A successful lifestyle blogger has visited Westminster to urge politicians to ensure every North East student receives better careers advice.
Katie Meehan, a former Gateshead College student, accompanied principal Judith Doyle at a round-table debate at the Houses of Parliament to discuss the vital issue of ensuring schools comply with a legal requirement to give pupils information on all the options available to them after their GCSEs.
Hosted by Robert Halfon MP, chair of the Education Select Committee, the meeting was attended by senior education and business leaders including Lord Baker, Ofsted Chief Inspector Amanda Spielman and the Minister of State for Skills and Apprenticeships, Anne Milton.
It follows a report by the IPPR think tank which called for the DfE and Ofsted to crack down on schools that are failing to enable pupils to hear about alternatives to A-Levels.
As part of the debate Katie, 23 from Jarrow, brought to life the stark consequences of not receiving good careers advice by recounting her own experiences.
She said: “I received no careers advice at school. At the time, the only viable option seemed to be to get a job or stay on at sixth form to do A-levels, which might be suitable for some students but wasn’t really for me. Back then I’d never even been to a college before; nobody advised me to visit one to see what courses were on offer. In the end I completed my A-levels at sixth form but I was probably the most disengaged, disinterested student ever.”
Round-table delegates heard how Katie’s career took a turn for the better after her friend, who was studying at Gateshead College, encouraged her to attend an open day there.
“I met with the teaching staff and loved the environment so I enrolled on a business management course,” she recalled. “I’d already started my lifestyle and beauty blog while I was at school and the college course gave me the skills and confidence to turn my hobby into a commercial business blog that has attracted more than one million hits. If I’d known about college I would have gone there straight after my GCSEs.
“It’s so important that schools give students the opportunity to explore other options so that people can avoid making the wrong choice, as I did. Hopefully yesterday’s debate will have reinforced this.”
Since the ‘Baker Clause’ was introduced within the Technical and Further Education Act 2017, schools have been required to allow other education and training providers access to their pupils to inform them of technical and vocational qualifications. But compliance with the Baker Clause remains very poor, according to the IPPR report, with just two in five schools complying with the requirements of the legislation.
Gateshead College, which contributed to the report, said Katie’s experiences highlight the need for all students to be aware of the full range of career options available to them.
Judith Doyle CBE said: “I am determined to see our young people receive improved careers advice to help them make better, informed decisions about their career paths into work or academia. Katie is a fantastic former student whose career has turned out wonderfully well – but other people may not be so fortunate if they can’t access the right advice.
“That’s why it is vital that all schools comply with the requirements of the legislation. Some schools do this very well and are really proactive but our aim is to encourage a greater level of compliance so that more students get the advice they need.
“The meeting yesterday was extremely positive and politicians appear to be listening to our concerns. Everyone seemed anxious to inject some momentum into this important issue of ensuring compliance with the Baker Clause.”
Internal research produced by Gateshead College among its own intake of students who started courses last September reveals that only 28pc of 16-18-year olds were given advice about apprenticeships from their school.
Of the 395 students taking part in this research, 56pc were recommended to choose one option more than any other, and in most cases, this was A-Levels compared to only 10pc for vocational courses. Around 45pc of students felt they did not have enough information to make informed decisions about what to do after GCSEs.