Improving the transition from school to work Contents

Chapter 6: Making transitions work for those in the middle

246.Over the course of our inquiry, we were told about what a good transition system should have to best support the move from school to work, further education or training. We wanted to know whether post-16 education gives all young people an equal opportunity to succeed.

The aim of post-16 education in England

247.From the Government’s viewpoint the purpose of education in England is suggested in the national curriculum framework which applies up to age 16. The curriculum’s aim is to provide “pupils with an introduction to the essential knowledge they need to be educated citizens.”390 This focuses on knowledge, rather than skills.

248.There is nothing similar for education after age 16. Professor Hodgson said: “It is very odd that we have no educational aims and purposes for the 16 to 19 phase … Particularly now that we have the raising of the participation age391 and young people have to stay on, we should say what we want to happen during that phase.”392 David Pollard called on the Government “to explicitly define the first priority and responsibility of the education system as being to prepare all our young people for adulthood and the world of work.”393

249.Many of our witnesses agreed that the development of Life Skills ought to be a feature of the curriculum, although they disagreed as to how embedded these skills should be.394 In Chapter 2 we discussed the value of communication and Life Skills; and evidence that school leavers do not have them. Preparation for the world of work needs to be taught in the curriculum.

Education from age 14

250.Currently the national curriculum ends at age 16 and so the education system is set up for transitions to work to begin at age 16. Notable exceptions to this are Studio Schools and University Technical Colleges (UTCs) which allow entry at age 14 and teach up to age 18 or 19, and are closely linked to employers.395

251.As it stands, the education system places an emphasis on completing the qualifications students need to transition into work within the two years from 16 to 18. During this time, young people are expected to get a Level 3 qualification. Professor Ann Hodgson said: “If a young person does not get to Level 3 by 18, we see that as a failure. That should not be seen as a failure; it should be seen as a step on the way, and we should be thinking about lifelong learning, not cutting people off at that point.”396 New Economy told us: “young people in this cohort are more likely to become part of a churn–not dropping out but equally not getting it right first time.”397

252.Although young people now have to remain in some form of education of training until they are 18, the Government told us: “The UK’s participation rate at age 17 (87%)398 was below the average participation rate of 34 OECD countries (90%) in 2012… our participation rate places us joint 26th out of the 34 OECD countries.”399

253.Historically, there has been a high drop out from education at age 16 and age 17. Some of our witnesses told us, “… there is historically more drop outs … from the general FE sector rather than the A-Level route.”400 This could be because, as Telford and Wrekin Council explained: “Compulsory education has had most of [the] young people [who will not follow an academic route] as a captive audience for 12 years.”401 And as Nacro said: “The way mainstream education is structured means vocational education at age 16 becomes an afterthought for many young people who would have engaged earlier on.”

254.In fact, Nacro said that as it stands: “Failure to address vocational education needs in mainstream schools either pre-16 or during post-16 career planning demotivates individuals, reduces confidence and self-esteem and therefore makes the transition to work and further education and training difficult.”402 Professors Hodgson and Spours agreed, and told us that their research had shown that a mix of general and vocational qualification for students aged 14-16 (Key Stage 4) “… had a highly motivating effect on sections of the 14-16 cohort and increased their aspiration to study post-16, particularly at Level 3.”403 This is not a new state of affairs. In 2004 the Tomlinson Report recognised 14–19 as a distinct stage, as did the Nuffield Review in 2009.

255.Charles Parker, Executive Director of the Baker Dearing Educational Trust, which is responsible for UTCs, suggested that “the national curriculum should end at 14.” He told us that this would give young people “a chance to follow their interests where they lie. This will help children who are otherwise at risk of becoming disengaged.”404 Other witnesses agreed.405

256.The decisions made at age 14 (simply in selecting which qualifications to complete) can have a long term impact on social mobility. The curriculum does not reflect that this is a key transition point in life, rather young people continue on an academic path until age 16. Being aware of vocational options at 14 can be an important motivator for non-academic teenagers who might otherwise find it difficult to imagine having a successful future. This has already been recognised by the Government with the creation of University Technical Colleges and Studio Schools. A mix of academic and vocational qualifications for the 16 year old may be the best option.

257.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.

258.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.

259.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.

260.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.

Level 3 qualifications

261.Other witnesses told us that one of the aims of post-14 education should be for as many young people as possible to gain a ‘full’406 Level 3 qualification.407 Those without a Level 3 qualification are likely to earn less over their lifetime.408 These students will be underqualified for high-level roles, which gives them no choice but to participate in low-level jobs. This is especially true when the decrease of mid-level jobs is taken into account. Three out of four of those who are in lower paid jobs are still in those jobs ten years later409, which suggests a lack of upward mobility.

262.Professor Green told us:

“The vulnerable group are the people who are not getting a full Level 3 qualification—who are getting the Level 1s and the Level 2s and various other qualifications that the Department for Education cannot even identify and people they cannot track.”410

Professor Roberts went further: “a lot of young people … get a [Level 1 or 2] qualification and cannot remember what it was. It is not worth the paper.”411

263.London Councils argued that the curriculum’s emphasis ought to be “on helping more young people achieve good Level 3 qualifications by the age of 19 and on achieving other good life outcomes, especially moving into and on in jobs.”412

264.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.

265.Young people in the middle may not follow a smooth trajectory and may need more time than the standard four years, ages 14–18, to get to Level 3. We recognise that Level 1 and 2 qualifications are also valuable for many young people. While these qualification may not all bring rewards in terms of extra premiums on earnings, they are important in helping young people gain confidence in themselves and in their ability to pass exams and in this sense provide a spur to further study. The system needs to be flexible, and the transition stage given more time, to allow young people to attain what they can, when they can.

Literacy and numeracy and digital

266.Witnesses told us employers value communication skills above all else. (See paragraphs 34–41). Some witnesses told us Maths and English at grade ‘C’ GCSE was vital for future success. In 2015, the House of Lords Committee on Digital Skills recommended that the Government’s aim should be that “No child [should leave] the education system without basic numeracy, literacy and digital literacy.”413 London Councils told us that it is an aim that “All young Londoners to have at least 100 hours of experiences of the world of work and a personalised digital portfolio.”414

267.The National Literacy Trust and others said many learners aged 16 do not have a good enough level of English of Maths.415 In June 2015 the Chartered Institute of Management Accountants (CIMA) reported that school leavers in the United Kingdom were “the worst in Europe for essential skills”. In January 2016 the OECD (the Organisation for Economic Co-Operation and Development) found that in 2012, out of 23 developed countries, English young people had the lowest literacy and the second to lowest numeracy.416

268.The OECD said more people should go to further education than university to learn basic skills. Our witnesses told us, however, there is weak provision in English and maths in further education providers.417 Ofsted said “in 2012/13, just one in six young people who had continued into the post-16 sector subsequently gained GCSE grades A* to C or equivalent in English and mathematics by the age of 19.”418 The OECD also found that those aged 50-65 had higher levels of literacy than those aged 16–24.

269.In 2013 the coalition Government made it a requirement to include English and maths training in post-16 study programmes.419 Those who fail to achieve a grade ‘C’ at GCSE will continue to work towards a ‘C’ alongside their other studies.420 Some of our witnesses did not think this was a good idea.421 For instance, the London Councils said: “… retakes can contribute to a sense of failure and potentially deter young adults from future learning.”422 There is also no requirement for vocational training courses to provide English and maths tuition above the age of 18.423

270.When employers talk about literacy, they actually mean the ability to communicate effectively. The National Literacy Trust told us that teachers and employers can mean different things when they talk about qualifications. For example ‘literacy’: “within the education space it is associated with skills needed to pass an exam, including reading and writing. However, business has a much wider definition with a focus on skills such as problem solving, teamwork and communication skills.”424 Businesses also look for basic mental arithmetic skills, ability to understand and work out percentages, write a decent business letter without spelling and punctuation errors.

271.Telford and Wrekin Council told us, for “Some young people, whilst not achieving the national expectations of A* to C in GCES’s, may have realised their potential academically, and already have worked hard to achieve the grades they have, even if these are below the national benchmarks. For these young people, it is a much harder transition to the labour market, given employer recruitment expectations, setting the entry requirements as GCSE A* to C.”425

272.The Learning Revolution Trust said English and Maths at GCSE should not be required for most jobs.426 Some witnesses called for greater recognition of functional skills instead.427 Functional skills are qualifications in English, maths and ICT that give learners the practical skills needed to live, learn and work successfully.428 Many employers, however, do not understand functional skills, preferring to rely on GCSEs and A-Levels.429

Eligibility for carers allowance and jobseekers allowance

273.Some of our witnesses told us the ‘16 hours rule’ prevents young people from continuing study. They said this rule is for people claiming Jobseekers Allowance but impacts young people with low or no incomes and low or no skill levels430 16 hours is the maximum number of hours young people can participate on a course or training for per week whilst still claiming Jobseeker’s Allowance or Universal Credit.

274.Traineeships are a stage before apprenticeship that should be seen as combining education and work-based training. But our witnesses said traineeships require young people to leave fulltime education—this should be changed so that young people can return to education easily, if they realise that the vocational route is not appropriate for their circumstance.431

275.The Science Council said similar tax breaks could be offered to those who offer traineeships as to those who offer apprenticeships (such as the non-payment of national insurance contributions if under 25).432

Young carers

276.Carers Trust, YMCA England and emfec told us that the current Government apprenticeship model is not suitable for some young people, such as young carers. They said many employment policies are too rigid and low paid.433

277.The eligibility criteria in the benefits system for the carer’s allowance requires that a person must:

278.Cardine, a young adult carer we met, told us that the hours she was restricted to studying meant that she could not get on to the course she wanted. She also told us: ““I cannot get funding to get onto an access course, and without that access course, I cannot go to college, and cannot go onto university. You have to have certain experiences and qualifications to get onto courses, which you cannot get if you are caring for somebody”435

279.NIACE and Inclusion recommended:

“The Department for Work and Pensions should re-examine eligibility rules for the Carers Allowance so that young adult carers in further education are not disadvantaged by exempting 18-21 year olds from the rules in Carer’s Allowance that prevent carers from learning for more than 21 hours per week”.436

280.The system is inflexible and appears to favour those from more advantaged backgrounds.

281.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.

Labour market information

282.The Government explained that one of the main aims of the area reviews of further education was to develop “better responsiveness to local employer needs and economic priorities.”437 It told us that it is “making the whole education system much more closely linked to the world of work to ensure children develop the character and resilience they need to succeed in life in modern Britain.” 438

283.Many of our witnesses told us training should then be matched to local labour market information.439 Some witnesses spoke about a “clear line of sight”440 through the education system to work. Labour market information from employers needs to be “continuously fed into the design of current and future programmes” to ensure that qualifications remain relevant.441 They said employers should be able to define the skills they need clearly.442 And work in collaboration with education. A number of witnesses said this was because employers are key beneficiaries of skills learnt.443

284.This already happens in some parts of the United Kingdom and Europe. The Government of Finland told us that “VET [vocational education and training] is developed together with many stakeholders by anticipating the quantitative need of labour and education as well as the qualitative demand for competencies. One of our many strengths is cooperation with stakeholders ….”444 In Switzerland “a statistical tool … monitors the match of apprenticeship demand and supply and is based on a written business survey carried out twice a year as well as on a telephone survey of young people between the ages of 14 and 20. In addition, the cantons carry out a monthly survey of supply and demand in the apprenticeship market.”445

285.In England, devolution—the transfer of certain powers and responsibilities from national government to a particular region—means Greater Manchester Combined Authority is responsible for the region’s skills.446 The Authority said the further education reform “taking place across Greater Manchester … will ensure that the system is responsive to labour market demand.”447

286.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.


390 Department for Education, The national curriculum in England: framework for Key Stages 1 to 4, (December 2014): https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/national-curriculum-in-england-framework-for-key-stages-1-to-4 [accessed 22 March 2016]

391 The raising of the participation age in England required young people in England to continue in education or training until the age of 18. Before, it had been 16.

392 Q 177 (Prof Ann Hodgson)

393 Q 75 (David Pollard)

394 Written evidence from CET (SMO0059); City & Guilds (SMO0073); NHS Employers (SMO0105); Forum of Private Businesses (SMO0048); ICAEW (SMO0063); Pret A Manger (SMO0041); Develop (SMO0003); The Found Generation (SMO0101); Inclusion Trust (SMO0107); ASDAN (SMO0054); Hertfordshire County Council, Hertfordshire Local Enterprise Partnership, and Youth Connexions Hertfordshire (SMO0026); Cascaid (SMO0061); KPMG (SMO0121); Young Enterprise (SMO0122); Social Policy and Research Centre, Middlesex University London (SMO0036); Barclays PLC (SMO0115); Federation of Small Businesses (SMO0096); PSHE Association (SMO0016); Future Advice Skills Employment Ltd (SMO0028)

395 University technical colleges (UTCs) are Government-funded schools that teach 14 to 18 year old students technical and scientific subjects. Studio Schools allow 14 to 19 year olds to study academic subjects through practical projects designed and delivered by employers. Pupils combine core GCSEs and vocational qualifications with real work experience.

396 Q 175 (Prof Kevin Orr)

397 Written evidence from New Economy (on behalf of Greater Manchester Combined Authority (SMO0088)

398 OECD (2014) Education at a Glance 2014, (October 2014), Table C1.1b: http://www.oecd.org/edu/Education-at-a-Glance-2014.pdf [accessed 22 March 2016]

399 Supplementary written evidence from HM Government (SMO0143)

400 Written Evidence from Herefordshire County Council (SMO0020); High Peak Borough Council & Staffordshire Moorlands District Council (SMO0068); London Councils (SMO0057)

401 Written evidence from Telford and Wrekin Council (SMO0009)

402 Written evidence from Nacro (SMO0123)

403 Written evidence from Prof Ann Hodgson and Prof Ken Spours (SMO0012)

404 107 (Charles Parker)

405 Written evidence from the British Chambers of Commerce (SMO0103)

406 The Government says a full Level 3 qualification is equivalent to an NVQ at Level 3, or 2 A-Levels.

407 See written evidence from the Local Government Association (SMO0011); London Councils (SMO0057)

408 Jonathan Birdwell, Matt Grist and Julia Margo, The forgotten half. A Demos and Private Equity Foundation Report. Demos (2011): http://www.demos.co.uk/publications/theforgottenhalf [accessed 22 March 2016]

409 ‘Poverty, work and low pay: the role of skills’, Adults Learning, (Spring 2014): http://shop.niace.org.uk/media/catalog/product/a/l/al_april_extra_issue_spring_2014_lr_final_10.4.2014.pdf [accessed 22 March 2016]

410 Q 30 (Prof Andy Green)

411 Q 30 (Prof Kenneth Roberts)

412 Written evidence from London Councils (SMO0057)

413 Select Committee on Digital Skills, Make or Break: the UK’s Digital Future (Report of Session 2014–15, HL Paper 111)

414 Written evidence from London Councils (SMO0057)

415 Written evidence from Mr Anthony Ryan (Headteacher, Chiswick School) (SMO0017); National Literacy Trust (SMO0014); YMCA Training (SMO0077); TQ Training (SMO0004); London Councils (SMO0057)

416 Malgorzata Kuczera, Simon Field, Hendrickje Catriona Windisch, OECD, Building Skills for All: A review of England (January 2016): http://www.oecd.org/unitedkingdom/building-skills-for-all-review-of-england.pdf [accessed 22 March 2016]

417 Written evidence from Ofsted (SMO0047); Dr Simon Reddy (SMO0006)

418 Written evidence from Ofsted (SMO0047)

419 Department for Education, 16 to 19 study programmes Departmental advice for education providers on the planning and delivery of 16 to 19 study programmes, (January 2016): https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/493452/16_to_19_study_programmes_departmental_advice_Jan_2016_update.pdf [accessed 22 March 2016]

420 Written evidence from HM Government (SMO0055)

421 Written evidence from Learning Revolution Trust (SMO0022); The Chartered Insurance Institute (SMO0106); TQ Training (SMO0004); London Councils (SMO0057)

422 Written evidence from London Councils (SMO0057)

423 Written evidence from Prof Alison Fuller and Prof Lorna Unwin (SMO0010)

424 Written evidence from National Literacy Trust (SMO0014)

425 Written evidence from Telford and Wrekin Council (SMO0009)

426 Written evidence from Learning Revolution Trust (SMO0022)

427 Written evidence from Learning Revolution Trust (SMO0022); The Chartered Insurance Institute (SMO0106); TQ Training (SMO0004); London Councils (SMO0057)

428 Pearson, Qualifications, ‘Functional skills’: http://qualifications.pearson.com/en/qualifications/edexcel-functional-skills.html [accessed 22 March 2016]

429 Written evidence from National Literacy Trust (SMO0014)

430 Written evidence from National Institute of Adult Continuing Education (NIACE) and Centre for Economic and Social Inclusion (Inclusion) (SMO0078); YMCA England (SMO0085); YMCA Training (SMO0077)

431 Written evidence from The Big Academy (SMO0116)

432 Written evidence from The Science Council (SMO0120)

433 Written evidence from Carers Trust (SMO0033); YMCA England (SMO0085); emfec (SMO0113)

434 HM Government, ‘Carers allowance’: https://www.gov.uk/carers-allowance/eligibility [accessed 22 March 2016]

435 Cardine, a young adult carer aged 22, participated in our focus group on 27 October 2015 (see Appendix 4)

436 Written evidence from National Institute of Adult Continuing Education (NIACE) and Centre for Economic and Social Inclusion (Inclusion) (SMO0078)

437 Written evidence from HM Government (SMO0055)

438 Ibid.

439 Written evidence from the LGA (SMO0011); Leeds City Region Enterprise Partnership (SMO0049); Brokerage Citylink (SMO0035); MiddletonMurray (SMO0013); Recruitment and Employment Confederation (SMO0075)

440 Written evidence from Leeds City Region Enterprise Partnership (SMO0049); London Councils (SMO0057); Edge Foundation (SMO0024); supplementary written evidence from Prof Alison Fuller and Prof Lorna Unwin (SMO0147)

441 Written evidence from New Economy (on behalf of Greater Manchester Combined Authority) (SMO0088); Association of Accounting Technicians (SMO0102)

442 Written evidence from Ofsted (SMO0047); The Chartered Insurance Institute (SMO0106)

443 Written evidence from New Economy (on behalf of Greater Manchester Combined Authority) (SMO0088); National Foundation for Educational Research (SMO0082); Federation of Small Businesses (SMO0096)

444 Written evidence from the Government of Finland (SMO0127)

445 Written evidence State Secretariat for Education, Research and Innovation (part of the Federal Department of Economic Affairs, Education and Research), Swiss Confederation (SMO0117)

446 HM Treasury and the Rt Hon George Osborne MP, Greater Manchester Agreement: Devolution to the Greater Manchester Combined Authority and transition to a directly elected Mayor (November 2014): https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/369858/Greater_Manchester_Agreement_i.pdf [accessed 22 March 2016]

447 Written evidence from New Economy (on behalf of Greater Manchester Combined Authority) (SMO0088)




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