Improving the transition from school to work Contents

Chapter 9: A clearer policy framework and more effective delivery mechanism

359.The previous chapters of this report have fully set out the issues and our views on the current transition into work for young people in the middle. In this final chapter, we consider how the current system might be improved and at the end we make a number of recommendations.

Social mobility in the transition from school to work

A lack of coherence

360.It is clear to us that the many strands of the current system—from changing the way employers recruit to ensuring the coherence of vocational routes to work—do not together form a coherent whole which we are confident would lead to successful progression for all young people. In 2014 the Social Mobility and Child Poverty Commission found no plan to prepare young people in the United Kingdom for the world of work.552 We are not aware that the position has improved since 2014.

361.We considered whether the Government should be asked to develop a single policy and asked the Skills Minister, Mr Boles, why one did not appear to exist. He told us that :

“I have no idea quite whether there are national strategies with capital Ns and capital Ss with a formal status, but I can reassure you that there is absolutely a national strategy with a small ‘n’ and a small ‘s’.”553

Frequent policy change

362.Without any obvious coherence, the transition from school to work for the young people we have focused on has been affected by a significant amount of policy change. Dawn Baxendale, Chief Executive of Southampton City Council, told us that “it has been a very changing landscape over a large number of years, with lots of policy changes and new organisations appearing and then understanding how everything is going to fit together.”554 This policy change has not promoted social mobility.

363.Other witnesses were more critical of the impact that the degree of policy change has had. The Learning Revolution Trust told us that “national policy has tended to define the majority of young people who do not progress to higher education as a problem which has consequently been subject to a series of inconsistent and ill thought out policy initiatives.”555 Sir Michael Wilshaw told us that “Post-16 [planning] is a mess in relation to organisation and provision and to ensuring coherence.”556 Manchester College said that this group “has not been overlooked by policy makers but, rather, has been subject to continual and radical policy change, under-resourced and denied any realistic planning horizon.”557 Some of our witnesses recommended “less policy churn and greater stability”.558

The Government’s role

364.It is clear from our diverse range of witnesses that a large number of organisations are seeking to support young people in the transition into work. We know that many of them are doing good work. However, we note the views of Professors Fuller and Unwin, who said: “Excellent practice … is fragmented and scattered across certain parts of certain sectors and institutions, and across the country. For young people (and indeed older adults) and for employers, this inconsistency is both wasteful and frustrating.”559

365.In our call for evidence, we asked who should be responsible for improving the transition into work for school leavers. Most of our witnesses were clear that it should be a joint effort (see paragraphs 341–350).560 Responsibility sits at various levels, in central, regional and local government but also in the education sector, industry, and the third sector, and of course with parents and school leavers themselves. All of these different layers of involvement need a degree of coordination to support the transition.

Responsibility within central government

366.A number of our witnesses told us that too many Government departments were working separately from one another in supporting young people’s transitions, resulting in gaps, contradictions and also duplication in provision. Further to this, we have highlighted the funding challenges created by two departments having responsibility for different areas in paragraphs 157–161.

367.This has been a long standing problem. City and Guilds told us that “there have been 61 Secretaries of State responsible for skills and employment policy in the last three decades, compared with 18 for schools policy and 16 for higher education”.561 The Young Women’s Trust told us that the involvement of too many departments has created an “accountability vacuum”.562 This means that it is harder to scrutinise the actions of those responsible for elements of the policies. Witnesses suggested that one organisation, within central Government, needs to have sole responsibility, in order to address this vacuum.563

The changing devolution settlement

368.Skills and education policies have been subject to significant and varying degrees of devolution and decentralisation in recent decades. These changes have only been gathering pace, which creates a degree of uncertainty over where the future level of decision making will lie. Decentralisation has not always been evenly applied, which brings with it further risks of uncertainty and inequality between regions.

369.In Chapter 8 we discussed the potential for local collaboration to be at the heart of efforts to support the transition from school to work and also to help to overcome regional disparities. It is clear that greater collaboration at the local level can lead to better outcomes for young people. The sheer scale and pace of decentralisation, coupled with its regional variation, make such efforts doubly important. These changes also put great emphasis on the need of central government to act to ensure that some regions, and the people in them, are not disadvantaged. It is to central government at the UK level that our recommendations below are addressed.

370.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)

371.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)

372.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)

373.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)

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

375.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)

376.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)

377.As we identified in Chapter 5, there is an important question over whether the resources available to schools for careers education are adequate. We recognise that in the current climate additional funding would have to be fully justified but this question needs to be addressed urgently. 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)

378.It is important that existing structures, which may be imperfect, should be refined and improved rather than added to. Coordinating the activities of national, regional and local stakeholders is no easy task, and as this chapter has shown is only getting more complex. As we have noted in the report, the degree of fragmentation and frequency and unpredictability of policy change has been undesirable.


552 Social Mobility and Child Poverty Commission, State of the Nation 2014: social mobility and child poverty in Great Britain, (20 October 2014) https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/state-of-the-nation-2014-report [accessed 22 March 2016]

553 Q 184 (Nick Boles MP)

554 Q 120 (Dawn Baxendale)

555 Written evidence from Learning Revolution Trust (SMO0022)

556 Q 113 (Sir Michael Wilshaw)

557 Written evidence from the Manchester College (SMO0053)

558 Written evidence from OCR (SMO0060). See also written evidence from City & Guilds (SMO0073); Impetus – The Private Equity Foundation (SMO0066); Prof Alison Fuller and Prof Lorna Unwin (SMO0010)

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

560 See written evidence from Written evidence from EMC (SMO0086); The Found Generation (SMO0101); London Councils (SMO0057); City Year UK (SMO0079); Hertfordshire County Council, Hertfordshire Local Enterprise Partnership, and Youth Connexions Hertfordshire (SMO0026); BAE Systems (SMO0114); The Edge Foundation (SMO0024); Impetus – The Private Equity Foundation (SMO0066); British Chambers of Commerce (SMO0103); Recruitment and Employment Confederation (SMO0075); National Literacy Trust (SMO0014); Barclays PLC (SMO0115)

561 Written evidence from City and Guilds (SMO0073)

562 Written evidence from Young Women’s Trust (SMO0046)

563 Written evidence from Prospects Services (SMO0091); Careers England (SMO0044); Young Women’s Trust (SMO0046); London Councils (SMO0057); Impetus – The Private Equity Foundation (SMO0066); National Union of Students (SMO0080); emfec (SMO0113); British Chambers of Commerce (SMO0103); National Institute of Adult Continuing Education (NIACE) and Centre for Economic and Social Inclusion (Inclusion) (SMO0076); Trades Union Congress (SMO0104); Careers South West (SMO0095); London Councils (SMO0057); Aspire Group (SMO0007)




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