In this chapter I explore the kinds of decisions that the young people and their families were making and how they were made. Broadly speaking, ideas about how decisions are made fall into two schools of thought: normative and descriptive (Bell et al. 1988). Baron (1988) describes normative theory as 'the theory of how we should choose among possible actions under ideal conditions. The best decision … is the one that best helps us to achieve our goals' (p. 48). Individuals weigh up the pros and cons of various courses of action using the information available to them. Governmental careers guidance and transition planning policies have been strongly influenced by normative or rational theories.
Descriptive approaches describe how people make decisions rather than how they should behave (Mellers et al. 1998). Descriptive models emphasize the messiness of the process and the potential for stress and anxiety. Decision making is influenced as much by affective and personality factors and past experiences as by logic. The extent to which we are motivated to make a decision is influenced by whether we feel in control and whether we feel that we are being presented with a genuine choice.
Why is it necessary to explore ideas about decision making in general in order to understand decision making during the transition from school? Jenkinson (1993) suggests that understanding more about the nature of general decision making helps professionals to provide better support both through how options are presented and by reducing the negative impact of external factors such as legal requirements or economic constraints. The bureaucracy associated with the decision-making processes can dominate and mask the complexity of what young people and their parents or carers are experiencing. The temptation to 'get the forms filled in' can distort proceedings to such an extent that the normal feelings of anxiety and worry that everyone experiences when making major life decisions are ignored and individual voices get lost. And yet what those voices have to say have the potential to make a profound difference to the decisions that are taken, the plans that are made and the nature of the support that is offered.