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New beginnings

Jan Hodges OBE is chief executive of Edge
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For many young people August can be a bit of a blur. The first half is spent nervously waiting for that crucial Thursday when, at the opening of an envelope, your life can spin off in any one of a number of directions; the second half is spent working out which particular direction is right for you.

We’ve all been there. For some of us it was longer ago than we would care to calculate, but I think we can all agree that whatever decisions we made based on that cluster of letters on a page, they did not determine our life’s path. Although the decisions we make at that point in time are among the most important we ever make, they are not an end in themselves. For those who decide that A-levels or university isn’t for them, choosing a less traditional route does not have to hamper your chances of career success. In fact, making decisions based on your own talents and ambitions is probably going to make you more inclined to succeed.

16 and 18 have always been the ages at which big decisions are made with regards to education but while there are many young adults who are not sure which direction they want to head in, there are also many 14 year olds who are. Many young people know where their strengths and interests lie and we should be nurturing these and giving them the opportunity to get a head start.

This is where University Technical Colleges fit in. By allowing students to specialise at an earlier age, UTCs build the knowledge, skills and temperament employers in STEM tell us they need, and they build it earlier. Career Colleges have also taken advantage of the Government’s decision to allow Further Education Colleges to recruit at 14 and, when the first two open in September, they will provide accelerated vocationally-focused programmes of study. Like UTCs, they will offer these specialised courses alongside core academic work and provide clear progression routes into further education, higher education, apprenticeships and employment. Studio Schools are also offering a bold new approach to learning which includes teaching through enterprise projects and real work from 14. Working closely with local employers, Studio Schools also offer a range of academic and vocational qualifications.

Despite misconceptions, this type of provision will not close down opportunities. They are all good examples of how a child’s ambition can be harnessed and developed, while still keeping those all-important doors open. As well as the first two Career Colleges, September will also see 12 Studio Schools and 13 more UTCs opening, extending their reach across the country.

A rounded education is about more than just the A*-C GCSE benchmark. It’s about developing young people who are confident in their abilities and not afraid to choose the road less travelled if it’s the right road for them. Employers are looking for more than good grades and by working closely with UTCs, Studio Schools and Career Colleges they are making sure they get it.

As thousands of young people begin a new chapter of their lives this September it is worth remembering that it’s very difficult to close doors completely, all we do is open some a little wider.

Jan Hodges OBE is chief executive of Edge, the independent education charity dedicated to raising the status of technical, practical and vocational learning

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