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The building blocks of careers counselling

A year 11 pupil is seeing a careers adviser: Adviser: "Have you thought about what you would like to do when you've finished your GCSEs?" Pupil: "I'd rather hoped you could help me with that."

Adviser: "You're bright enough, so if you stay in full time education you could follow the academic route and take A-levels, or opt for the vocational route and take a GNVQ. Or, if you join a training scheme, you could take an NVQ."

Pupil: "So, if I wanted to become a doctor or a barrister I'd follow the vocational route?" Adviser: "No, you'd take A-levels and go to university."

Pupil: "But I'd take A-levels in medicine or law though?" Adviser: "No, there's no A-level in medicine and not many universities accept A-level law so I wouldn't recommend it."

Pupil: "Well, in case I go on a training scheme can you tell me the difference between NVQs and GNVQs?" Adviser: "Well, GNVQs are taken by full-time students whereas NVQs are for part-time students."

Pupil: "So if I wanted to take a full-time brickwork course at college I'd take a GNVQ?" Adviser: "No, you'd take an NVQ. There is no GNVQ in brickwork."

Pupil: "Why not?" Adviser: "There just isn't! OK?" Pupil: "Can I get paid if I go to college?" Adviser: "Not if you're a full-time student. If your parents aren't very well off you might get an education maintenance allowance."

Pupil: "My mate Dave's a trainee bricklayer on a CITB course and goes to college full-time. His parents are rich, so he won't get paid then?" Adviser: "Yes, he will."

Pupil: "Why?" Adviser: "Because he'll take work experience."

Pupil: "Who pays him?" Adviser: "Mostly the Government."

Pupil: "So if I wanted to go to college to take a full-time A-level course the Government would pay me?" Adviser: "Probably not."

Pupil: "What if I took work experience?" Adviser: "Look - they just wouldn't!" Pupil: "Right, in that case I'm definitely interested in a course in building. Can I use vocational qualifications to get into university?" Adviser: "Yes, if they are at level 3 and you get good grades."

Puil: "So if I took an NVQ 3 in brickwork and got good grades, I could get into university?" Adviser: "No. You might with an advanced GNVQ though."

Pupil: "Could I take an advanced GNVQ in brickwork then?" Adviser: "No - I told you earlier!" Pupil: "But if I wanted to take a degree in brickwork, could I get in with an NVQ 3 brickwork then?" Adviser: "There's no degree in brickwork for you to take."

Pupil: "Why not? My mate Dave says advanced brickwork involves complex design and realisation and a detailed knowledge of maths and trigonometry He says it should be called brickology."

Adviser: "Brickwork isn't academic. It involves working with your hands."

Pupil: "So you can't take a degree in pottery or sculpture either?" Adviser: "No - I mean yes!" Pupil: "Why not brickwork then?" Adviser: "Because you can't! OK?" Pupil: "Could I do a degree in painting?" Adviser: "Yes. A degree would involve such things as painting in watercolours, oils and studying the history of art."

Pupil: "Could I do a degree in painting if it included painting in gloss and emulsion and the history of wallcoverings?" Adviser: "No - stupid."

Pupil: "Could I do a degree in 'the built environment' then?" Adviser: "Yes."

Pupil: "Could I use an NVQ 3 in brickwork to get on a 'built environment' degree?" Adviser: "No!" Pupil: "What if I took A-levels in biology, history and English and got good grades, could I get in then?" Adviser: "Probably, yes."

Pupil: "But wouldn't an NVQ 3 in brickwork be more relevant?" Adviser: "Yes - I mean no."

Pupil: "What about your own kids?" Adviser: "I'd like them to get a degree."

Pupil: "Why?" Adviser: "Because graduates generally earn more."

Pupil: "So why did you advise some of my mates to do an NVQ?" Adviser: "Because I don't think they'd be up to taking a degree."

Pupil: "How do you know?

Adviser: "Because I'm a careers adviser."

Pupil: "Did you always want to be a careers adviser?" Adviser: "Why don't you just sod off."

Alan Birks is principal of South Birmingham College

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