What next after GCSE’s?

This week during a residents’ meeting at the scout hall in Preston village a resident asked me why there are so few local educational opportunities for young people living in North Shields, once they’ve completed their GCSEs.

It was a really good question, no doubt prompted by the fact that hundreds of local youngsters are sitting their GCSE exams right now. Your own children or grand children may be amongst them. The staff of our fantastic local high schools are giving them lots of support and encouragement and we are all rooting for them to do really well. For many of them however their next educational destination remains uncertain.

Since 2013 the law has required EVERY young person continue in education, employment or training until the age of 18. Yet most of the high schools in the North Shields catchment area – John Spence, Marden and Norham – do not have sixth forms. The lady asking the question referred to the closure of the Queen Alexandra College two years ago. It was a really important hub for local post-16 education and its loss has meant that many young people living in North Shields now have to make expensive and difficult journeys on public transport to learn elsewhere. Lots of them are now travelling into Newcastle every day to go to college there.

I was able to reassure the residents present that this is an issue that is very much on my radar. My own early career was in youth work, including time spent in alternative education provision for teenagers who struggle in the mainstream. This was a key motivation for ensuring that I secured a place on the “Children, Education and Skills” sub-committee when I was first elected as your councillor. I have already asked the chair of that committee to ensure that post-16 education has a higher priority within our work programme for the year ahead.

The last time we discussed post-16 provision at the sub-committee I discovered that there are small pockets of specialist post-16 education being provided in North Shields. These are located at the ‘Youth Village’ on Hudson Street. Northumbria Youth Action and ETS North (Barnardo’s) are the main providers. However, they are not intended to be a universal offer, and don’t have large number of places available. I therefore believe that it is an urgent task for the council to be working pro-actively with partners to scale up the number of A-level and equivalent places for young people in North Shields.

Personally I would like to see a new town centre post-16 education campus established. I’ve already raised this with key people in the council on several occasions and the idea has been well received. My argument is that by doing this we could achieve two important aims at the same time.

  • First, we would take the pressure off local families who are worried about where their children will go after their GCSE’s. Many find the costs a challenge. Others have concerns about the logistics and inconvenience of navigating awkward journeys every day.
  • Second, we would bring fresh life and new economic activity to the town centre, which we know is desperately needed. Many local shops would enjoy a boost as a result.

So that’s the situation as it presently stands. If you want to let me know your experiences with post-GCSE education please feel free to drop me a line at: CllrWilson@icloud.com

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