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This summer saw unprecedented academic success in GSCES and A levels — which meant that students who didn’t get their grades felt worse than ever. But if your child was one of the unlucky ones, don’t despair – read on for two real-life stories that show not all successes happen in the exam room.


Kitty Tait quit mainstream schooling at 14 due to severe anxiety, and has ended up — still a teen! — running a nationally-recognised bakery in Watlington with her dad. 

Kitty, baking and eating

How did you find mainstream school?

Haha. I, er, didn’t love it. To be honest, it made me feel really anxious and inferior. I just didn’t get the point — I didn’t know what I wanted to do in life, so it was like: what’s the purpose, here? And yet, the whole system was telling me that my entire self-worth should be wrapped up in my grades. It was awful. So, at the end of one summer holiday, I just couldn’t go back. I was too depressed. That was when we decided to go down the homeschool route.

And how did the baking come into it? 

Believe it or not, Dad’s bread was historically really bad. Like, these absolute bricks that would sit on the side and no one would eat. But during that dark period, my family tried everything to distract me — gardening, knitting, everything — and nothing stuck until one day, I watched my dad mix his gloopy, unremarkable bread dough, and somehow the next morning we ended up with a golden, plump loaf. Just like that, I fell in love with baking. And there it was: passion. 

Special flavoured loaf / rhubarb buns

What happened next?

Unlike cake, you can make a loaf of bread every day if you want to without pushing the family health out the window. So I did. And then people started wanting to buy them, and then even more people wanted to buy them, so we started up a subscription service. I would creep into the neighbours’ houses early in the morning to use their ovens! And it kept getting bigger, and one day at a pop-up bakery stand, someone said we should start a real bakery. It all just kind of escalated. 

Was it scary?

Yeah, it was, but I never regretted it. That’s the difference between school and real life: being a baker is a hard slog, with long hours and very little money, but it doesn’t make me anxious because it’s something I’m passionate about. The stress has a purpose; I have a purpose. 

Papa Tait / Kitty Tait

What would you say to kids who might be feeling the way you did?

Don’t push yourself into things that aren’t right for you. Life is so long; you won’t miss anything. You can go back and do it all when you’re thirty, if you want to — who knows, at fifty I might decide I need my GCSEs, need to go to university. I can do that! 

And if you’re interested in something, don’t put so much pressure on it. It’s healthy to have pursuits that aren’t essential for your CV. At school, I burnt out because everything had to look good, had to count for my future. But if you do stuff you enjoy, the long term just kind of follows on. And when you’re older, you won’t remember the exams; you’ll remember the experiences.

Try the amazing bread and baked goods made by Kitty and her dad at The Orange Bakery in Watlington, from 9:30am on Wednesdays, Thursdays and Fridays, and at 10:30am on Saturdays.


Jade Brooker, 22, is an ambassador for Oxfordshire Apprenticeships, having been apprenticed at the accountancy firm Assure UK since 2017. (That’s right: accountancy. A pretty swanky career, wouldn’t you agree?). Here’s what Jade has to say on the experience.

Did you always want to do an apprenticeship?

Not at all, I assumed I’d go to university, because that’s kind of what they push you towards. But I had a family member that did one, and I just thought — hang on, I could learn and earn on the job if I do this…

So I found an accountancy apprenticeship, applied, had an interview in the October, and started work the following September. They actually asked if I wanted to start straight away — I didn’t need A Levels for the role — but I figured I might as well finish them. 

And what’s it been like?

Amazing. I feel like I’m a good three, four years ahead in my career compared to other people my age. If you go to uni, you still have to do exams to qualify as an accountant once graduated, and then you need three years of hands-on experience before working with clients. I’m doing the same exams as I would have done, plus a few more foundational ones, but I’ve been getting real career experience the whole time. I already have three years’ experience under my belt. 

Though still technically an apprentice, I’m now an Assistant Manager at the firm. I review people who work below me, I work directly with clients, I earn a full wage — and I have zero university debt! 

Do you feel like you missed out on the uni experience?

I really don’t. 25% of an apprentice’s role is off-the-job training, so I still in effect go to college and have friends through that, as well as enjoying a social work environment. Then, since my friends went to uni, I went to all their freshers events — and I’m earning a proper wage, so I can afford to go out when I want to! 

See more information on Oxfordshire Apprentices here, and national apprenticeships here – and even a local Rumsey’s chocolate shop chocolatier apprenticeship

If you’re an employer considering introducing an apprenticeship to your company, you can find support in setting this up from the Oxfordshire Local Enterprise Partnership (OxLEP). 


Bad exam results? Here’s what to do next

Oxford Media & Business School

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