7 Related policy areas: education
and skills |
172. Our inquiry went beyond the Youth Contract measures
to consider policy areas which directly affect young people's
employability. As well as the cyclical and structural causes of
youth unemployment highlighted in chapter 2, witnesses pointed
to systemic problems within the education system that some argued
were having a detrimental impact on young people's employment
prospects. This chapter focuses on how well young people are being
prepared for the transition to employment during their time in
education. It does so in the context of recent reforms of work-related
learning and careers advice, ongoing reforms of vocational education
in England (following Professor Alison Wolf's 2011 review) and
the Government's proposal to raise the education participation
age to 18 in England by 2015.
School and college-leavers' skills
173. The CBI told us that young people trying to
enter the labour market for the first time often "simply
do not have the right skills". It was concerned about low
educational attainment, noting that in 2010 some 9.7% of all 16-24
year-olds held no formal qualifications of any kind. It was also
concerned that the proportion of 16-24 year-olds who achieved
GCSEs at grades A*-C had declined between 2009 and 2010.
Other witnesses highlighted the failure by a significant minority
of young people to attain basic proficiency in English and Maths
as one of the main barriers to employment. The Association of
Employment and Learning Providers (AELP) told us that providers
of post-16 skills training and employers consistently complained
about the "sorry state" of school leavers' basic skills.
Professor Wolf highlighted in her 2011 review of vocational education
in England that less than half of students achieve both English
and Maths GCSEs at grades A*-C.
174. Young people themselves recognise the importance
of basic levels of literacy and numeracy. Prince's Trust staff
told us during our visit to the Fairbridge Programme in Kennington
that English and Maths courses were the most popular of those
the Trust offered to disadvantaged young NEETs.
175. In addition to formal qualifications, young
people's "soft skills" were of particular concern to
organisations representing businesses. The Forum of Private Business
(FPB) told us that small business owners reported problems with
attitude, punctuality and "common sense". Some young
people were not willing to work unsocial hours when necessary
or "even to get up early". The FPB reported that school-leavers
considered some menial tasks "beneath them". There was
a view amongst FPB's members that these kinds of attitudes and
lack of skills made young people "very resource intensive"
to employ. The
CBI agreed that key "employability skills", such as
team-working, were often lacking in young people. Its view was
that a significant proportion of young people leave school without
the "qualifications or competencies" required to secure
their first job.
176. However, CIPD and Inclusion both expressed caution
about the view that young people's skills in general are not meeting
the requirements of employers. Inclusion noted evidence from the
UK Commission for Employment and Skills (UKCES) that suggests
it is only those "at the bottom of the labour market"
whose skills fail to match up to employers' requirements.
177. The then Minister for Further Education, Skills
and Learning also felt that some commentators were over-stating
the case and put up a "robust defence" of young people,
telling us that:
When employers complain that 16 year-olds have
not got employability skills, I do not quite know what they expect.
What they might reasonably anticipate is that people can read,
write and count, have a reasonable degree of self-discipline and
have a reasonable set of values, which have been imparted in part
by their family and in part by their schooling.
178. Whilst Ministers acknowledged that there were
"significant skills challenges" and stressed that the
Government recognised the importance of "core skills",
on which it was "re-focussing", the then Minister for
Employment also noted that UKCES survey evidence suggested that
educational issues were in fact low down on the list of employers'
concerns. His view was that the Government's "bigger challenge"
was simply to encourage employers to give young people a chance
in the first place.
The recent UKCES report to which the Minister referred had found
that only 24% of employers had recruited a young person directly
from education in the last two to three years. UKCES urged employers
to do more to address the youth unemployment problem and called
on every employer in the UK to implement its own "youth policy".
179. Kevin Green of the Recruitment and Employment
Confederation (REC) suggested that the main problem was a lack
of understanding of what employers are really looking for, which
he described as the "expectations gap". Young people's
perceptions are often that employers want qualifications and knowledge
whereas employers say they want young people with the "right
attitude". He told us that young people who leave education
with GCSEs, A levels or a degree often have the perception that
their qualifications will be the "key entry ticket to the
labour market". He highlighted data from the CBI which shows
that, in fact, employers consider experience and employability
skills such as self-management and problem-solving as the most
important characteristics of potential recruits.
180. Several witnesses felt that understanding between
young people and employers could be improved by better links between
schools and local businesses. While many schools had excellent
business links, the wider picture was very inconsistent. Kirsty
McHugh of ERSA noted that Education Business Partnerships had
once provided a "fairly uniform structure" for schools
and businesses to collaborate but reduced local authority funding
had limited their reach. She argued that, while a number of voluntary
and business organisations such as Business in the Community and
the Education and Employers Taskforce, were attempting to fill
the gap, links between schools and employers were "piecemeal".
The FPB also noted that there were "a number of good and
free initiatives out there" including Inspiring the Future,
which brings business people into schools to talk to students.
However, Kevin Green of REC felt that schools were often quite
fearful about allowing access to their students.
Raising the participation age
181. As noted above, the Government is planning to
increase the age at which young people in England can leave education
or training. If the necessary legislation is enacted, from 2013
young people will be required to participate until the end of
the academic year in which they turn 17 and from 2015 the participation
age is likely to be increased to 18. There will be three post-16
options for young people:
· Full-time education, such as school, college
or home education;
· An apprenticeship; or
· Part-time education or training if they
are employed, self-employed or volunteering full-time (defined
as 20 or more hours per week).
182. In the context of the likely rise in the participation
age a number of witnesses raised concerns about the quality and
labour market value of post-16 educationparticularly vocational
coursesavailable to young people.
The CIPD told us that the UK is "characterised by relatively
weak Vocational Education and Training". It noted that countries
with stronger vocational routes, such as Germany, Austria and
the Netherlands, have lower levels of youth unemployment.
 CIPD argued
[...] to improve the labour market access of
young people and the matching of skills supply and demand, it
is vital to improve Vocational Education and Training routes (VET),
promote parity of esteem between academic and vocational routes
and provide real alternatives to university education.
The Wolf review of vocational education in England
183. Professor Alison Wolf's 2011 review of vocational
education for 14 to 19 year-olds in England found that most young
people now take some vocational courses before they are 16. The
majority of young people in post-16 education follow some courses
which are in part or entirely vocational. Professor Wolf identified
significant failings in the post-16 vocational education system.
She found that many 16 and 17 year-olds "churn" between
education and short-term employment "in an attempt to find
either a course which offers a real chance for progress, or a
permanent job, and are finding neither".
184. One of the key findings of the Wolf Report was
that, while many young people do find successful routes into employment
or higher education via vocational courses:
The staple offer for between a quarter and a
third of the post-16 cohort is a diet of low-level vocational
qualifications, most of which have little or no labour market
value. Among 16 to 19 year-olds, the Review estimates that at
least 350,000 get little to no benefit from the post-16 education
185. A number of witnesses supported the wide-ranging
recommendations of the Wolf Report which include:
· Distinguishing clearly between qualifications
(both academic and vocational) which contribute to recognised
performance indicators and those which do not;
· Focussing courses for low-attaining learners
on the "core academic skills of English and Maths";
· Ensuring that schools and colleges "involve
local employers on a regular basis [...] in the assessment and
awarding processes used for vocational awards".
186. The Government fully endorsed the findings of
the Wolf Report, which it described as a "brilliant, and
ground-breaking, report", and has accepted all 27 of its
recommendations. The Secretary of State for Education has noted,
however, that the required reforms are complex and "will
187. The then Minister for Further Education, Skills
and Learning told us that the only way to ensure skills provision
matches up to the requirements of the labour market was to "create
greater employer engagement in the skills system". To this
end, the Minister had initiated a £250 million Employer Ownership
Pilot run by the UKCES which had invited employers' input into
how the further education and skills system can be made more "responsive
and sensitive" to employers' needs.
188. We believe that reform of vocational education
is required to avoid young people wasting time on courses of little
or no labour market value, particularly as the education participation
age in England rises to 18 by 2015. The Government has recognised
the need to take action in its response to the Wolf Report. Steps
to implement its recommendations now need to be taken as a matter
of urgency. We request that the Government sets out, in its response
to this Report, how it intends to proceed with these reforms,
including the timetable for implementation in preparation for
the change to the participation age in 2015.
Reform of school work experience
and work-related learning
189. Almost all of the witnesses to our inquiry and
many of the young people we met during our visits to the Prince's
Trust and Jobcentre Plus, highlighted lack of work experience
as a key factor in young people's comparative labour market disadvantage.
190. The CIPD and Inclusion both noted that fewer
young people today combine part-time work with study than was
the case in the past and therefore many do not have any paid work
experience by the time they leave education. The recent UKCES
report referred to above found that, where employers had considered
young recruits poorly prepared for work, it was predominantly
due to lack of work experience.
In this context a number of witnesses were concerned about the
Government's recent statutory reform of work-related learning
in schools in England at Key Stage 4 (at age 14-16).
191. The Education Act 2002 gave schools the statutory
duty to provide work-related learning, defined as "planned
activity designed to use the context of work to develop knowledge,
skills and understanding useful in work, including learning through
the experience of work, learning about work and working practices
and learning skills for work". The majority of schools have
traditionally fulfilled this duty by arranging a short work experience
placement for students with a local employer.
192. The Government recently decided to remove this
duty from schools by removing the relevant sub-section of the
Act by Statutory Instrument. Schools will therefore no longer
be under a duty to provide work-related learning of any kind for
students at KS4 or younger. Schools will however remain free to
determine whether and how work experience for young people at
KS4 is provided.
193. Recent evidence points towards the difficulties
of running effective school work experience programmes for 14-16
year-olds. City and Guilds found that many young people felt disillusioned
by their work experience placement at KS4 and questioned the ability
of schools to provide placements to suit all interests and career
ambitions even if they had the inclination to do so.
194. On a practical note, the Wolf Report concluded
that such placements were disproportionately expensive and that
employers were often reluctant to accommodate under-16 year-olds,
primarily because of the amount of paperwork it entailed. Professor
Wolf argued that schools and colleges should prioritise longer
work experience placements and internships for the 16-18 age group.
The Forum of Private Business (FPB), representing the views of
small business owners, also noted concerns about the practical
difficulties. It pointed out that the fixed academic year created
problems for businesses as a very large number of KS4 students
seek placements at the same time, after the national examinations
have concluded in May/June. Perceptions that there were bureaucratic
obstacles to offering work experience, such as health and safety
regulations and Criminal Records Bureau (CRB) requirements, were
195. However, Chris Bowman, owner of a small engineering
company, told us that his business still arranged work experience
placements for local school students despite the practical difficulties.
The FPB argued that work experience is "vital" for young
people and called for "more work experience for all 14 plus
age groups". Its view was that the Government should "rethink"
the removal of the statutory duty, arguing that "the earlier
young people can get a taste for the workplace, the better their
job prospects and attitudes will be."
196. Kevin Green of REC made a case for work-related
learning for students from age 9, 10 or 11. He believed it was
important that schools should be encouraged to incorporate work-related
learning into subject lessons and find innovative ways of doing
so. REC's view was that many businesses were keen to be involved
in this. Kevin Green felt that the removal of the statutory duty
signified that the Government believed that work experience at
KS4 was not working well and therefore work-related learning for
younger age groups should no longer happen. His view was that
this was the wrong response to the Wolf Report findings.
197. The Government rebutted this interpretation
of its policy. The then Minister for Employment told us that the
Government considered it "very important" that the typical
one or two week work experience placement in KS4 continues. He
also felt that health and safety and CRB concerns were often overstated
and that it would be "a desperate shame" if perceived
bureaucratic requirements prevented young people from undertaking
work experience placements. His view was that there was "absolutely
no reason at all" why employers should feel deterred from
offering placements to young people.
198. The then Minister for Further Education, Skills
and Learning told us that the decision to remove the statutory
duty had been motivated by a desire to allow schools flexibility
in how they provide work-related learning and to "drive up
standards [...] by creating examples of best practice" rather
than through legislation.
199. In supplementary written evidence the Government
clarified its rationale for removing the statutory duty. It told
us there were three elements to its thinking:
· To give school leaders the freedom to
use their professional judgement to meet the needs of their
· Alison Wolf's concerns about the quality
of pre-16 work-related learning and her recommendation that we
should focus our efforts on improving post-16 work experience;
· The wider context that all young people
[in England] will be required to be in education or training (including
work-based training) until they are 18 years of age [by 2015 if
the Government's planned legislation is enacted].
200. Business organisations appear ready to play
an increased role in the provision of work-related learning and
careers information, advice and guidance. We welcome and support
the current examples of innovative measures which link schools
with local employers and help young people to understand and engage
with local labour markets. We recommend that the Government plays
an active role in facilitating a national infrastructure which
allows such initiatives to flourish.
201. We also support giving schools flexibility
in how they provide work-related learning. We acknowledge concerns,
highlighted in the Wolf Report and echoed by witnesses to our
inquiry, about the practical difficulties and sometimes disproportionate
cost of the traditional one or two week work experience placement
at age 14-16. We also acknowledge the rationale behind prioritising
work-related learning for older studentsa decreasing proportion
of young people in England will enter employment at age 16 as
the education participation age rises to 18. However, we believe
school-arranged work experience placements should continue for
pupils whom schools believe will benefit most from the experience.
202. It would be regrettable if schools chose
not to provide work-related learning for younger age groups as
a result of the recent removal of the statutory duty at Key Stage
4. As well as arranging work experience placements where appropriate,
we believe schools, in co-operation with local employers, should
incorporate work-related learning into lessons at Key Stage 4
and for younger school students. We are concerned that the removal
of a broadly defined statutory duty will send the message to schools
that work-related learning is something they need not do. We request
that, in response to this Report, the Government sets out how
it envisages its new approach will enable schools to deliver effective
work-related learning, including work experience where appropriate,
for all school students.
Careers information, advice and
203. Young people we met at Twickenham JCP reported
varied experiences of IAG at school. Some had attended workshops
and talks by employers arranged by their schools but others felt
that IAG provision was generally poor. One young person thought
that schools focused on getting pupils through exams and had little
time for preparing young people for employment.
204. The importance of good quality IAG was emphasised
by a wide range of witnesses.
Some were very critical of the IAG provided by schools. For example,
Neil Carberry of the CBI told us that "Careers advice qualitywhich
started out as pooris going downhill. We are failing our
young people in helping them understand the world they are about
to arrive in."
205. The Government has recently made a number of
changes to the way IAG will be provided for young people and adults.
The newly established National Careers Service (NCS) will provide
face-to-face IAG to people aged 19 years and over. Unemployed
young people aged 18-24 years can receive up to "three, free,
in-depth face-to-face sessions" from the NCS. As part of
the Youth Contract, the NCS is offering a guidance session to
any unemployed person aged 18-24 within the first three months
of their JSA claim. Younger people aged 13 and over can access
the NCS online and via a telephone helpline. The NCS will effectively
replace Connexions services, which were funded by local authorities
and offered IAG to young people aged 14-19 years old. Several
witnesses noted that Connexions services have been under considerable
financial pressure due to reductions in local authority budgets.
206. Following a recent statutory reform, schools
will have a legal duty to secure access to "independent and
impartial" IAG for students aged 14-16. Meanwhile the Government
has said that it will "support a flourishing market in careers
services and products", such as the Inspiring the Future
programme and Growing Ambitions, a volunteer scheme.
207. Several witnesses were critical of the recent
changes, particularly the provision of IAG for younger students.
Inclusion noted that schools, which had already struggled to provide
IAG within the Dedicated Schools Grant, now had a duty to provide
"independent and impartial" IAG with no additional funding.
Work Programme providers were also critical, highlighting that
closures of Connexions services had resulted in a "noticeable
void" in the support for younger people.
Avanta Enterprise Ltd felt that gaps in provision of IAG were
a "contributory factor" in youth unemployment, leaving
some young people unaware of their post-16 options.
Kirsty McHugh of ERSA contended that "we know what works
in terms of careers advice"it should be given early,
be of good quality, and delivered one-to-one.
208. We asked the Government how it expected schools
to provide quality IAG under the new arrangements. The then Minister
for Further Education, Skills and Lifelong Learning pointed out
that schools had previously had a duty to provide IAG but that
provision was, in the Government's judgement, "patchy",
with some schools doing it well and others less so. Its aim in
creating a revised duty to secure "independent and impartial
advice" was to improve the quality of IAG in schools. However,
it was not clear from our exchange with the Minister how he expected
this to be achieved in practice.
209. We did not get a clear sense from Ministers
of how the Government expects schools to provide good quality
"independent and impartial" careers information, advice
and guidance to students without additional funding to enable
them to deliver this. We do not consider the National Careers
Service's offer of online and telephone advice to younger students
to be an adequate alternative to face-to-face careers guidance.
We request, in response to this Report, a clear statement of the
practical steps the Government wishes to see schools take to ensure
their pupils have a good understanding of the jobs markets and
the skills and qualifications required to pursue their chosen
151 Ev 113, para 10 Back
Ev w8, para 2 Back
The Wolf Report, p 83 Back
Ev 140 Back
Ev 113, para 10 Back
Q 14 Back
Q 350 Back
Q 348 Back
"Employers urged to do more to stem rising tide of youth
unemployment", UKCES press release, 2 July 2012 Back
Q 260 Back
Q 106 Back
Q 260 Back
See http://www.education.gov.uk/childrenandyoungpeople/youngpeople/participation/rpa/ Back
See, for example, Working Links Ev w67; City and Guilds, Ev w22 Back
Ev 106, para 16 Back
Ev 106, para 17 Back
The Wolf Report, p 7 Back
Ibid, recommendations 1, 7 and 27 ; Inclusion, Ev 104 Back
Foreword to The Wolf Report, pp 4-5 Back
Q 351 Back
See "Employers urged to do more to stem rising tide of youth
unemployment", UKCES press release, 2 July 2012 Back
Ev 141 Back
Government response to the Wolf Report, April 2012 Back
City and Guilds research paper, Ways into Work, Views of children
and young people on education and employment, May 2012 Back
The Wolf Report, recommendation 21 Back
Q 106 Back
Q 102 Back
Ev 141 Back
Q 263 Back
Q 336 Back
Q 347 Back
Ev 126 Back
See, for example, CBI, Ev 117; Inclusion Ev 100 Back
Q 122 Back
Rehab Group, Ev w46, para 25; YMCA, Ev w71, para 4.2; Association
of Colleges, Ev w6, para 17 Back
BIS, National Careers Service: The Right Advice at the Right
Time, April 2012, para 11 Back
Ev 100 Back
Ev 109, para 4.4 Back
Ev 94, para 5 Back
Q 273 Back
Q 335 Back