Category Archives: College/University

Ectastic, relieved, proud – son no. 2 has uni offers

It has been a momentous week. 17 year-old Ethan became Scottish Schools High Jump champion for the third year in a row and left school – for good – on Friday.

He had applied to do either marine biology or sports science at Glasgow or Stirling universities and has unconditional offers for both at both institutions.

It has been a rollercoaster of emotions these past few months, with free-spirited Ethan showing signs of restlessness within months of starting sixth year.

With 3As and 2 Bs at Higher he had a good clutch of qualifications, but wasn’t sure if it was enough to go on to study the subjects he wanted to.

Thankfully the news he had been hoping for came 10 days ago. So he put in motion withdrawal from school, submitting his Advanced Higher Biology assignment as a kind of a swan song and saying goodbye to teachers and pupils.

The UCAS application process was undoubtedly as stressful as I remember with Lyle with all sorts of dilemmas and doubts creeping into Ethan’s personal statement. It’s approximately 600 words that represent a watershed in a young person’s life.

Ethan was actually really honest about his dilemma in the application describing a fascination for the workings of both marine life and the human body and alluding to time he is going to spend deciding on which final course to take.

I dare say the next few weeks will be unsettling as he adjusts to life beyond school, but he seems really content with his next steps with a holiday in Portugal with some friends to look forward to.

Meanwhile, I am studying part-time, online for a Masters in Strategic Public Relations and finding the pull back to formal education tough.



The pain of UCAS personal statements


It’s 4,000 characters guaranteed to strike fear into the heart of the average 17 year-old.

Crafting a personal statement to accompany your UCAS university application is one of life’s early milestones, demanding that the young person is sufficiently familiar with their strengths, interests and career aspirations to jot them down in coherent sentences for the perusal of university admissions teams.

The trouble is that so many of them aren’t. When you think about it, it’s such a tender age to make such a momentous decision hence, Ethan, my 16 year-old, is wrestling with not only how to convince admissions that he is passionate about marine biology, but how to convince himself.

He is interested in marine biology, but also in sports science and just recently has taken more than a passing interest in neuroscience.

Arguably you could say that each involves studying the workings of the body – both human and animal – and the brain, so he has landed on this theme to tie his statement together. And is now turning his attention to hobbies, interests and achievements.

Fortunately his sporting abilities demonstrate the sort of dedication, determination and team work that universities – not to mention employers – are looking for. But, again, he is dubious when faced with friends who seem to have known from an early age that they want to be a doctor or a vet.

Where does that unshakeable belief come from? Have these young people felt a calling, or, more likely, been inspired to follow in their parents footsteps.

To all the other kids I say do as much research as you can to broaden your horizons by, for example, completing the My Strengths and About me questionnaires on and then checking out the ‘Meet the Industries’ section to see which industries employ people with which skills and qualifications, and which industries are growing.

That’s boring is likely to be the lament, but not nearly as boring as working for 40 years in a job you’re not cut out for.

Plumbing the depths

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It was a day we’d tried to banish from our minds all summer since Ethan sat his last Higher exam on May 18th, but the leaps and bounds down the stairs the morning of SQA exam results day suggested that the news was good.

Ethan, 16, achieved 3As at Higher – English, Maths and Geography – and 2Bs in Biology and Chemistry, and all were delighted.

He worked hard at school in fifth year, but resisted the temptation that some of his peers succumbed to, to study to the exclusion of everything else.

There is absolutely no doubt in the minds of kids at school in East Renfrewshire that fifth year is the most important year of your young life, setting you up for further or higher education, or not, as the case may be. And the pressure is immense.

However, as well as working towards a clutch of good Highers last year, Ethan also managed to train two nights a week and competed at the weekend in athletics competitions – he is top in Scotland for U17 high jump, with a personal best of 1.9m.

He sounds like an all-round bright, hard-working boy, I hear you say.

But it’s not enough to study Marine Biology at one of Scotland’s top universities.

Ethan has had a great love of the ocean since he was little, and has grown up to be a keen surfer and avid watcher of every documentary about the sea that’s ever been made!

So it was with some dismay that he learned that the grades he had – the same as the published minimum entry requirements for Marine Biology in his preferred institution – aren’t going to be good enough.

Further probing revealed that there are fewer and fewer places for Scots students at this institution, and that of the 115 Scots that got accepted to Marine Biology last year, 100 of them had 4As and a B, or better at Higher.

I was further intrigued to read an article in The Telegraph that said that the number of Scots missing out on a university place has doubled in the last decade.

The article said that, The SNP’s free tuition policy is only affordable because ministers impose a cap on the number of places allocated to Scottish and EU students. ‘Universities Scotland’ said the figures showed it is getting “harder and harder” for Scottish applicants to win a place thanks to “strict controls”.

Are we rapidly returning to the days where only very bright Scots (or very affluent Rest of UK and international young people) can attend university? It’s certainly something to think about.

Decode digital career opps on cool new website

DLR-Hand-ArmIt’s as natural as breathing to most teenagers, but how do they make a career out of it?

I’m talking, of course, about social media and digital technology in general.

More than 84,000 Scots currently work in digital tech roles and more than 1,000 companies are active in software development and services, digital agencies work, games development and telecommunications.

But how do you find your way to one of these fascinating and frequently lucrative roles?

A former colleague of mine who is ICT and Digital Sector Technologies Sector Manager at Skills Development Scotland has the answer.

Claire Gillespie says, “The tech industry is one of the most exciting and rapidly evolving sectors in Scotland and there’s a whole range of industries, from fashion to music, that rely on digital and technology professionals to underpin what they do.

“Our digital technology sector has great potential to grow even further in years to come, so I’m delighted with the advent of a new website, which shines a light on the many opportunities on offer.”

The Scottish Technology Industry Survey 2016 reveals the digital tech sector experienced strong growth in 2015, but that this success is creating a skills shortage.

There are numerous college and university courses out there to help young people step into the fold, but, as Yoda once said, ‘choose wisely young padawan’!”

The new website is packed with all manner of advice and intelligence including several excellent case studies on young people and the various paths they’ve taken to successful careers in digital tech.

Indeed, so keen are employers to recruit talented young people to the cause that the site also provides details of coder clubs in locations such as Glasgow, Stirling, Perth and Peebles to help children as young as nine develop their skills.

There are two coder club networks in Scotland, Coderdojo Scotland and Code Club, with further details at and, respectively.

Claire continues, “The areas where we are likely to be seeing growth in jobs are around things like cyber security, ethical hacking, big data and data analytics, so if there are any budding young sleuths out there with an interest in computing employers would love to hear from them.

“Equally, artificial intelligence and robotics are no longer the stuff of sci-fi. Scotland needs another David Gow – inventor of the pioneering Edinburgh Modular Arm System – now!”

Start your voyage of discovery at




Thoughts from the (homework) frontline

Following a few tough homework assignments, I’ve got a couple of observations about Lyle and Ethan’s studies at this point.

Lyle is stepping up to the plate admirably in terms of independent study, organising himself – and others he’s been working with – to meet deadlines and absorb vast amounts of material, as he progresses through first year at uni studying Geography, Statistics and Sociology.

However, he asked me to cast my eye over a recent essay on the Anthropocene – an epoch in which humanity and the mass-producing, capitalist society we have created is viewed as the overruling factor in determining the nature of the Earth System and the ecosystems within (every day’s a school day!). And it struck me why essay writing is so prevalent in higher education. It forces you to absorb and understand information and then present it in a new and engaging way to show it has sunk in!

I realise that I use this technique all the time at work. I love to read up on things and then reorganise assorted documents, thoughts and observations into compelling news stories and features.

Ethan’s experience of fifth year in high school highlights just how challenging Scotland’s new Curriculum for Excellence syllabus is.

He’s juggling homework and studying for tests on an almost daily basis. Can you blame him, therefore, when he just throws in the towel at 11pm to go and watch TV.

He is currently outlining the introduction to a discursive essay for English and quite late on Sunday asked me to help him with a question for close reading.

I had to read it twice before I eventually understood what it was asking.

To me, the capacity of young minds to learn is just astonishing, but the pressure on young people to perform is equally mind-blowing.

It’s providing a challenge for teachers too, who find they are constantly having to crack the whip to get young people off on the right foot. A teacher friend recounts tales of anxiety, depression and self-harm among pupils as they juggle multiple demands on their time.