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Family: How I home-schooled my kids into Oxbridge

She home-schooled two of her children into Oxbridge. With summer term still up in the air, The Progression Coach Sam James shares her story - and some top tips

I have a secret

When I share it, some don’t believe it’s true. I don’t want to deceive you, so here goes. My daughter was accepted into Cambridge University with only two GCSEs. There, I said it; it’s out there. The reluctance to share is because I definitely don’t want to upset the teenagers (outside of current pandemic conditions) diligently swotting away every night studying.

Nor do I want to annoy the teachers who drill into every pupil’s brain that exams and grades are everything: your life will be over if you walk away with less than 10 grade 9s. As for the parents who scrimp and sacrifice to afford private school fees hoping that this will guarantee their offspring a route straight into Oxbridge, I certainly have no wish to upset them either.

Sam James, The Progression Coach, shares her home-schooling expertise (35369035)
Sam James, The Progression Coach, shares her home-schooling expertise (35369035)

Lifestyle choice

After supporting both my children, via home-schooling up to sixth form, into Cambridge University (my son was accepted too, albeit he has the grand total of five GCSEs), I was constantly being asked how they did it and what was our secret formula.

Neither myself nor my husband attended university or private school. We decided to home-educate when our son was a toddler and we honestly just took things a year at a time. At that time we had no idea we would wave our children off to their first day of school at the age of 16!

We spent the intervening years out and about most days amongst groups of other home-schoolers, a sprinkle of evening clubs, and learning by following their interests at home.

Let’s be clear: this was not ‘lockdown home-schooling’ which has been tough for all concerned. For starters not leaving the house is actually the antithesis of most home-schoolers’ ethos! Home-educating is not the easy route and most definitely a lifestyle choice; one that comes along with many sacrifices. But I have no regrets.

Battle plan

What I’ve realised though is that, even outside of an institutionalised environment, there were certain expectations for achievement. When my daughter decided she didn’t want to sit more than the minimum GCSE requirements of Maths and English we sat down together and formed a plan for what she might want to do instead.

Let’s just say it worked and, despite having a learning style not suited to exam assessment, she was motivated to study hard for A levels, apply and be accepted into Oxbridge.

Sam James, The Progression Coach (35368984)
Sam James, The Progression Coach (35368984)

Missing advice

The reason I’m sharing this story is because I feel the need to support other young people in their vital post-exams steps. These days we call it ‘progression’. There are so many alternative routes into higher education, various apprenticeships and the world of employment that it’s so critical our children and pupils are given the best advice possible.

Naturally schools and dedicated teachers do the best they can, under normal ‘non-pandemic’ circumstances, although it is often the case that university is the route that’s promoted to the detriment of other alternatives. It is a question of being able to support pupils uniquely, and tailoring advice for that particular individual. For most school environments there are just not enough hours in the day for such bespoke enrichment.

Given the current pandemic, teachers are already under enormous pressure to adapt to this new environment. It is this summer term that the majority of schools would normally be commencing vital progression advice through assemblies, workshops and external speakers. With the disruption of summer term 2020 I’m concerned that not all pupils will be receiving that assistance. For those who may wish to include Oxbridge on their university applications, particularly those that require extra support and encouragement to do so, the deadline looms very shortly after returning to school in September.

Started a side hustle

After helping many friends and family with progression coaching and supporting their teenagers, I realised that this advice was keenly needed by others, which led me to start The Progression Coach.

The internet is a fantastic knowledge resource, however it can be incredibly overwhelming to trawl through so much information to select and retain what’s pertinent to you. I can help bring focus to researching courses, how to choose between different universities, writing a winning personal statement, whether or not an apprenticeship would be a decent alternative to uni, the pros and cons of taking a gap year, as well as motivational support and promotion of well-being along the way.

I have witnessed first-hand how valuable it is to see the strengths in each individual young person. To encourage them to take their education further or to enrol on a structured scheme, to mentor them through some crucial decisions at this stage in their lives can have a significant impact as to how they see their contribution to the world around them.

Tailored advice

There is no secret formula. However, if you are feeling overwhelmed or bewildered about the options; if your teenager is confused or anxious about which route to choose and how to arrive there; or if you seek tailored advice to help your child stand out from the crowd and maximise your chances of a successful application, then The Progression Coach would love to help.

Supporting our young people at this time needs to be a mix of informing, empowering and encouraging whilst retaining that crucial balance of positivity with well-being and perspective.

* The Progression Coach donates 5% of profits to mental health charities for young people and another 5% towards a fund enabling more disadvantaged youngsters to access the same support as other clients. See theprogressioncoach.com, email sam@theprogressioncoach.com and follow @theprogressioncoach

Sam's five top tips for progression success:

1. Surround yourself with positive people

Try to ensure you are hanging out with people who support you, challenge you and encourage you to look forward to the future with positivity and purpose.

2. Growth mindset

Curate an attitude that believes that it is always possible to learn and grow. A fixed mindset only results in stagnation and limitation.

3. Make a plan

Without a plan then your goal will only ever remain a hope.

4. Self-care

Making sure you get enough sleep, nourishing your body with healthy food and daily exercise, as well as exploring mindfulness, gratitude and meditation.

5. Stay curious

If you haven’t yet discovered your ‘passion’ then don’t panic. The most important thing you can do is to remain curious about the world and grasp any new opportunities that present themselves.

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