Hoorah for the neuroscientists at the recent Academy of Medical Sciences gathering in Oxford who have finally confirmed what many of us in education have always believed - which is that attaining maturity is far bigger than the present simplistic line in the sand of 18. It is notable that, in generations past, 21 was seen as a point of adulthood even if again an absolute.

Professor Peter Jones, from Cambridge University, one of the authors of this new research, commented: "What we're really saying is that to have a definition of when you move from childhood to adulthood looks increasingly absurd. It's a much more nuanced transition that takes place over three decades." He added, “There isn’t a childhood and then an adulthood. People are on a pathway, they’re on a trajectory.”

We very much subscribe to this at The Abbey; we give our girls the space and the confidence to develop at their own pace, acknowledging that they are individuals.

In the UK we are at the moment rightly concerned about the increase in mental health issues among young people. Certainly, this latest research should raise some immediate questions, such as why are we continuing to pressure children to make GCSE choices, which could potentially be life-defining, at only 14 years of age? This research also has implications for what we think about adolescence and how that relates back to pastoral care and teaching methodology.

At The Abbey we are strong advocates of the International Baccalaureate Diploma at Sixth Form for a number of reasons: for its global outlook, the breadth of the curriculum and the ability to keep your options open and maintain all the subjects you enjoy and see where this path naturally leads you. This IB ideology of ‘international mindedness’ permeates an Abbey education right through from 3 to 18.

If this path leads you to university, why do we think it is right for the vast majority at 18 and why are we not encouraging a more flexible system with deferred places being the norm rather than the exception? The fees hike six years ago created a dramatic downward trend in the number of students taking gap years and this has never really recovered. I am sure more students would appreciate the full university experience if they had the opportunity to take time out to reflect, make considered choices and have exposure to new cultures through travelling or volunteering abroad, before embarking on another programme of academia.

I suspect once again though there will be a slow response to what seems to be, if you will excuse the pun, a no brainer. I would certainly urge parents to consider their supportive role especially when it comes to allowing children to make decisions about their future.

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