At the beginning of a new school year, I am pleased that so many students across Wealden will be returning to school having achieved fantastic results in their GCSE exams.
This provides a strong foundation for continued study and I hope students, teachers and support staff will take pride in their hard work having paid off on results day.
This September, many others will be moving on to further education, following their A-Levels. I would like to congratulate everyone taking this exciting and nervewracking step, which is the culmination of two years of dedication.
Special congratulations must be extended to those who are the first generation in their family to go to university; I, myself, was the first woman in my family to go to university. It is vitally important that everyone, regardless of background, is able to fulfil their academic potential. Last year marked a 73 per cent increase in the number of young people from disadvantaged backgrounds going to university compared to 2006 and this figure looks set to increase this year.
Many of those who do not decide to go on to university will consider an apprenticeship and I am thrilled that over 3 million young people have taken up apprenticeships since 2010. Apprenticeships can open up a huge number of opportunities and have helped many to gain the training and experience they need for the workplace. This is reflected in the fact that the number of 18-24 year olds in employment is at a record high of 90 per cent and there are nearly 400,000 fewer young people out of work since 2010. All of this is in the context of the lowest levels of unemployment in this country since 1975.
It is vital that whatever your background and whatever your aspirations you are able to access a fulfilling career path. During my time as chair of the Apprenticeship and Diversity Champions Network, I saw first hand the positive impact that apprenticeships can have. The benefits of earning whilst you are learning, coupled with professional certification, cannot be underestimated when seeking to gain an edge in our competitive labour market, especially when competing against those with a degree but no work experience.