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Gap year is not just for the rich

Teachers are not doing enough to persuade working-class youngsters that a year's sabbatical could benefit them just as it has benefited Prince William. Amanda Kelly reports

TEACHERS are perpetuating the myth that a gap year between school and university is only for the wealthy, it was claimed this week.

Members of gap-year organisations said schools should do more to inform pupils from working-class backgrounds about the host of opportunities available to them before they go on to higher education.

Tom Griffiths, founder of The Gap Year Company, said: "Gap years are not just about gallivanting around the world with mummy and daddy's credit card.

"But they are still being portrayed by schools as for the wealthy few and this has not been helped by Prince William's recent trip to South America and Africa.

"Some (teachers) are even discouraging youngsters because they feel threatened by the reality that some aspects of education cannot be learned at school."

Johnny Rich, managing editor of The Push Guide to Which University 2002, said schools should play a greater role in encouraging pupils from all backgrounds to consider the benefits of deferring university.

He said: "Pupils will have 40 or 50 years to work and very few other opportunities to take a constructive sabbatical.

"This can include gaining valuable work experience that will separate the student from rival job applicants, volunteering at home or abroad, gaining a qualification such as football coaching, or travelling and working overseas."

A survey of 600 students by the website revealed that 69 per cent of 16 to 18-year-olds consider taking a gap year, but only one in five, or 50,000, actually go through with it. Around 52 per cent said they could not afford time out, although the average estimates by students of the cost of a round-the-world ticket was more than four times the typical pound;850 price tag.

Almost half were unsure if taking a gap year would improve their chances of getting a university place or job. However, 88 per cent of employers questioned said a well-structured gap year helps to equip graduates with vital but non-academic "soft" skills such as problem-solving, decision-making and building relationships with others.

A spokesman for accountants PricewaterhouseCoopers said: We very much encourage gap years... it really does make a difference on an application form and will significantly strengthen a CV."

According to the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service, the number of applicants who will start university this autumn having taken a gap year is up 7.3 per cent on last year.

And Richard Oliver, chief education officer of the Year Out Group, said he believed that the recent reforms of A-levels would make taking a gap between school and university far more popular.

He said: "Young people will have had three years of continuous exams, they will want a break - they will be 'examined out'."

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