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University does not suit every school leaver

A piece in The Times by Paul Johnson today was a clear reminder of the main reason I decided to pursue a career at the Edge Foundation.

After a plain sailing year 11 at school, I finished with 12 GCSEs. Believing my natural route of progression would be A-levels and then university, this is what I followed. However, I couldn’t have been more wrong.

Over the extended summer holidays between years 11 and 12, I was diagnosed with epilepsy, which led to the later diagnosis of memory loss. This was a contributing factor to my low A-level grades which was never factored into my future progression. Now I knew the struggles that other students faced when university wasn’t the obvious path for them.

After months of low grades my school began to become very direct with the approach they were taking – improve your grades, or leave. Nonetheless the school was adamant that university was the only real option for success nowadays.

In his article, Paul Johnson says, ‘Our education system is designed for students who go straight from A-levels to university. It is set up in a way that makes it easy for those who are good at exams. Their route is clear. It’s much tougher for the rest. The other routes are opaque.’

Those who have been through the process will understand how true the above statement is. I am still unsure who to blame for the uncertainty I was left to face and the fact that my low grades left me labelled as a ‘failure’. Many other students in my year were struggling and no one knew who to turn to or what alternatives were available.

This led me to drop out of sixth form and join the local FE College as I looked for an apprenticeship. However, this felt like a complete waste of time and finding an apprenticeship is currently easier said than done. I completely agree with Paul as he states, “It is staggeringly hard even to find the right opportunities.”

After six months at college, I came across the Edge Foundation and their apprentice role. I saw this was an opportunity to speak out about my time in education and contribute to the campaign for positive changes to the education system. Having been with Edge for over ten months, I have more knowledge and insight into issues such as careers advice and quality vocational education provision, and realise how hard it is to influence policy. I now work alongside people who have experience and expertise in this area and it’s perplexing why policy makers don’t respond.

Nevertheless, it is great to work with a team of people who are so committed to drive the required change, such as widening the accessibility of apprenticeships and broadening the EBacc – however long this may take.

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