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Are A-levels the best route to take?

Bridget Patterson asks "Should I have forced him to stay on?" (Talkback, TES, July 28).

"You've started, so you'll finish", we insisted to our son and he soldiered on to the end of the A-level courses (only one "N-early" grade to show for it!). No one really had much idea about what to do next, but catering looked promising, so the careers service suggested a BTEC. The format is not really conducive to disenchanted students working consistently over a two-year continuously-assessed course - and we have a health and hygiene certificate and a minimal pass to show for it.

We have tried positive encouragement, desperate moans and insistent demands, but to no avail. Leaving home was an interesting option because, out of work, on income support and with a rent allowance, there seemed to be just enough to live on, with occasional backhanders for pizza delivery or a couple of hours' stand-in bar work. The only unhappy beings in this saga are us, his parents. He is reasonably happy - restricted for cash (but who isn't?) - but with plenty of free time.

Perhaps parents have to reassess their values and seek alternative routes. Eyeing our 17-year-old daughter, already showing similar symptoms, we have suggested that she looks at a "year out" with Voluntary Service Overseas, Raleigh International or similar groups, until she can sort out perspectives on her future. Amazingly, she is enthusiastically considering this option which offers challenge and adventure (and could possibly distance her from "a malaise which seems to have the youth of this country in its grip").

A UNDERWOOD

41 The Orchard Leven Beverley, North Humberside

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