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King's Award for Promoting Opportunity

Empowering Social Mobility: New college creating opportunities in Tech

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Harvard Graduate Mark Smith founded England;s first FE College in over 20 years

Watching and mentoring a struggling schoolboy through his A-levels gave Mark Smith, founder of Ada, the National College of Digital Skills, the idea of starting up his own college.

From opening the Tottenham-based college in 2016 with around 30 students, in 2023 Ada - named after Ada Lovelace, a computing pioneer, will provide education for around 600 learners by the Autumn intake and over the next few years aims to have places for 1000 students enrolling every year in its campuses in London and Manchester.

The mission is to educate and empower the next generation of diverse digital talent, supporting young people, particularly those from more disadvantaged backgrounds, on a journey from 16 years old through to a good quality entry-level job in the tech sector.

Matthew Banjo came from a disadvantaged social background but was desperate to become a software developer.

However, he was failing his A-level computer science because he knew more than his teacher did, Mark says.

 

“He's now got a good position as a senior software developer

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“It opened my eyes to the huge mismatch in supply and demand in terms of the number of jobs that exist for people with advanced technical skillsets and the number of young people leaving schools and colleges and universities in England with the skillsets to meet those requirements.

 

“I thought if we were to set up a college that would focus on recruiting young people from disadvantaged backgrounds in particular, could we use the opportunities in the tech sector as a tool for positive social mobility, to take young people from more disadvantaged backgrounds and transform their life chances by getting them into really aspirational, good quality entry-level jobs in the sector that would set them up on successful careers longer term.”

Along with co-founder Tom Fogden, they got the backing of Prime Minister David Cameron’s innovation advisor and were announced by the PM in December 2015 as the Government’s national college for digital skills with five founding partners, IBM, Bank of America, Gamesesys, King and Deloitte.

Mark added: “We've also opened a small campus in Manchester and have an exciting three-year-strategy in place that's hopefully going to see us get up above 1000 learners a year enrolling in the college by the start of 2026.

“Undoubtedly the most satisfying feeling is knowing that a young person's life has been genuinely transformed by Ada and the education we've provided and we've set them on a course where they've got themselves a degree and they've not paid any tuition fees or taken on any debt, got themselves a good job with a well known organisation and the sky's the limit.

“About 91% of our alumni have a job in the tech sector at the current time.

“We saw the King's Award as a prestigious way of being able to try and get some recognition of the hard work my team puts in on a day-to-day basis to get the college where it's got to and hopefully get ready for exciting times ahead.

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