Left school? Take my advice... DON’T PANIC!

16 Aug 2022

Simon Smithson, Director of Ingeus Youth services, offers some advice for young people facing one of the biggest decisions of their lives – what to do next after leaving school following their exam results this summer. 

The school gates closed for the final time for more than 650,000 Year 13 students last month, heralding a summer of decision-making that could shape their lives. AS and A-Level students will be waiting anxiously to find out what grades they have achieved when the results are revealed on 18 August. And a similar number of GCSE students will get their results a week later – influencing their decisions on the next steps of their full-time education.

If you’ve just completed school, sixth form or college, you might be anxiously waiting to find out your results. From excitement about the long summer ahead to a feeling of being overwhelmed by what to do next, young people will experience a mixed bag of emotions.

Don’t hit the panic button

My first piece of advice is not to panic. Whether your results are better or worse than expected, you have plenty of options and lots of support. Plus, you have time to make up your mind...and change it. Every day at Ingeus we help people of all ages to change direction.

Go your own way

Everyone is different. Maybe your college mates are among the more than 40 per cent of 18-year-olds who have applied for university. Perhaps your best friend is doing an apprenticeship or taking a year off.

Take inspiration from their experience but remember that you need to find what works best for you. 

Keep talking

However you are feeling, someone else will have been through it or is feeling the same as you right now. It can be comforting to confide in friends and family – you’ll soon realise that you’re not alone.

So let’s look at the main options.


This is a good choice if you:



These are jobs with pay, training and the chance to gain relevant qualifications and experience. It's a fantastic route for those who want to learn but want to start work too. In recent years they have been updated and expanded to offer a way into high-skilled professions such as civil engineer, solicitor, scientist and nurse.

Vocational qualifications

There are many vocational options available at 16 or 18. These include BTEC, NVQ, OCR Cambridge National or Diploma and the new T Levels – a technical post-16 qualification equivalent to three A levels.

You can take vocational qualifications on a full-time or part-time college course, often as part of an apprenticeship programme or incorporated into jobs.

A gap year

If you are unsure of what you want to do, this could be a good choice. 

Many gap year students choose to get a job or volunteer, either at home or overseas. Travelling during your gap year may help you to develop useful skills for work such as self-confidence, independence and leadership skills. It can also give you a better understanding and awareness of different cultures – you may even be able to learn a new language. 

Either of these options provides a good insight into working life, and a way to acquire skills and work experience for your CV.

A job

If you are 18+ you could apply for a job immediately. This is a good way to see how you feel about a potential career, or gather more information and experience in order to make  decisions, whilst earning money. Many of the people we support at Ingeus have what we call stepping stone jobs – employment that brings skills likely to be useful in the future.

If you decide to leave school at 16

In England you must choose whether to:

Your local authority has a duty to make sure you are offered a suitable place by the end of September. 

Overcoming barriers

If you face barriers to further education or employment, such as a mental or physical disability, or lack of money, don’t despair.

If you have an Education, Health and Care Plan (EHCP), you have a right to support for education up to the age of 25. Search online for ‘SENDIASS’ and the name of your local authority.

The disability charity SCOPE also has plenty of good advice for you.

If you need financial support then this Government website can help. You may also be able to get help with the costs of your course, day-to-day living and childcare.

In most cases you will not have to pay for level 1 and 2 English and maths courses if you need them.

You can get free training if you’re unemployed and:

Your Jobcentre work coach can help you find out what’s available to you.

Still undecided?

This Government helpline offers information about jobs, careers and training in England. You can arrange for a National Careers Service adviser to call you for free, or chat online.

Results not what you expected?

In the first instance talk to your school, college or preferred university, which may offer some flexibility.

Contact the National Careers Service Exam Results Helpline on 0800 100 900 or UCAS, which can help you to find university places through Clearing.

Take care of yourself

During this potentially stressful time be sure to take care of your mental health by taking enough exercise (particularly outdoors), eating a healthy diet and getting enough sleep.

I know this period can be unsettling and overwhelming, but support is there and there is time to consider your options. 

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