What next - is a gap year a good idea?

IT'S crunch time for thousands of Suffolk teenagers today as they nervously await their A-levels results.

IT'S crunch time for thousands of Suffolk teenagers today as they nervously await their A-levels results. For some the day will be triumphant, but for others it may be bleak if the grades they needed have eluded them.

Reporter LIZZIE PARRY dug out her school books and studied the huge range of options facing the county's youngsters.

AS thousands of students across Suffolk waited with baited breath today to learn their A-level results, a gap year guru has challenged them to consider a different route to the perfect career.

With huge pressures to get into university from parents, friends and schools, Tom Griffiths, founder of gapyear.com, said it was vital for the confused teenagers to find the right life path.

Speaking at the gapyear.com offices in Ipswich the expert put forward a compelling case for school leavers to embark on a constructive gap year packed with work experience, before moving on to either university or, hopefully, a dream job.

“The most important thing for young people is the ability to find a life path that is going to work for them,” he said.

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“If they don't know what they want to do it is important to test drive careers, to showcase their talents and get the opportunity to get a crack at being a journalist, a photographer, or whatever they want to do, to see if they enjoy it and get a feel for it.

“And it gives them the chance to make local contacts and develop a network that will be useful later on.”

His company, which was founded in 1998, has conducted research which reveals 50 per cent of 16 to 18 year olds have no idea what to do in life. Mr Griffiths said it begs the question “why go to university?”

“The days believing there is a job at the end of university are over,” he added. “The important thing is not to rush down a channel your parents or school say they think you will like. You need to work out what you want to do.

“It can be a very lonely journey for a lot of people under enormous pressure. With everyone getting their results around you and you not knowing what to do, it can be really scary.

“The message is you are going to be okay. I didn't get my grades and so went through clearing, but I know there is a huge pressure and my advice is not to jump into anything just to please your parents.”

ONE Ipswich student has jumped at the chance to get an in-depth insight into his chosen career thanks to work experience.

Alistair Stafford, a pupil at Northgate High School, has dreamt of becoming a journalist since he was ten. So the 17-year-old was overjoyed when he started learning the ropes at Ipswich-based website, gapyear.com.

The 17-year-old said: “When I was about 15 or 16 I was being told I had to get work experience; to get anywhere I needed experience.

“This work experience is not another common stereotype where you have to make tea or photocopy.

“From day one I was given tasks to do, writing different stuff and getting positive and negative feedback.”

He said his placement had shown him the importance of securing experience early on.

“I think the majority of my friends will be sitting at home doing very little work experience, it won't seem very important to them, but this time next year they will suddenly realise they need it,” he added.

Today Alistair is waiting along with thousands of students to learn his AS level grades in English, Geography, Media Studies and Maths.

He said he is determined to go to university to study journalism and has ambitions of being a sports reporter.

Mr Griffiths, founder of gapyear.com, said: “I have been very impressed with him. There are very few 17-year-olds I see who are as determined and focused, but quite humble with it. He is very realistic and realism is very important.”