Seeking Advice And Guidance
Dr Catherine Dawson has been a researcher specialising in educational research and a tutor working with adult learners for over fifteen years. She is also a well-known contributor to academic journals on the subject of education. Her other books include Learning How To Study Again, also for How To Books
Advice about returning to education can come from many sources. When you obtain advice and guidance concerning your future learning, it is important to recognise the difference between partial and impartial advice. This is because some people offering advice might have other agendas, rather than your best interests at heart.
Broadly speaking, the type of advice and guidance you may receive can be divided into two categories – informal and formal advice.
As Chapter 1 has illustrated, there are many different reasons why adults decide to return to education. Often, these reasons will have an influence on the type of advice sought and received. For example, if you know that you are about to experience some significant life change, you might be open to receiving advice about returning to learning from many informal sources. You might have discussions with friends who’ve returned to education themselves; you might take note of short stories, films or television programmes that touch upon the subject.
All these sources of informal advice are valuable and useful. Talking to people from a similar background to you is very important. They can explain the returning process and their experiences from a personal point of view. It gives a human side – the pros and the cons; the high points and the low points; the good aspects and the bad aspects. They can give you invaluable pieces of advice that may not be considered to be significant by a professional. Also, they can help to dispel many of the myths or misconceptions you might have about what the adult education system is really like.
However, when you receive this type of informal advice, you need to recognise that it is not impartial. It is understandable that someone who has enjoyed a course will speak highly of that particular course and/or institution. But you must remember that it might not be the most appropriate course or institution for you. It is important to look at a variety of options so that you can make the most suitable choices for you. This is where formal advice is important.
Today, there are many places where adults can seek formal information, advice and guidance, although the level, variety and standard differ throughout the UK. However, you need to recognise that although this type of advice is described as formal, it still may not be completely impartial, as the following example illustrates.
In most institutions courses without the required number of students cannot run. This is why a minority of tutors may not be as impartial as we would like. However, many institutions employ experienced advice and guidance workers. If you live close to a college and feel that it would be the most convenient place at which to study, it is best to try to speak to the college advice and guidance worker as they will be able to help you make the right choices. Obviously they will be employed by the college and will tend to recommend courses run by the college, but if you have decided that this is the most convenient institution at which to study, then that is not a problem. Phone the institution in which you are interested and the receptionist will put you through to the right person to make an appointment.
However, if you are unsure of what and where to study, you need to speak to someone who knows about a wide variety of learning providers, courses, qualifications and subject areas, and who is able to match your learning with your ideas for the future.
FINDING ADVICE CENTRES
When I was conducting some research into adults’ learning choices I encountered an interesting phenomenon. In the same city some adults believed that there was no advice and guidance available to them, whereas others thought there was a lot of help available. Yet this was in the same city, where the same help was available to everyone. I asked the adults why this might be. Some felt that they were not very ‘confident’ at seeking out advice, whereas others believed themselves to be ‘pushy’, trying to get all the help they believed they deserved. For some adults, entering a careers centre that they perceived to be full of young people was quite intimidating, so much so that it almost rendered the centres invisible to them.
This made me realise the importance of listing different sources of information, advice and guidance – what suits one person may not suit another. Below I’ve listed four different ways of obtaining this advice in the hope that one or more of the methods will be of use to you.
Face-to-face interviews are usually the best way of obtaining personal, one-to-one information, advice and guidance. Every adult is different and an experienced adviser will be able to ask the right questions and offer the most appropriate advice.
The amount and level of advice and guidance offered to adults varies considerably throughout the UK. Some counties have much more developed services than others and if you are lucky enough to live within one of these counties you should be able to seek the appropriate information, advice and guidance without too much trouble. Look in the Yellow Pages under ‘Adult Education Services’. If there is no entry under this topic try ‘Careers Advice’ and choose those that mention careers and learning opportunities in their advertisements.
Some careers advice centres, usually located within city and town centres, will have a walk-in service. You can discuss your needs with a trained adviser and if you need a longer interview one will be arranged for a convenient time. Some of these centres will have advisers trained to work with adults. Even if you are not interested in pursuing a career, they should be able to help you with your learning choices. However, check first that the careers centre does not make a charge for offering advice and guidance to adults. Some may offer an initial free interview and then charge for additional services. All people with disabilities, including adults, are entitled to free careers advice and guidance.
Connexions is the new name given to centres that offer advice to young people. Although they may not be able to offer advice to adults, they will be able to point you in the right direction. For example, in my local area the Connexions advice shop is in the town centre on the High Street. A notice is placed in the window stating that adult guidance sessions will take place at the local Job Centre on Wednesday afternoons.
If you live in Northern Ireland contact the Educational Guidance Service for Adults (EGSA). This is an independent, voluntary organisation that aims to put adults in touch with learning opportunities by providing a comprehensive advice and guidance service. The contact details for EGSA are:
If you live in the UK, consult the NIACE Yearbook (details below) for details of your local ‘information, advice and guidance network’. Also included in this book are addresses of regional learning guidance providers. Contact organisations in your area and find out what type and level of advice they provide for adults. You can also ring learndirect: (0800) 100 900 for details of your local IAG provider, or obtain a list of IAG partnerships from www.guidancecouncil.com.
TELEPHONE HELP LINES
Telephone help lines are useful if you already have some idea of what you want to study, but need to find out where that type of course is available. Some of them might not be so good at offering the type of personal, tailor-made advice that is obtained in face-to-face interviews.
Learndirect (0800 100 900)
Learndirect was launched in 1998 and offers national learning advice via a free phone number or via its website (see below). The lines are open from 8am–10pm seven days a week and the advice is free and impartial, covering over 700,000 courses nationwide. When I rang the number, I found it useful to have a fairly specific idea of what and where I wanted to study – the service was not so good for offering general advice about returning to learning. However, this might depend on the skill and experience of the person on the other end of the telephone – you could always try ringing again and speaking to someone else. The learndirect number for Scotland is (0808) 100 9000 and (08080) 200 900 for Wales.
Local help lines
Some local careers centres will offer advice on the telephone. If you live a long way from the centre, ring to find out if this is the case, but check that the service is free for adults.
If you have access to the internet and feel confident using it, there are several organisations that offer advice and guidance on-line. Some of these offer general advice whereas others will offer advice tailor-made to your particular circumstances. However, you must remember that some of these services will use computer programmes to analyse the data you give – often there is no human involvement at all. This means that all those little signs about how you are feeling and what you are thinking that will be picked up by an experienced adviser, are missed by a computer.
Many people prefer the anonymity of this type of analysis, and if that is the case for you, this type of on-line advice might be the most appropriate method to use. Most services offering this type of advice now require you to pay a subscription fee.
Some national association websites do not offer specific advice to members of the public, but instead provide useful links to other organisations, as the following list illustrates.
If you already have an undergraduate degree, this website might be useful. It is the UK’s official graduate careers website and contains advice and guidance about careers, jobs and further study. In particular it has a detailed list of the postgraduate study opportunities available which can be searched by subject, institution and/or region.
The Guidance Council is the national representative body for the sector. Although it does not provide advice and guidance directly to the public, it is a useful website for finding other relevant addresses and useful links. The site contains an interactive map which enables you to find out about local information, advice and guidance services.
Careers Wales Online provides careers related information and advice for all age groups. The website contains a section on learning choices which enables you to find a course and a way of studying that’s right for you anywhere in Wales.
Careers Scotland provides a starting point for anyone looking for careers information, advice and guidance. The website includes information about learning choices and financial help for students who wish to study in Scotland.
The Aimhigher website has been created to provide information for people interested in entering higher education in the UK. Through this website you can compare careers, profile a profession, match qualifications to degree types and choose a suitable course.
UK Course Discover is an information database that provides quick and easy access to information on over 100,000 academic and vocational courses at universities and colleges throughout the UK. Users are able to view comprehensive details of course content, entry requirements, duration, type of course and qualifications awarded. However, if you access this site on your personal computer you will have to subscribe to the database. Some libraries and careers centre will have access to the database which is free to individuals.
Also included on this site (without the need to subscribe) is a detailed description of every university and college in the UK, including name and address, site map, number of students, cost of accommodation, cost of a pint of lager and a list of the clubs and societies. The site also gives a detailed list of British qualifications that can be obtained in further and higher education (see Chapter 3).
Through this site you can access the learndirect course database which contains details of over 700,000 learning opportunities. If you have a specific query it is possible to e-mail one of the advisers. You can also access learndirect futures which is designed to help you think ahead about your future career. This is described as ‘a unique internet based careers guidance and diagnostic software package’ that allows you to learn more about yourself and your career preferences by matching your skills and interests to opportunities in the workplace. It offers advice on about 600 occupations, along with details about required qualifications and aptitudes. Access to the database is free but you will need to register your details.
In addition to these services links are provided to sites giving details about childcare provision in your area, funding for your studies, benefits, job fairs and help with special needs.
Some people, especially when in the early stages of deciding what to study, prefer to collect written material, gathering information which they can digest at their leisure. If this is the case with you, there are a number of ways in which you can obtain information useful to the returning process.
Most local libraries will contain an education section in the reference department. This will hold books about universities and colleges, degree courses, institution prospectuses, sources of funding and so on.
If you have a local careers centre it will contain leaflets and booklets about returning to learning. In most cases you do not need to make an appointment and will be able to take some leaflets away, although some material will be for reference only. You could try requesting some leaflets in writing, but be specific about what you require.
The Learning and Skills Council (LSC)
The LSC was established in April 2001, replacing the Training and Enterprise Councils and the Further Education Funding Council. The LSC intends to increase adult participation in learning and improve the quality and effectiveness of education and training. The LSC is divided into local councils which can offer information and advice about what is happening in your region. To find out the address and telephone of your local Learning and Skills Council contact:
The Department for Education and Skills (DfES)
The DfES provides information on many aspects of education and returning to learning. It has a comprehensive website that covers issues of student funding, mature students, part-time learners and so on. It also produces a number of booklets for prospective students. Write for more information or consult their website:
Advice and guidance can be divided into two categories – informal advice and formal advice, as the following list illustrates. It is important to recognise the difference between impartial and less partial advice.
- Informal advice:
- fellow students
- work colleagues.
- Formal advice:
- guidance interviews
- telephone help lines
- the internet
- written material:
- local libraries
- careers service
- Learning and Skills Council
- Department for Education and Skills.
This organisation is the national representative body for the guidance sector and, although not offering advice directly to the public, will provide names and addresses of guidance organisations in your area.
The Woman Returners’ Network provides information, advice and guidance to all women thinking about returning to education. Details can be obtained from their website: www.woman-returners.co.uk