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Finding their feet: Five Islands students test the waters on the mainland

Date: 9 Nov
“You see them physically maturing with each step they take.”

Island life is as idyllic as it comes. The Isles of Scilly, particularly, are well known for their Mediterranean waters, community spirit and out-of-season peace. It’s certainly a wonderful environment for young people to grow up in.

However, there’s always one thing on the minds of students at Five Islands Academy, the Scilly Isles’ only school, which caters for 265 young people from Reception (5+) to Year 11 (age 16). And that’s the move to further education – on the mainland.

A unique situation

Young people who live on the Isles of Scilly find themselves faced with a unique situation; no post 16 provision. So, the Islands’ careers leaders have to think differently.

“Your first day at college, shouldn’t be your first day at college,” explains Tim Garratt, Lead Teacher of Science and Aspirations Lead, who has been at Five Islands Academy since 2009. “And that’s essentially the point of this aspect of student life at Five Islands; preparing for that first day.”

There are apprenticeships available on the islands but, at 16, most Isles of Scilly children must leave the island to pursue education in one way or another – and families and education providers are aware of this critical moment.

So, throughout their later years at school, students on the Isles of Scilly undertake various journeys to the mainland to get a feel for life off the islands. For some – ‘more than you’d think’, Tim notes – it is the first time off-island without their families.

“It’s essential that we offer real life experiences of how to navigate life in further education, as well as learning opportunities,” Tim continued.

“There are critical skills needed to navigate life on the mainland that those who don’t live on the islands may take for granted, such as organising bus journeys and finding lecture theatres on big campuses.”

Guided, not led

The project, in partnership with the Cornwall and Isles of Scilly Careers Hub, involves repeated journeys over time using the Scillonian (the ferry service from Penzance to the Islands) and local train and bus routes in Cornwall – over years, potentially – so that the students know what to expect when the time comes. During these visits, students practice all manner of essential skills, from organising journeys and buying tickets to timekeeping and financial planning.

“It’s about becoming familiar with those methods of transport,” Tim said. “At the start of this journey, some students may be using public transport for the very first time. There’s a lot to learn, and for some these are big barriers.”

The trip is split into two very different but both vitally important days. The first is spent experiencing different education provision, such as apprenticeships, BTEC and A levels, with visits to Truro College and Falmouth Marine School. The second day focusses on planning food and transport around Cornwall.

And Tim is clear on one key element; students are ‘guided, not led.’

“A lot of the choices made throughout the two-day visit to the mainland are made independently,” he said. “That could be which bus to take, or where and what to eat.”

“Yes, they’re placed into a position that is entirely trusted and safe. However, it’s important we give them the opportunity to be held responsible and accountable for the choices they make, just as they will be when the time comes to attend college.”

Maturing with each step

The trip – which typically ends with the group planning, prepping, and serving a meal together – sees staff and students stay at a Youth Hostel in Perranporth.

“It’s a great geographical link to the islands,” Tim said. “It’s important these young people still feel connected to the sea, which plays a huge part in their daily lives.”

There’s an ‘inevitability’, Tim concludes, which means these children need support like this from external stakeholders to reach their next steps. “This programme has allowed us to access funding for ventures we know we need,” he added.

14% of students asked said they were ‘worried’ about going to the mainland for post 16 education before the trip – but all agreed they were either ‘not bothered’ or ‘excited’ following their visit.

“And you see them physically maturing with each step they take,” he said “Suddenly they find themselves in situations where they have no choice but to interact, get involved. Leaving the Islands as school children and joining a classics lecture at university.”

“It’s incredible to watch. Everyone goes through that process.”