The Careers Adviser: Can I go back to primary school? And what tips do you have for fashion students?

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A question of class

Q. I would like to have a job that allows me to be at home every day when my children get back from school. I have worked with nursery-age children. Can I apply to a primary school to help in a classroom?

A. In the first instance you could ask to volunteer in your local school, helping out with day-to-day activities, so you can begin to judge if the work is really for you. If you like the job, you can then apply to work as an assistant.

School hours and long holidays will give you the flexibility you need, but there will also be extra-curricular school activities such as plays and parent-teacher meetings which will extend the hours. The good news is that jobs are increasing for school support staff. Changes in the way schools offer services such as homework clubs, sport and languages, especially after school hours, mean more are needed. More helping hands are also needed to cope with provisions made for students with special educational needs, or those with English as an additional language.

Teaching assistants work alongside teachers in the classroom, helping pupils individually or in a group. There are also Higher-Level Teaching Assistants (HLTAs), who are more experienced, and can plan and teach under direction, or assess and report on pupil progress. To be assessed as an HLTA you'll need nationally recognised qualifications in literacy and numeracy at Level 2 or above. You can check this out on www.tda.gov.uk, the website of the Training and Development Agency for Schools, which has a section on support staff.

Following trends

Q. I'm re-applying to university to follow my real passion – fashion journalism or styling – having found I didn't want to spend three years on the course I originally embarked on. I know I write well and have an eye for fashion, but I only have a C in art GCSE.

A. There are still only a handful of degrees in these subjects, but some good options. You could aim for a qualification in fashion journalism or go for a related area such as fashion promotions. Most universities offering this type of study would look for a proven interest in fashion and a flair for words, rather than artistic talent. Courses in styling are more likely to focus on visuals and there you may need a portfolio of artwork. Your GCSE grade shouldn't matter – photography and sketching ability are what tutors will be looking for, plus an original approach and an appreciation of colour and fabric. Two key contenders in both areas are the University College for the Creative Arts (in Kent and Surrey) and the London College of Fashion, part of the University of the Arts. They have a long history of involvement in these fields and well-established courses – important because they will have built strong ties with the sector.

Check the background of tutors – the best-regarded will attract leaders in the field and industry insiders. Internships and placements are important – people thrive here by doing relevant work experience and making contacts. While you are an undergraduate, you should think about writing about fashion for student magazines or contributing to fashion websites; styling student shows, films or emerging rock bands; building up a portfolio of writing and/or styling credits; and making contacts. The name of the game is making your work visible.

Careers advisers: Gill Sharp, careers consultant; Elaine Banham, head of creative careers, University of the Arts, London.

Send your queries to Caroline Haydon at 'The Independent', Education Desk, Independent House, 191 Marsh Wall, London E14 9RS; or fax 020-7005 2143; or e-mail to chaydon@blueyonder.co.uk

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