Sam Parrett outlines her view of the role of colleges in delivering careers education to as young an audience as possible. 

The conversation about careers education is a long running one. However, there is little doubt that young people need more guidance at a much earlier stage.

For me, this must begin at primary school. Children should be presented with a balanced view of what ‘success’ means and the understanding that there are a huge number of equally valid ways to reach hundreds of exciting and rewarding careers.

The importance of academic success is highlighted very early on in a young person’s educational journey, with little mention of vocational and employability skills. The result? Employers bemoaning the fact that school leavers are not fit for work despite being armed with an array of academic qualifications.

We need to work together, as a society, to dispel the myth that academic achievement is the only marker of success that matters. Going to university is a fantastic option for many people but by no means the only one and certainly not ‘the best’ route for everyone.

I talk to students at my college who have embarked on several pathways before finding the right one. Although not irreversible, much damage can be done to a person’s confidence and self-belief when their chosen educational route doesn’t ‘work out’.

Recent research by think tank Demos revealed that as children get older, they get unhappier. Final year students are half as likely to be happy in their lives as 14-yearolds and much less likely to think parents or teachers believe in them.

I believe this is a direct result of an education system that is constantly narrowing to focus solely on academic achievement. Little room is available in the curriculum to work on building confidence, practical skills and team building — ultimately essential employability skills.

FE colleges must step in here. Our establishments are unique in that we provide people with many options to upskill, retrain and follow career ambitions. With a huge range of flexible learning programmes, people can fit study around existing jobs and commitments, re-focusing and ultimately achieving their true aspirations.

But are there ways for FE colleges to get involved at an earlier stage? Can we reach and influence young people before they feel compelled to pursue a route that is not right for them?

We are doing all we can to help provide people with guidance and options from a younger age

I believe the answer is very much ‘yes’. FE colleges are the hub of communities and in Bromley we are doing all we can to help provide people with guidance and options from a younger age.

From our Children’s University, which encourages 5 to 14-year-olds to develop new skills outside of the classroom, to our pioneering, employer-led Hospitality, Food and Enterprise Career College for 14 to 19-year-olds — we have been breaking new ground for some time.

We are also currently undertaking a Growth Mind-Set pilot project with our Year 10 students. Research has shown that young people who are encouraged to adopt a growth mind-set as opposed to a fixed mind-set are more likely to persist in the face of failure and achieve their full potential.

Rewarding effort and avoiding praise that focuses solely on intelligence or talent is key. This type of approach can be implemented easily within an FE environment and helps both staff and students to recognise the many elements of success.

Going forward, 2017 will see the opening of our new University Technical College for 13 to 18-year-olds, specialising in Health and Wellbeing sciences in partnership with Kings College Hospital and other key employers.

All these initiatives will provide young people with new and exciting pathways to fulfilling careers — as well as helping employers secure a skilled and ambitious future workforce.

Times are tough right now and diversifying within the FE sector is not for the fainthearted.

However, we must be bold and pick up where the rest of the education system is failing by opening up opportunity and filling the vocational void.