FOR many families, the second half of August means the agonising wait for exam results.

Last Thursday saw A Level, T Level and BTEC results published and many of our local colleges and sixth forms celebrated some fantastic results that were well above the national average and testament to the extraordinary hard work of students and staff.

By the time that this column comes out, thousands more local students will have received GCSE results and will be preparing for the next stage in their education – whether in full-time education at college or sixth form, or an employment-based traineeship or apprenticeship.

Huge congratulations to everybody who has got the results that they wanted, and the very best of luck in whatever you choose to do next.

For those whose results weren’t as good as hoped for, it’s important to not panic. I remember how hollow those words sounded when a couple of my A Levels were lower than I had expected, but the truth is that there are options available once you have recovered from the disappointment.

Your preferred university or college may still offer you a place even if you did not get your predicted grades, there are thousands of great courses on offer through university “clearing” and there are many options available if you decide that university isn’t right for you.

Every year, I organise an apprenticeship fair and each year I am amazed at the range of opportunities available, in just about every industry you can think of, through apprenticeships at every level that not only give you fantastic training that can lead to brilliant careers but also allow students to earn while they learn instead of accumulating student debt.

There are also options like Higher Technical Qualifications, which have been developed with the help of employers for people who want a more practical, employer-led programme – either full-time or part-time.

But if you do want to go to a top university then good A Levels are needed in most cases. While we are very fortunate to have some outstanding A Level providers in Dudley, until very recently there were relatively few options.

Now, as well as high-performing FE colleges like Dudley College / Dudley Sixth and Halesowen College and well-established sixth-forms like King Edward’s and Old Swinford Hospital, local Multi-Academy Trusts like Invictus and the Windsor Academy Trust have set up sixth forms in local schools like Crestwood, Pedmore High School, Kinver and Wombourne.

This week we had the great news that a new sixth form college run jointly by Eton College and the Star Academy Trust will join these excellent sixth-form and FE colleges, offering an additional option for local students who want to study A Levels.

Eton Star Dudley will be a state co-educational sixth-form with 240 students each year who will pay no fees but will benefit from many of the advantages enjoyed by Eton students paying tens of thousands of pounds per year. Eton will provide additional funding from its own funds to Eton Star Dudley each year on top of the taxpayer funding provided by the Government.

It is a huge achievement by Dudley Council – and particularly the Council Leader Patrick Harley – to have secured this new sixth form for the area in contrast to some neighbouring local authorities who did not even return the calls when Eton called to see if they might be interested.

This will make an incredible difference to the opportunities available for young people in Dudley Borough who hope to go to a top university.