Improving the transition from school to work Contents

Summary of conclusions and recommendations

Students leave the educational system without the skills necessary for work and life

1.Employers say they look for more than just qualifications in their recruits. They want their employees to arrive with the skills to succeed in the workplace: communication, team working, resilience, and self-management. Many of these skills can only really be gained through experience of work, either through work placements, or once in employment. For young people who do not have access to work-based training, the education system can go some way towards teaching these skills. However, Life Skills are not embedded in an effective way alongside or within the curriculum, and young people leave the education system insufficiently prepared for adulthood and the world of work. (Paragraph 49)

Existing recruitment practices hinder upward mobility

2.Employer recruitment practices disadvantage those in the middle and at the bottom end of the labour market. Small and medium-sized businesses in particular rely on informal means of recruitment, such as word-of-mouth. Using this sort of recruitment means that applicants’ existing social connections and networks are important and lead to their success. Not all young people will have these connections. We welcome the fact that some employers are already changing their recruitment practices to address these problems. We note however that these changes are not widespread, are limited to the largest employers and will not go far enough on their own to achieve real progress. (Paragraph 58)

3.The expansion of higher education has served some groups well. It has, however, disadvantaged those already underserved by the education system and inhibited upwards social mobility for those in the middle. (Paragraph 93)

Making alternative qualifications system coherent, accessible and business-friendly

4.Non-academic routes to employment are complex, confusing and incoherent. The qualifications system is similarly confused and has been subjected to continual change. (Paragraph 94)

5.These options do not guarantee routes into good quality employment. The qualifications themselves are often poorly understood by employers. Employers cannot be expected to understand what skills unfamiliar qualifications represent and cannot be expected to have knowledge and faith in their quality. (Paragraph 95)

Reducing unfairness between academic and vocational routes to work, particularly in funding

6.These structural issues are deep-seated. They further disadvantage those already underserved by the system, who then become at risk of ending up in low-skilled and insecure employment or of becoming NEET. (Paragraph 96)

7.The UK needs a structure which offers better routes to those who do not follow an academic route. Such routes need to make sense, be purposeful and be of a high quality. (Paragraph 97)

8.We welcome the ‘Sainsbury’ review of technical and professional education and hope it will provide greater clarity for young people about their routes into work. We also welcome the review’s focus on progression for lower attaining students and hope the review improves the situation of middle attainers. (Paragraph 98)

Ensuring apprenticeships remain high-quality

9.Apprenticeships have a strong tradition of providing robust training in a number of professions, and have been well regarded for a long time. The existing quality of apprenticeships must not be compromised for the sake of greater quantity. If it is, employers may often overlook apprentices for the ‘safer’ academic option. There is also a risk that the ‘brand’ of apprenticeships is damaged—alienating employers and young people from participation. The Government has placed substantial emphasis on quantity and, more recently, on standards. The results of this policy emphasis remain to be seen. (Paragraph 104)

10.Apprenticeships are a good way of upskilling people for the future economy and meeting economic need and we welcome the recent focus on them. Apprenticeships are not, however, the only answer. The current emphasis on them risks creating a system where there are only two options for transition into work: an apprenticeship or higher education. There must be scope in the system for those who are not ready to undertake either route to be prepared and supported for the transition into the workplace. (Paragraph 113)

Inequality between academic and vocational routes to work

11.As they stand the area reviews of post-16 education and training institutions move away from Kevin Orr’s vision of further education colleges as engines of social mobility. The idea behind the reviews is that a group of colleges covering a given area share facilities and specialisations. This could pose problems for young people who live in more rural areas where distances between colleges are more substantial and travelling to college is therefore more difficult and costly. (Paragraph 192)

12.There is a culture of inequality between vocational and academic routes to work. The culture pervades the system and the incentives to everyone involved. In England, the education system focuses on academic achievement of a particular kind. That is five GCSEs at grade A*-C and then A-Level. Such a focus means only the half of young people who attain this high level are served by the system. (Paragraph 193)

13.Government policies, funding, and incentives all support this focus on academic achievement. Current funding for schools and performance tables incentivise the promotion of academic routes that help meet targets. As a result, few young people see vocational routes as a positive option. (Paragraph 194)

14.Investment in all young people has significant long-term economic value. Recent Government policy has protected schools and university funding but the same is not true for post-16 institutions who provide for the majority of young people who do not go into higher education. Intermediate routes to employment for middle attainers—who are already underserved—are restricted further by this discrimination. Lack of investment increases the risk of these young people becoming NEET (not in education, employment or training) or of moving into low level jobs with little or no opportunities for progression. There is a need for greater clarity on how funding works. (Paragraph 195)

15.Schools and colleges receive between £500 and £1,200 less per year for students aged 16 and over, than for students aged 16 and under. Schools and sixth form colleges only cater to students up to age 18, and further education colleges to students over 18. Therefore these stark funding differences underpin a system of inequality. (Paragraph 196)

16.The inequality between vocational and academic education has had a significant impact on the overlooked majority of young people on whom our inquiry has focused. It is a long-standing and deep-rooted issue that will not be overcome easily or soon. Clarity and understanding, and promotion of alternatives to higher education, could however begin to destigmatise vocational education and training. Therefore independent, impartial and robust information, careers advice and guidance are vital. (Paragraph 197)

Improving careers guidance and advice for young people

17.Careers education and careers guidance are two different ways for young people to learn about the world of work. Each is important and closely linked to the other. There is a pressing need for young people to be clearer about the decisions they face at an early age and the future employment options available to them as a result. Without more clarity, this overlooked majority of young people are at great risk of drifting into work and being trapped in employment at the bottom end of the labour market. (Paragraph 237)

18.Young people need careers education in schools which is embedded into and fits alongside the curriculum and is informed by labour market information. At the appropriate time, they will also need professional careers guidance that is independent of schools or colleges, delivered face-to-face, helping them to choose their individual routes forward. Both forms of support are vital in preparing young people for work but they are markedly different. (Paragraph 238)

19.Work experience is essential. It helps young people to develop the attributes they need to succeed in the workplace. Yet not much is available at age 14–16, and even less is available in rural areas or for students studying at lower levels. Young people are often expected to arrange their own placement, and tend to get any work experience through their informal networks. Their experience is therefore limited to what is available through those networks. This means that within the current system aspirations remain fixed. Upwards social mobility is limited. (Paragraph 239)

20.We echo and endorse the findings of Ofsted and the House of Commons Education Committee. Careers advice and guidance as it stands perpetuates the inequality been academic and non-academic routes. However, good quality careers education and guidance alone will not solve the structural issues in the system. (Paragraph 240)

21.Ofsted inspections drive school and college behaviours. If Ofsted gave a greater emphasis on the provision of careers education in schools and colleges in its reports, the quality of career education would improve. However, we accept that while necessary, this is not a panacea. It will not be sufficient to stimulate the required changes in the system. There may be a case for Department for Education reconsidering the funding available to schools. At the end of this report, we make the recommendation that they do further work on a cost benefit analysis as a matter of high priority. (Paragraph 245)

Making transitions work for those in the middle

22.Transitions to work take longer for some young people, and this is not recognised in the current format of 16–18 or 16–19 education. It would be better for the national curriculum to stop at age 14, rather than 16, and for a new 14–19 transition stage to be developed. This would enable a tailor-made route to work to be developed. Such a route would combine a core element with either academic or vocational elements. (Paragraph 257)

23.A 14–19 Transition stage would move away from age 16 being the cut-off point at which many young people embark on the wrong path. It could reduce drop-out rates at age 16 and age 17 from both vocational and academic routes. It would however require suitable advice and guidance to be given before young people make decisions about the subjects that they study at 14–16, which may later help or hinder progression to employment and further learning. (Paragraph 258)

24.The preparation of all young people for adult life and success in the workplace, however they reach it, needs to be seen as an important pillar of the education system. (Paragraph 259)

25.Preparation for the work place needs to begin as early as possible. We recommend that the national curriculum should reflect this, and that careers education and the development of Life Skills should be present in or alongside the curriculum at least from Key Stage 3 (age 11–14) as well as after the age of 14. (Paragraph 260)

26.Those without a Level 3 qualification are much less likely to be employed than those with one. They are also likely to earn less over their lifetime. Given the importance of Level 3 qualifications, it is important that young people are given time to achieve one or at least the opportunity of progressing to that level through lower level jobs. It is important that employers offer opportunities to employees for career progression. (Paragraph 264)

27.The system is inflexible and appears to favour those from more advantaged backgrounds. (Paragraph 280)

28.The inflexibility of the current system may prevent many young people from having fair access to education and training opportunities. As an example, the 21-hour studying limit on carer’s allowance prevents young carers from being able to participate fully in some education or training. (Paragraph 281)

Increasing market transparency with destinations data for schools and colleges

29.Local labour market information helps to ensure that training is matched to the needs of the local economy. This will help schools and colleges to prepare young people for the local labour market opportunities available in their area. (Paragraph 286)

30.In principle publishing destinations data over a period of several years is a good idea. Publishing small amounts of data is no good. More needs to be done to ensure the accurate collection and recording of data. While care would have to be taken in designing these figures, an example of a relevant figure could be the percent of free school meals (FSM) students who go onto find employment within six months. We recognise, however, that there are factors affecting young people over which schools and colleges have little or no control. Such factors include a range of influences associated with their family circumstances and background. (Paragraph 313)

31.Existing data is unreliable and inconsistent. Too little is known about the group of young people who do not pursue higher education, what they study, and where they are employed. In particular, the publicly available data does not allow for the analysis of learners by different demographics such as family background, ethnicity, social class, region, gender, caring status and so on. (Paragraph 320)

32.We agree with, and support, the Social Mobility and Child Poverty Commission’s principles on administrative data sharing. More information is required on young people’s further education and vocational qualifications and routes, and their destinations in the labour market. (Paragraph 321)

Increasing employment involvement with schools in the transition to work

33.It is clear that financial incentives have varying effects on employers. We are not convinced that they drive collaborative behaviour by employers. (Paragraph 331)

34.Changes to the Corporate Governance Code may incentivise listed companies to change their behaviours: to offer apprenticeships, work placements, other experiences of the workplace such as mentoring, and to work with schools and colleges to promote opportunities to young people. (Paragraph 334)

35.An increased role for employers is fundamental to improving school to work transitions. (Paragraph 348)

36.Employers need an easier way to work with schools and colleges. Employers and schools need to be supported to work together to meet the needs of young people who do not follow an academic route to work. (Paragraph 349)

37.There is good practice to be found locally, but practice across the UK is varied. (Paragraph 350)

Developing a clearer policy framework and a more effective delivery mechanism: our recommendations

38.There is a need for more coherence in the UK Government’s policy governing the transition of young people into the workplace. The policy should set out a framework for school to work transitions from age 14 to age 19 and over. It should explicitly address the middle route to work, and the decision-making that takes place from 14 onwards, and set the standard for sharing best practice across the UK. (Recommendation 1) (Paragraph 370)

39.The transition stage should be considered to be from age 14 to age 19. Learning during this stage should include a core curriculum with tailor-made academic and/or vocational courses. It should aim to get as many people who can, up to a Level 3 qualification. There are three important strands to the framework:

(a)Clearer routes to good-quality work for those in the middle, brought about by local collaboration, to enable:

(i)vocational routes to work which are robust and high quality, do not close down future opportunities, and lead to worthwhile destinations. The work of the Sainsbury led review should contribute to this.

(ii)meaningful experiences of work, organised between the student, the school and a local employer, including work placements and work-based training. Any work experiences undertaken must have a clear aim and objective to prepare young people for work and life.

(b)A new gold standard in independent careers advice and guidance, supported by a robust evidence base and drawing on existing expertise, which moves responsibility away from schools and colleges (which would require legislative change) in order to ensure that students are given independent advice about the different routes and qualifications available, to include:

(i)independent, face-to-face, careers advice, which provides good quality, informed advice on more than just academic routes, so that individuals are able to make decisions based on sound knowledge of what is available.

(ii)a single access point for all information on vocational options, including the labour market returns on qualifications.

(c)Improved careers education in schools, to empower young people to make good choices for themselves, to include:

(i)information on labour market returns, which would include information about the financial prospects of different options, to inform and motivate young people.

(ii)data on local labour markets to inform the teaching of Life Skills, skills for life, and careers education. (Recommendation 2) (Paragraph 371)

40.This transition framework should be owned by, and be the responsibility of, a Cabinet-level minister, who will assume ultimate responsibility for the transition from school to work for young people. (Recommendation 3) (Paragraph 372)

41.Transitions from school to work should be supported by publicly available data, compiled by the relevant Government departments. This data should be made available to researchers so that they have access to earnings data, study patterns, and different demographic patterns, brought about by legislative change if necessary. (Recommendation 4) (Paragraph 373)

42.We recommend that the responsible Cabinet Minister should report on progress annually to Parliament. (Recommendation 5) (Paragraph 374)

43.Increasingly local labour markets and skills needs are being seen as a devolved responsibility, whether it is to conurbations such as London, Manchester or Leeds, or to rural areas such as Somerset or Lincolnshire. However, because administrative structures are so much in flux, there is often no focal point for action. The most valuable role the Government can take is to act as a facilitator, coordinating the efforts of its existing structures, and brokering collaboration between existing local bodies such as further education colleges, schools, local authorities, local enterprise partnerships and employers. (Recommendation 6) (Paragraph 375)

44.The Government should keep under constant review the degree of success of transitions into work for those in the middle. The Social Mobility and Child Poverty Commission should play a strong part in monitoring these transitions. (Recommendation 7) (Paragraph 376)

45.We therefore recommend that the Government should commission a cost benefit analysis of increasing funding for careers education in school and independent careers guidance external to the school in the context of social mobility. A report providing this analysis should be made to Parliament before the end of its 2016–17 session. (Recommendation 8) (Paragraph 377)

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