TEENAGERS have been congratulated for achieving top GCSE grades, but education bosses have insisted more must be done to help “the future of Southend”.

More than 1,750 19-year-olds achieved a level two qualification by the end of the 2018-19 academic year, data has revealed.

However, Anne Jones, Labour councillor responsible for children and learning at Southend Council, says employers must continue to offer apprenticeship level jobs.

Level two qualifications are five or more GCSEs at grades A* to C, or the equivalents such as apprenticeships, NVQs and diplomas.

The data shows 85 per cent of young people in the area gained a level 2 qualification.

This was an increase of one per cent from the year before.

Mrs Jones says the figures are a step in the right direction, adding: “It’s a reflection on how hard they’ve been working.

“There is a strong demand from our young people for technology, digital, and construction courses. The right courses and support must be available.

“Apprenticeships are really important. They offer combined skills and learning and are a really positive way to build CVs.

“We must make sure employers are still offering apprenticeship level jobs post Covid-19.

“The young people of Southend are the future of our economy.”

The Department of Education data proves the disadvantaged in the UK are hit hardest by the Government shifting its focus to GCSEs and A-levels over vocational qualifications, according to the Association of School and College Leaders.

Mrs Jones offered her thoughts on their conclusions, adding: “The achievement gap is narrowing in Southend.

“Colleges have a strong plan to bring the gap even closer.”

The figures further revealed across England, level two attainment had dropped for the fourth consecutive year, after a high of 86 per cent in 2014-15, but Government bosses insisted this was still higher than a decade ago.

A spokesman said: “We have made good progress raising the standard of education and training on offer. We are taking bold steps to further boost the quality of vocational and technical education to ensure those qualifications give students the skills they need. New, world class T-levels, will be launched in September.”