line with new technologies, we will need to blur the lines between academia and vocational studies and the higher education we decide on will need to reflect that. It would be better if our young people could be encouraged to attend Guernsey College of Further Education if that is their preferred route, rather than leading them to believe that attending the Sixth Form Centre would be a better option.”
Pierre was featured discussing this topic on BBC Radio Guernsey.
Click here and head to 35:39 to listen in full.