How to harness predictability to support school leavers

Two former heads of sixth form share a thematic approach to supporting school leavers to thrive once they leave the familiar trappings of school life

Two former heads of sixth form share a thematic approach to supporting school leavers to thrive once they leave the familiar trappings of school life

23 Apr 2024, 5:00

New research from Speakers for Schools finds that a decline in work experience is negatively impacting students’ chances of getting into the top universities despite their schools’ results. Perhaps unsurprisingly, this is disproportionately affecting those from under-resourced backgrounds.

But work experience isn’t the whole story. It’s part of a bigger problem: an ever-widening gap between school life and the outside world. What work experience delivers is a certain amount of predictability about what comes next, but there are other ways to build the strength and resilience that students derive from it.

Our approach emphasises the importance of acknowledging the inevitability of change throughout each student’s sixth form journey. Our work to prepare students intentionally for their next steps is guided by three themes:

Students need to know what to expect 

By raising awareness, teachers can help to bridge the ‘expectation-reality’ gap typically experienced by school leavers. Our top three recommendations are:

Embrace opportunities to teach real-world implications

Cultivate accountability to minimise the gap between students’ familiar space of pastoral care and an environment with comparatively fewer support structures. Seize opportunities to teach lessons about the potential consequences of negligence in the outside world. 

Encourage students to reflect on their relationships and support network

Manage the ‘friendship gap’ by highlighting the intentional effort required to construct a social network. Emphasise how school connections developed over time. Encourage students to identify their new support network and signpost services that offer free and confidential 24/7 support.

Prepare students for readjustment to university or the workplace

Allow university-bound students to experience undergraduate-style teaching. Introduce undergraduate assessment methods and address the ‘achievement standard gap’ between A level and university. Familiarise students with academic referencing and TurnItIn before their first summative assignment at university. 

For those headed into jobs or work-based learning, teach workplace etiquette through scenario-based learning, highlight the essentials of employment contracts and outline the financial responsibilities of employment and self-employment.

Students need to know how to respond

As students begin to manage their expectations, practical strategies are more likely to stick. Our top three strategies are to:

Teach the three pillars of wellbeing:

  • Eat: Encourage a balanced diet and highlight the nutritional value of different foods. Promote water tracker apps to foster healthy hydration. 
  • Move: Set daily activity challenges within form groups to reverse the trend of declining physical activity post-school. Self-defence exercises are doubly useful here.
  • Sleep: Recommend grey-scale mode on devices and promote good sleep hygiene.

Signpost channels of academic support

Encourage pre-visits or virtual tours to familiarise students with the higher education environment. Promote apps and AI tools for workload management, interactive learning and time management.

Empower students for the modern workplace

In an age of hybridisation, digital transformation and reskilling, school leavers need practical training in managing remote working arrangements, dedicated sessions to self-advocacy in the workplace and signposted continuous learning opportunities. 

Students need to know their intentions

With uncertainties unveiled and strategies signposted, students need to think intentionally about how they might behave in their new environments. Our top three suggestions are to:

Promote a self-regulated and intentional approach to wellbeing

Encourage self-reflection according to established wellbeing frameworks and introduce Dr. Sonja Lyubomirsky’s Person-Fit-Activity diagnostic tool to discover personalised wellbeing strategies.

Help students to identify the strengths and gaps in their own skillset

Consider holistic skill alignment exercises to identify how students’ skillsets meet the expectations of their new environment. Are they prepared for collaborative working or independent research? Devise a plan to develop any additional skills needed for success. 

Work with students to establish realistic goals for year one

Engage students in purposeful goal setting, self-reflection practices and personal value exploration. Explore who they want to be after they leave school and be sure that goals are manageable. 

The gap between school life and the adult world will never cease to daunt school leavers and parents. But if we empower students to recognise the realities of post-school life, we can arm them with strategies to thrive – whatever their next steps.

More from this theme


Academy trusts: From growing pains to gains

As more leaders consider growth, what do we know about how to do this well?

Jack Dyson

Can the new teaching apprenticeship solve recruitment woes?

New route for those without an existing degree will be introduced next year

Freddie Whittaker

How schools with the poorest intakes boosted progress

Heads explain how they improved behaviour, changed leadership and reached outside of the school gates to boost results

Samantha Booth

School funding: Can a ‘magic formula’ cut spend but not standards?

Integrated curriculum financial planning has been around for years, but the government has increasingly seized on its benefits

John Dickens

The knock on the door: A simple solution to poor attendance?

We visited a school where staff did 4,000 home visits in one year to support pupils

Samantha Booth

Can childcare fill primary schools’ empty classrooms?

On-site childcare delivers many benefits for schools, but 'practical issues' face leaders considering renting out vacated spaces

John Dickens

Your thoughts

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *