‘I bet your parents weren’t very pleased!’

‘What did your mum say when you told her?’

‘Did they really just… let you leave?’

I get these kind of comments all the time.

You see, I dropped out in November 2018 after only half a term at Exeter University, abandoning any sense of the traditional and conventional, to follow my own bizarre and exhilarating pathway.

Luckily for me, my parents survived such a deeply traumatic experience!

As a speaker at local schools, I am often asked by students, how they can tell their own parents that they don’t want to go to University, become a Doctor, or study physics. It can be understandably difficult for families to accept that their child does not want to go, especially tough if they themselves never got the chance.

Equally, when your child goes to University and realises it isn’t for them, I know how frustrating this can be. The response ‘I just don’t like it’, is tricky for parents to comprehend, yet your child may simply not be able to formulate exactly why they are struggling. My impassioned plea to parents would be to try to be as open and understanding as possible; young people need to feel supported in their choices, even if those choices aren’t necessarily what you might have envisaged for them.

Recently I wrote, directed and voiced my own audio piece, ‘The Making of An Education’ which was commissioned by BBC Arts. My piece is entitled ‘The Making of an Education’, and those five words couldn’t more aptly convey my life motto: an education does not need to be contained in the walls of a lecture hall or classroom. Indeed, when we measure our children by more than simply the sum of their materialistic achievements, we are far more likely to produce passionate, holistic individuals.

Growing up is hard enough already, but the pressure to be outwardly ‘successful’ adds a whole new burden. Everyone goes on their own wildly unique journeys, post-education: it’s a pivotal time for any young adult. And each journey is incomparable – you begin to live your own self-dictated life, perhaps for what feels like the first time. When University, which I had assumed would be my path for the next three years, didn’t work out for me I felt confused, lost and a bit of a failure.

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Life cannot always be planned for. Telling your child this, is beyond important in a world where young people are being inadvertently lied to. They are promised jobs if they are the all-star head girl, hockey captain, straight A* student, charity leader, chief basket-weaver - you name it. Suddenly, after graduating with a first, as one in four of students now do, they are thrust into a world of pot luck and nepotism. Where is that wonderful job they were promised when they submitted a faultless UCAS application? Life is not just about materialistic success, even though this is what is prized online, in schools, by parents and on CVs. A fully-formed education is more than just the correct recollection of Pythagoras theorem. Certainly, everything I have done, has been part and parcel of a broader life experience.

Growing into myself as an independent adult away from the education system, whilst earning my own way and gaining financial independence changed my life. I can only ask that you accept your child might need to do the same.

I began simply by washing up pots and pans, getting shifts at cafés and then a job in retail, followed by a brief stint in a social media and digital marketing, work experience at ITV, improv and sketch-writing courses, I then wrote a play which toured Surrey and Sussex, teamed up with ‘HeadTalks’ to produce a video about mental health & embracing the unconventional, started a blog, won a place on ‘The Network’ – a TV initiative at the Edinburgh TV Festival, had a billion assessment days, interviews and trials – some accidental (yes, really) some successful, some not so much. I’ve worked as an Elf at Christmas time, babysat for Britain and also give talks at secondary schools about alternative routes post-secondary school education. And it has all been exciting and more educational than I could ever have hoped.

Don’t compare your child to Sam at Oxford or Ash studying biochemistry at Nottingham. Allow your child to deviate from the path. Give them permission to embrace the unconventional, you never know where it might lead.

Izzy Radford, Writer, Public Speaker and University Drop Out

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