Is there a ‘black hole’ in school careers advice? – A level recommendations often ‘wrong’

A study by online forum ‘The Student Room’ has found that many students are dissatisfied with the quality of careers advice at their school, and were given ‘wrong advice’ about the best A level subjects to study to gain a place on their chosen university course.

Over 6,000 students were surveyed. Findings include:

  • 32% rated their school’s careers advice as weak
  • 23% said they did not have enough information to make informed choices about their future careers
  • 39% of poorer students said they received poor information on subject choices

The Student Room are calling it a black hole in schools career advice. Hundreds of students have had their plans to study sciences, engineering and computing scuppered because they were not advised that A level maths was a prerequisite to entry on these courses. And it’s not just STEM subjects that are affected. One student complained that they’d had no idea that history was an extremely desirable subject when applying for an English Literature degree.

With the competition to get into the best universities very intense, it is increasingly important that students have picked the right A levels that universities are looking for. The Russell Group universities have issued a detailed guidance on picking post-16 subjects and recommend so-called ‘facilitating subjects’ which are the subjects more required than others. These include maths and further maths, physics, biology, chemistry, history, geography, English literature and languages. Ucas provides detailed admissions criteria, as do most universities websites. But somehow this is not getting through to hundreds of students.

One student said:

You’re told to pick subjects which you enjoy and are good at. So I took a total mismatch of subjects with no real end goal and nobody said to me that I might struggle to find a university course because of my mixed set of A levels.

A spokesperson for the Department of Education said the government was “taking decisive steps to improve careers advice.”

All schools have a statutory duty to provide independent careers advice and are held to account by Ofsted on the standard of the advice they offer. Our updated guidance, published in April, makes clear that schools should involved employers in careers advice and ensure pupils are informed about all options, from A levels and university to vocational routes such as apprenticeships.
Helen Robinson