Participation by 16-19 year olds in education and training - Education Contents

Conclusions and recommendations

Raising the age of participation

1.  We acknowledge the Government's support for the expansion of University Technical Colleges, which we see as a bold experiment in providing learning opportunities for young people motivated by a more practical curriculum. (Paragraph 28)

2.   We recommend that the Government should commission further research to assess the effect of applied learning and vocational study at age 14 to 16 upon participation in education and training at age 16 to 18. That research should take into account the location of study, and experience from a range of vocational courses. (Paragraph 33)

3.  While we would not want to encourage over-specialisation at Key Stage 4, we recommend that the Department should consider whether a 40%/60% split between time spent on specifically vocational or technical study and on core academic curriculum would best suit 14 year olds who take up vocational options while at school. (Paragraph 34)

4.  We accept that the cost of the Young Apprenticeship programme is currently difficult to fund, despite its impressive results. We acknowledge that there is some evidence of effective joint working between schools and colleges to provide vocational study opportunities for 14 to 16 year olds; but this appears to be in decline, for financial reasons. The success of Young Apprenticeships suggests that high quality vocational training for 14 to 16 year olds can raise engagement and academic achievement, and we urge the Government to consider how best to build on this model. (Paragraph 38)

5.  The forthcoming review of funding for post-16 learning should recognise the higher cost of supporting learning by young people lacking motivation or confidence; and the future funding mechanism should enable all providers, including voluntary sector bodies, to offer the learning opportunities which are required. (Paragraph 41)

6.  We are not convinced that the "lagged learner funding" mechanism currently used by the Young People's Learning Agency as a basis for funding learning providers necessarily prevents flexibility in course starts. We welcome the Agency's willingness to adjust funding for colleges in 2011 to reflect significant increases in in-year enrolments. We recommend that the Agency should indicate as soon as possible whether it intends to use lagged student numbers as a basis for calculating allocations to colleges for study in 2012; and we encourage it to confirm at the same time that it will continue to recognise in its funding allocations significant rates of in-year enrolment in individual colleges. (Paragraph 47)

7.  We do not accept that the activities and services supported by entitlement funding are necessarily needed more by those who benefit from 'disadvantage uplift'; and we are not convinced that they should be targeted to the extent proposed by the Young People's Learning Agency. The quality of the universal offer is likely to decline once entitlement funding is reduced, and student motivation, retention and achievement may suffer. (Paragraph 51)

8.  The Department's forthcoming review of the funding formula for 16-19 learning should, in assessing the value of every aspect of provision (including qualifications), consider the case for restoring a higher level of entitlement funding. (Paragraph 52)

9.  We recommend that the regulations on transfer of pupil information be amended, so that further education and higher education institutions are entitled to receive the Common Transfer File and educational record relating to any pupil being admitted. We recognise that colleges do not currently have access to the secure system used for the transfer of such data and that work would need to be done to allow this. In principle, however, security of data transfer considerations should not be allowed to impede the free flow of information on individual pupils' needs from schools to colleges and higher education institutions, where this is to the benefit of the pupil. (Paragraph 60)

10.  We recommend that the Secretary of State's Ministerial Advisory Group should consider, as a distinct work strand, local authorities' roles in supporting the raising of the participation age, and whether statutory powers are required to enable them to make a meaningful contribution. (Paragraph 68)

11.  We accept that the cost of using powers under the Education and Skills Act 2008 to enforce the increase in the age of participation could turn out to be disproportionate to their effectiveness. We therefore agree with the decision to delay introduction of those powers, but we believe that a formal review should take place as soon as the level of compliance with the duty to participate becomes clear. (Paragraph 75)

Financial support for 16-18 year olds

12.  The Government was right to recognise, even if belatedly, that the initial proposals for replacing the Education Maintenance Allowance fell short of what was required. We welcome the Government's decision to provide transitional funding for some learners who had begun courses in the expectation that they would continue to receive Education Maintenance Allowance. (Paragraph 87)

13.  Allocations of funding for student support through the bursary scheme for 2011-12 have been made far too late to allow Year 11 students to make fully informed decisions on what they will do the following year. The Government misjudged the scale of support necessary when announcing the abolition of the Education Maintenance Allowance, and precious months were lost while it revised its plans and consulted on the bursary proposals. The delay in deciding on allocations and guiding principles for distribution was regrettable and should not have been allowed to happen. (Paragraph 89)

14.  We would have welcomed a more measured and public analysis by the Government before it reached its decision to abolish the EMA. The Government's assertion is that there was a substantial economic "deadweight" cost element to the EMA, meaning that a significant proportion of young people would have taken courses whether or not they received the EMA. However, economic "deadweight" costs are a feature of many interventions and do not necessarily mean that the policy is invalidated. The Government should have done more to acknowledge the combined impact on students' participation, attainment and retention, particularly amongst disadvantaged sub-groups, before determining how to restructure financial support. (Paragraph 99)

15.  We recommend that the Government should issue guidance to schools and local authorities that there is no legal impediment to the transfer of information on Year 11 children's eligibility for free school meals to post-16 providers. We further recommend that the Government consider whether a child's eligibility for free school meals should be recorded on their Common Transfer File. (Paragraph 105)

16.  We accept that a change to financial support for 16-19 year olds was inevitable. (Paragraph 106)

17.  It will be difficult to ensure that bursary funds are matched efficiently to need and that inconsistencies which will inevitably arise do not erode confidence in the scheme or distort learners' choices of where to study. The Committee is not persuaded that a strong enough case has been made for distributing £180 million in student support as discretionary bursaries rather than as a slimmed-down, more targeted entitlement. We believe that the Department should have conducted an earlier, more public assessment of the options for better targeting of student support. (Paragraph 108)

18.  We recommend that the Government should, as part of its review of school transport, assess the cost of offering free or subsidised travel to all 16 to 18 year olds travelling to and from learning. The aim should be to achieve, through co-operation between schools, colleges, local authorities and transport companies, free or subsidised travel to and from learning for all 16 to 18 year olds. (Paragraph 116)

19.  There is no logic in making free school meals available to 16-18 year olds in schools but not in colleges, and, while we recognise that the financial implications would make an early change of policy difficult, we recommend that parity of eligibility should be the medium to long-term aim. (Paragraph 119)

Apprenticeships for young people

20.  We welcome the latest statistics on Apprenticeships, showing a major increase in Apprenticeship starts, with growth at all levels and for both under-19 year olds and 19-24 year olds. (Paragraph 124)

21.  We welcome the Government's measured response to the recommendation by Professor Wolf in her review of vocational education that students under 19 who had not achieved GCSE mathematics and/or English at grade A*-C should continue to study towards it beyond the age of 16. We agree that existing good and innovative practice in provision of English and mathematics courses for these young people should be assessed before further policy decisions are taken. (Paragraph 130)

22.  Employers should not be expected to lower their requirements for entry to Apprenticeships in order to help meet a Government policy aim. Apprenticeships, if they are to retain the confidence of employers, should be for those who are prepared to show commitment, so they should be extended rather than brief (normally two years minimum); and it is acceptable for Apprentices to have relatively low rates of pay up until the completion of their Apprenticeship framework. (Paragraph 132)

23.  We recommend that the Government should publish its assessment of the costs and benefits of paying employers to take on Apprentices, before it decides whether or not to go ahead. On the existing knowledge base, however, the Committee does not support the principle of payments to employers taking on Apprentices. (Paragraph 134)

24.  We welcome the Government's acknowledgement that driving up numbers of Apprenticeships carries a risk of diluting their quality. We question whether Apprenticeships offered through Apprenticeship Training Agencies, where there is no long-term commitment or investment on the part of the employer offering the work placement, are of the same quality as work-based Apprenticeships with a regular employer. We recommend that such opportunities should be regarded primarily as a form of training and should be treated separately for statistical purposes. (Paragraph 140)

Careers services

25.  We recognise the difficult financial circumstances in which local authorities find themselves. However, the sharp reduction in the availability of career guidance services for young people outside schools is damaging and should not be allowed to continue. Any reductions in Connexions services should be proportionate, and local authorities should respect the duty imposed by Parliament. The Government should assess local authorities' compliance with their statutory duties and should not hold back from taking legal action, if necessary, to ensure compliance. (Paragraph 148)

26.   We believe that there should be some form of clear accountability measure for the quality, impartiality and extent of career guidance services in schools. We recommend that Ofsted school inspections should, as part of the pupil achievement strand within the framework for inspection of schools, assess specifically whether schools are meeting their statutory duty to secure the provision of independent and impartial career guidance. (Paragraph 155)

27.  We recommend that the all age careers service should be funded by the Department for Education for face to face career guidance for young people. (Paragraph 156)

28.   We recommend that the Department's consultation on the age of pupils for whom schools should provide career guidance should be extended to examine the case for the statutory duty to apply to pupils in Year 7. (Paragraph 160)

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Prepared 19 July 2011