Preparing for a modern economy with Knowledge-Based Industries and a well qualified and highly specialised workforce at its heart, requires us to grow our own talent pool as well as attracting in-bound talent.
Around 50,000 people commute within the Greater Exeter Travel to Work Area every week day. People that live in East Devon may work in Exeter or Teignbridge and people that work in Mid Devon perhaps live in East Devon (see the diagram below). Children and young people travel considerable distances to learn too. The catchment area of some schools and colleges extends right across local council and sometimes county boundaries. Our ‘raw material’ for this talent pool needs to be nurtured from a young age regardless of the student’s or the school’s location, as inevitably we will all be working together, in an effort to make this region a great place to live and work.
Looking at the performance of schools and students is a sometimes a little like comparing ‘apples and pears’; up until 16 years ‘student residency’ is all important and at 18 years’ school location’ becomes the basis of the ranking. On the whole:
- Primary school children, in most parts of the region, perform better than the national average.
- Secondary school students performance at GCSE level (around 16 years) is more varied with GCSE results revealing a range of nearly 10% between the top performing and least well performing schools per council area.
- Young people, are increasingly more mobile around about the age of 18, and tend to do well academically.
BUT then disappointingly the proportion progressing to Higher Education (HE) is notably lower than would be expected. Nationally, a decline of 4% in university applications has been recently reported. Closer examination reveals that this reduction is mainly in ‘mature’ students and in Nursing/Medicine/ Health related degrees where student tuition fees are no longer exempted. However, our small (124 students), local (South West), recent (June 2017) research exercise at a Big Bang SW indicates that 13% fewer school students intend to apply to university than the students surveyed in 2016 (see graph below). This is concerning as the proportion of young people progressing to Higher Education in EHOD is already notably lower than the national average.
Student debt (Tuition fee loans of up to £9250/annum plus maintenance loans are charged at 6.1% interest from this autumn) has been hitting the headlines and combined with economic uncertainty may have influenced a growing reticence amongst potential students to invest in themselves through HE. Surprisingly, and disappointingly, it appears that this reduction in HE applications may not result in a corresponding increase in students intending to undertake an apprenticeship, despite prominent Government campaigns and opportunities locally. Perhaps the messaging about university fees has been stronger than that of pro-Apprenticeships?
Accepting the research exercise was small and two years is not a trend, it is nevertheless interesting. Perhaps we are left with more questions than answers? At the very least this research indicates that more young people are certain about what they want to do. It may be that more young people want to be entrepreneurs, more want to get jobs (which does not and should not rule out learning), and that we all need to examine why local young people are less likely to apply to University and what can be done to increase the uptake of apprenticeships at every level. Working together is more likely to be the most successful approach. Whatever the route young people take, we want them to achieve their potential, to continue to learn and to contribute to a more modern economy and a happy community.