Warnings of dwindling prospects as Norfolk, Suffolk and Cambridgeshire pupils prepare to get GCSE results

By VICTORIA LEGGETT, Education correspondent
Wednesday, August 22, 2012
6:20 PM

Students collecting their GCSE results today are acutely aware that their job prospects have taken a tumble during their time at secondary school, Norfolk and Suffolk headteachers said last night.

The school leaders said a rapid rise in youth unemployment over the past five years had made teenagers more anxious about what would happen once they left school – but also more determined to succeed and gain some all-important qualifications.

It comes as a report looking at school leavers’ chances of finding a job described them as “caught between Northern Rock and a hard place” thanks to a succession of changes in the world economy.

In Plugging the iGeneration into the Jobs Market, education think tank Ambitious Minds said: “The young people who are picking up their GCSE exam results … have witnessed the most dramatic changes to their prospects and expectations while at secondary school of any year group in the last 70 years.

“By the end of their second week in secondary school, the run on Northern Rock had started and the UK, and world, economy hurtled towards the precipice.”

In September 2007, youth unemployment stood at 3.6pc nationally. Prospects for young people seemed fairly rosy with reasonable job opportunities, lots of training available and low-cost university education available.

By July 2012, as those students took their final exams, youth unemployment had risen to 6pc, university tuition fees are able to rise to up to £9,000 and credit to pay for study, self-exploration, a start-up business or a house is incredibly hard to come by.

Last night Gavin Bellamy, headteacher at Sewell Park College in Norwich, said: “It is obvious that our students are far more concerned about their prospects – and more determined to succeed – than they have been over the last few years. There is a real sense of improved work ethic.

“To back that up, our expected intake to the Sewell Sixth Form has nearly doubled in the last year compared with what we were contributing to the Kett Sixth Form. Two-thirds of our year 11s are expected to stay on and even more of the new year 11s. We’ve gone from sending about 70 students to the Kett to about 150.

“There are various factors, including the setting up of our own sixth form, but they realise staying on at school, and having the opportunity to further their qualifications, gives them a competitive edge. There does seem to be more of an anxiety and an awareness and determination to be successful.”

The changes that have led to that anxiety and determination are felt even more keenly depending on where in the country – and region – you live.

Students living in the Great Yarmouth area will have experienced greater-than-average increase in youth unemployment, from an already-above-average 5.7pc in September 2007 to 9.5pc by this July.

Nicole McCartney, principal at Ormiston Venture Academy, the former Oriel High School, in Gorleston, said the school had made sure learners were aware of that landscape so they were well-prepared when it came to leaving.

“Particularly with this year 11 cohort, we have been making sure they are aware of that information and making sure they know how important it is they work their very hardest,” she said.

“In Great Yarmouth there are high rates of employment but there is also major industry in the area – energy and engineering – that is having to out-source work. We’ve been concentrating on looking at what those employers want from their employees.

“They understand they are leaving school at a difficult time because we have made sure they understand that, but we have also made sure they realise they are better placed than some of their peers because they have had access to some training others may not have had.”

In Waveney, where youth unemployment has increased from 4.9pc in September 2007 to 7.9pc in July 2012, Sir John Leman High School headteacher Jeremy Rowe said it was “heartbreaking” to see “the runs of the ladder being kicked away” for young people.

“We’ve all got a vested interest in young people doing well,” he said. “It’s heartbreaking to see it being made more difficult.”

Mr Rowe said this week’s cohort of students receiving their GCSE results had not only watched as the prospects dwindled through secondary school but had also found their means of overcoming those obstacles take away.

From the abolition of EMA and reduced support for students using public transport to get to college, to university tuition fees, he said those students had “born the brunt of the response” to the economic crisis.

Find out how your friends and other schools got on in their GCSEs by following our live coverage, including pictures, tweets and updates throughout the day at www.edp24.co.uk


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