A young woman who turned to lifestyle blogging to inspire others living with facial disfigurements has been to Westminster to urge politicians to ensure North East students receive better careers advice.
Katie Meehan spent most of her young life under the surgeon’s knife after she was diagnosed with cystic hygroma as a child.
The condition meant she lived with an enlarged tongue and face - which made it hard, at times, for her to eat, and even breathe.
She underwent a number of operations, thanks to the generosity of Gazette readers and businesses, and before she left school she launched her own blog in a bid to inspire others.
It was a conversation with a friend that led her onto a course at Gateshead College in business management - which gave her the skills and confidence she needed to turn her hobby into a commercial blog which has attracted more than one million hits.
Until then, Katie says she received no careers advice, and felt either getting a job or staying on at sixth form to do A-levels were the only options available to her.
It’s so important that schools give students the opportunity to explore other options so that people can avoid making the wrong choice, as I did.Katie Meehan
The 23-year-old, accompanied by Gateshead College principal Judith Doyle, took part in a round-table debate at the House of Commons to discuss the issue of ensuring schools comply with a legal requirement to give pupils information on all the options available after their GCSEs.
Hosted by Robert Halfon MP, chair of the Education Select Committee, the meeting was attended by senior education and business leaders including Lord Baker, Ofsted Chief Inspector Amanda Spielman and Anne Milton, the Minister of State for Skills and Apprenticeships.
Katy said: “At the time, the only viable option for me seemed to be getting a job or staying on at sixth form to do A-levels, which might be suitable for some students but wasn’t really for me.
“Back then I’d never even been to a college before. Nobody advised me to visit one to see what was on offer. In the end I completed my A-levels, but was probably the most disengaged, disinterested student ever.”
Delegates heard how Katie’s career took a turn for the better after her friend, who was studying at Gateshead College, encouraged her to attend an open day there.
She said: “I met with the teaching staff and loved the environment so I enrolled on a business management course.
“I’d already started my lifestyle and beauty blog – http://katiemeehan.co.uk/ – while I was at school, and the college course gave me the skills and confidence to turn my hobby into a commercial business blog.
“If I’d known more about college then, I would have gone there straight after my GCSEs.
“It’s so important that schools give students the opportunity to explore other options so people can avoid making the wrong choice. Hopefully the debate will have reinforced this.”
Internal research produced by Gateshead College among students who started courses last September reveals that only 28% of 16 to 18-year olds were given advice about apprenticeships from their school.
Of the 395 students taking part in the research, 56% were recommended to choose one option more than any other, and in most cases, this was A-levels compared to only 10% for vocational courses.
Around 45% of students felt they did not have enough information to make informed decisions about what to do after GCSEs.
To find out more about Gateshead College and the courses on offer, visit www.gateshead.ac.uk/courses/