Improving A-Level Availability

This week we saw a very unhelpful situation arise that affected a lot of local teenagers studying at a local college…

It involved Queen Alexandra College announcing that they would be completely closing their Sixth Form college, and basically sacking the staff and kicking out the students. You can read the full story here. As you might expect, there was an uproar, our Mayor and Members of Parliament intervened, and the decision was reversed – but only temporarily. The college still plans to close, just in 2024 not 2023.

  • All this flags up a very serious issue that I’ve been pursuing for a couple of years now – the lack of A-level places in North Shields.

Every year around 2000 16 year-olds from North Tyneside take their GCSE’s. About 500 of them live in and around North Shields. When I was young we were allowed to leave school at 16 but for the last 10 years it has been necessary for all young people to stay in education until 18. This is intended to ensure the next generation are better prepared enter the world of work, increase the overall skill level of the British workforce, and also give every young person a better chance to access the better-paid jobs that require higher qualifications. A-levels are particularly important for any young people who want to go on to gain a degree at university.

Whilst we have excellent High Schools in the North Shields area, few of them have their own sixth forms on site. Going back many years many of their teenagers in our area have therefore done their A-levels at Queen Alexandra College sited at the top of Hawkeys Lane. However, during the pandemic the education provider who own and operate QA College, the Tyne Coast College Group, announced, against without notice or consultation, that they would be closing it and expecting the students to travel to their campus in Battle Hill instead. I sensed right then that it was the beginning of the end and began to ask some searching questions.

Together with my ward colleague Cllr Cath Davis, and supported by other Labour councillors from around the North Shields area we first needed to ensure that the matter was a political priority for the Mayor and her team. As expected, Dame Norma, who is passionate about education, was fully supportive and asked the cabinet member for education, Cllr Philips, to set up a working group, which I am now part of. We’re looking into a range of options for how we can ensure that any young person in North Shields who wants to take A-levels*, can do so, in a high-quality setting, with a good range of subjects to choose from, and without travelling miles and miles away. We’ll be meeting again later on this month after which I’ll write an update.

In the meantime, if you are interested in looking more closely at educational inequalities in our area and/or how our area fares against other areas in terms of levels of eduction, then take a look at this interactive map from the Office for National Statistics.

GCSE map
This map shows that a large proportion of local residents have no qualification higher than GCSE (O-level)

*Obviously A-levels are not the right post-16 pathway for every young person, and we need to ensure a range of pathways are available. I also have a corresponding interest in ensuring that the new technical (T-level) pathways are created locally too.

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