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Why A-levels don't have to be the only course for every pupil

By Professor Terri Scott

Published 21/08/2015

Top marks: Pupils celebrate
Top marks: Pupils celebrate

Results. It was the best of times, it was the worst of times. We can all relate to this. As a parent with three children I have seen the full range of emotions when the results appear.

Parents' understanding is inevitably coloured to some degree by their own experience when they were that age. As they say, the past is a foreign country, but they do things differently now.

Yes, students who yesterday received GCSE results are no doubt already making plans for the next step towards a career. But the key here is that these are informed choices based on what is best for the individual student.

There are more varied routes than ever for moving into employment or university. Things have changed even since my own children were making decisions. Now, with the extensive further education system, the likes of our own Northern Regional College provide a seam of qualifications that are broad enough to suit the full range of abilities, learning styles and student profiles. Further education colleges are the hidden gem of our education system, and your local FE college is worth exploring as an option.

DENI statistics show that of those getting GCSE results this week, almost 42% will take the A-level route to university. Over 35% will continue at a further education college, where they will study for a professional technical qualification, for example an NVQ Level 3, which is equivalent to A-levels and suited to students interested in careers in engineering, business and more.

The NVQ curriculum is geared towards work with employers. When they have completed the course, students may choose to go on to university or straight into the workplace. During the NVQ students can build up their CV by taking specialist short courses. Furthermore, there are a range of extended diploma courses enabling students to go directly into second year at university. For students moving on to higher education, at Northern Regional College we also offer a number of foundation degrees. They are affordable, convenient because students can study close to home, and very highly valued by our university partners.

FE colleges also offer an increasing number of higher level apprenticeship schemes, where students split their time between employment and college.

Students coming through the further education pathway have thrived in our universities. The FE experience develops workplace skills which mean the post-GCSE students who come here will go on and enter university and direct employment in a couple of years with experience, qualifications and maturity.

To make the college experience as good as it can be, we have invested over £2m in digital learning. This is a massive help because qualifications can be gained through digital learning alone, delivering flexibility to earn while you learn.

We are flexible in delivering our learning at a pace that suits each individual. Not every student will go the traditional route to their destination. Offering equality of opportunity is important because different people learn in different ways. That is a strength of our FE system and of Northern Regional College.

At results time, so many of our young people and their parents face a bewildering range of choices. They have everything before them. It can be the best of times.

We offer a different route. Take the time to check us out. You may find we are what you've been looking for all along.

Professor Scott is chief executive and principal of Northern Regional College

Belfast Telegraph

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