Improving the transition from school to work Contents

Appendix 4: Note of Focus Group: Tuesday 27 October 2015

On 27 October, the Committee met with eleven people aged between 19 and 24 to discuss a number of key issues in relation to the focus of the inquiry. The session was facilitated by UpRising, a UK-wide charity which runs leadership and employability programmes for 16-25 year olds. The participants in the focus group were invited from the Cardinal Hulme Centre, the Carers Trust, the Prince’s Trust, St Christopher’s Fellowship and the Young Women’s Trust.

Format of the focus group

The participants were split into three random groups, and were joined by two or three members of the Committee, and a member of the secretariat. They were asked to discuss four questions as groups and then to feed back to the group as a whole. The following reflects the points made in the discussion, and identifies the participants only when they have given their express permission to do so.

The questions the participants were asked to consider were:

1.Do you feel there are a wide variety of options for school leavers? Did you feel supported in this decision?

2.How do you feel this has affected your career options? What part did work experience play in this?

3.What are the jobs and employers for school leavers in your local areas? What do you need to get one of these jobs? How did you find out about them?

4.What skills do you think employers look for in recruits? Where do you think you can access these skills?

Discussions on the tables

1.Do you feel there are a wide variety of options for school leavers? Did you feel supported in making decisions when leaving school?

Vincent, 22, lived in a young people’s hostel. He thought that the options you had depended on the area in which you went to school and the background. The school he went to in Walthamstow did not have a wide variety of options. Vincent used to go to a school which has now been closed down. The standards of the school were bad and it was considered one of the worst schools in the country. He was severely bullied and because of this was pulled out of the school system by his parents in year 9. He then received private tuition at home. This gave him time to focus on what he would like to study–which led to him developing an interest in art. He spent five to six hours a day learning about art history, art movements and artists. Now he has gone on to have a successful career in art. He would not have been able to do this in the state education system due to the amount of time spent on other things. At school he felt there was constant disruption in every lesson and no learning took place. Friends of his who completed the same curriculum are all working on building sites or are unemployed, and he is the only one who has gone on to do something creative.

Sonic, a young adult carer, thought that there was not a wide choice of options available to him. He found that there was not enough support at school to get the grades required to go to university. Despite this he did pass his GCSESs, but did not pass his A-Levels. He felt that this was due to the large gap between GCSE and A-Levels and that there was no support system in place in schools where he could speak openly and confidentially about his situation. As a result, he felt disillusioned and let down by the education system. He took a Level 2 diploma at college one day a week in tiling and plastering. This fitted in around his work and caring role. He put everything he could into his work and if he had not, the lack of support would have resulted in him not succeeding.

“If I didn’t plough everything into work I’d end up crumbling because there wasn’t any sort of support there for me, personally. I wish there was someone … it doesn’t have to be often, but there was no one there who could pick up on anything.”

Sonic, a young adult carer

Teachers picked up on his dropping grades, but because of his caring background he did not have the time to complete homework.

Sofia, a care leaver who is living independently, was in care and had a carer who was mentally abusive. As a result, she missed a lot of school. Her school did not care or try to find out why. She would miss class because of her mental state and the school would not find a way of helping her to catch up on what she had missed. When she finished school she was forced to join sixth form.

Cardine, a carer aged 22, stated that she was in the same position that she was in at the age of 16, and that there was no realistic choice for her to make. Her ambition was to work in mental health care, or to be a midwife but the qualifications available to her did not meet her ambitions.

“I feel like a chess piece in a game because someone is making the moves for me”

Cardine, a carer aged 22

Balqis left school after not being able to go onto sixth form and only being offered a place on a beauty course. She had a child at the age of 17 and found returning to work and education difficult. As a French citizen, she had no access to help and childcare support which made it more difficult to get a qualification. She did use Connexions advisers, but her childcare responsibilities were a barrier to employment. Following support from the Prince’s Trust, she is a secretary for Standard Life and works in the Gherkin in London. Both her children go to school, and she can afford to pay her childcare.

“I still had the barrier of having children which prevented me from going back to college. I was in a limbo where I really wanted to go back but my kids were too young to go to school, and I would have to wait until they were 5. I asked myself what am I going to do until then? I left school when I was 16/17 and I’m going to start fresh again back when I’m 23 (the age I am now).”

Balqis, aged 23, a young mother

2.How do you feel this has affected your career options? What part did work experience play in this?

Khiry felt that his options at the age of 16 were not good, and were not in line with his aspirations. He completed a four week placement of work experience with Tesco’s, and for the past three months has been permanently employed. He said at times it could be a little bit stressful, but all in all he likes the environment and everyone was friendly. Khiry had a bereavement early in his life, and although his guardian supported him as much as they were able to, he felt he did not have a suitable support network around him. Following the closure of Connexions, he felt that career options were disappearing for young people.

“Apart from the Prince’s Trust, when I was looking for work at 19 years old there was no support work. I remember going to the Job Centre at the start, and they were not supportive. In terms of career options available to me, Connexions (around about 2011) had just shut down and career options available to help young people were shutting down so it was quite a challenging time for me.”


Cardine said that she needed funding to get on to an access course, and that the current system prevents her from participating on courses without certain experiences or qualifications.

“I cannot get funding to get onto an accesss 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.”

Cardine, a young adult carer, aged 22

Tomas, 21, completed secondary school but failed most of his exams. Initially when he left school, he went to a sixth form college but was asked to leave the first college he attended after three months, and the second college after four months, because he lacked motivation. He was not sure about what he wanted to do and did not receive any careers advice. He attended the Jobcentre but found that the service was not very personalised and that his choices were limited. Tomas felt that there were limited options and a lack of information for young people.

“[On sixth form] I wasn’t motivated. I just felt like it wasn’t me or what I wanted to do. It wasn’t very practical, it was more academic. I’m a practical person, and a practical learner.”

Tomas, Administrator at Systech International, aged 21

Kristyn, 23, moved to the United Kingdom from Venezuela in 2011. She wanted to go to university in the United Kingdom but the fees were too expensive. When she arrived in the United Kingdom, she worked as a waitress but did not really enjoy it.

Amber attended a girl’s grammar school. She did not particularly enjoy school but got relatively good grades. She left school at 16 and completed a one-year media course at a further education college. Amber said that the only advice she received at school was that you have to go to university and get a degree. All of her friends went on to higher education but Amber chose to do an apprenticeship in digital marketing, which she found online on the Government apprenticeships website. Her first apprenticeship (a Level 2) was terrible; she was not enrolled in any training and left after six months. Her second apprenticeship (a Level 3) at YouTube was much better and enabled her to get her current job at a small company.

“Where I grew up, we were told you have to go to university—all of my friends are at university. I chose to do an apprenticeship instead. There was no advice on apprenticeships, it was just seen as something only bricklayers, only plumbers do”.


Amber felt that having only a handful of GCSE’s affected her career options on leaving school because there were so many people seeking work with higher qualifications.

Amber said that her work experience at school was terrible. She spent one week at a stables, sweeping the floor, and a week at her school library, making cups of tea for the librarian. As she lived in a small town in rural Lincolnshire, there were not very many businesses in the local area that could offer a wide variety of work experience. Her school maintained a database of local employers that you could choose from but if you wanted to go beyond that you had to organise it yourself.

Kristyn found it difficult because she did not have any work experience in the United Kingdom and English was not her first language. She tried to get experience in retail but struggled to get work. She recently started the Prince’s Trust Enterprise Program, which includes a series of workshops on how to start and run your own business and provides mentoring, and would like to run her own retail fashion business.

Tomas was born in Lithuania and moved to the United Kingdom when he was 8 years old. At first, he did not speak any English and had to adjust to a different culture. He said that now knowing different languages is an advantage. He was bored by secondary school and did not take it very seriously. After he was asked to leave college, he completed a railway engineering course but lost his job as his drink was spiked at a university campus. He thought that his life was over and that he had no career choices. Tomas completed a two-week ‘Get into Admin’ course with the Prince’s Trust which completely changed his life. A week after he completed the course, he started working as an administrator for a construction consultancy, Systech International.

“I left school at 16 and the options were not great for me. I did not have anyone who could sit down with me and go through the options available to me. If I had had the help, I might have been able to make a decision. In that time, I was in my shell. Maybe I could have asked for help, but I was insecure and didn’t feel able to ask.”


Balqis emphasised that the Prince’s Trust did not hand her things on a plate and that she had to work hard to make the most of her options. The Prince’s Trust did give her the confidence to believe in herself, and to appreciate that she had more to offer than she had previously recognised.

Cardine felt that a lack of work experience has limited her options, as she was given few options and was not in a position to participate in many of them. Khiry felt that there was not enough jobs available for school leavers.

Sofia was affected quite a lot as she wanted to be an animal psychologist. There was no support and when she left school and tried to go to college there were not any courses suitable for her to study animal psychology as she just had GCSE. Because of her mental health she found it hard to stay in classes and the college did not understand why. She left school when she was 15.

Sonic could not do what he wanted to do. He wanted to become a doctor but as did not get the grades couldn’t go to university because of the grades he got. There is no way to become a doctor without going to university. He said he has a good job now and worked full time as a salesman and cannot complain with what he has got, but he felt it was not what he wanted to do for the rest of his life. But he was stuck with what he was doing. He was still caring for his mum. He worked full time, normally 40 plus hours per week, plus his caring role.

Vincent said because he was pulled out of the system, at GCSE and A-Level time he was not on the register at any school and that meant he would have had to pay for test privately–each test was around £500. He was therefore not able to take exams due to the financial circumstances of his family. The school tried to take his parents to court for taking him out of school. He now worked quite a lot in his art career. It took a long time to develop to get to the stage he was at, and galleries were starting to become interested in his work. He tried to link in with a lot of charities. He was now happy with where he was but a lot of obstacles got in the way. He went to college to try to get the grades to get into university, but dropped out due to universities tripling their fees, and this led to him becoming an alcoholic.

Sofia said because she left her carer she had no income so once she turned 18 she had to provide for herself. Her rent was expensive so she did not have enough time to work and to go to college to get the amount of money she needed.

Sonic said he would like to find himself something else to do. He would go back to college if he had the money. He said if you got over the age of 21 no one supported you financially and when you were running your own house it became increasing more difficult to warrant paying out for a course at college.

“I feel like I’ve been given a spade and told to dig and left in that hole, and there’s no one there to pick you out.”

Sonic, a young adult carer

Vincent, Sofia and Sonic felt unsupported and on their own.

3.What are the jobs and employers for school leavers in your local areas? What do you need to get one of these jobs? How did you find out about them?

Khiry said that developers and local councillors should have the responsibility and duties to create jobs for local people. He felt that although it is often said that this will happen, more could be done to make it the reality. There are a lot of opportunities in his borough, but they seem to rarely go to people who live there.

“They need to create more opportunities for more local people as they know the area better. No discrimination, but local people should be considered first and any jobs which are left over should then be offered to people outside of the borough.”

Khiry, on local employment opportunities

Balqis told us about the scheme offered by Standard Chartered in Edinburgh, called the Edinburgh Guarantee Scheme. Under this scheme, the Company recruits school leavers to give them exposure to the corporate world. They take on approximately 16 people a year for six months, and if they make a positive impact whilst there, their contract can be extended. Balqis felt that this was an excellent opportunity for these school leavers, and that more companies should look to do similar.

Cardine said that most jobs require six months formal experience at least–in particular for care jobs. She was a carer and had personal experience, but jobs such as ones available in care homes, require formal, hands-on experience. She has personal experience and knows how to wash, clean and control medication but felt that there is a limit on how much personal experience can be used in an interview.

“Basically, most of the jobs require six months experience at least–particularly with care jobs. I’m based in Ipswich. I am a carer and have personal experience, but jobs in care homes for example, require formal, hands on experience. I’ve got years of personal experience and I know how to wash and clean, and medicine control. There is only so much you can talk about yourself and your personal experience in an interview. At the end of the day, the recruiters are always going to go for someone who has experience of similar jobs. I’ve applied for so many apprenticeships. I always seem to get missed: I think this may be to do with my age as I’m 22 and have no prior work experience. I saw an apprenticeship for £400 a month, and that’s all I’m asking for–just to get me started somewhere. I don’t ask for anything else.”

Cardine, a young adult carer, aged 22

Khiry said that a lot of young people he spoke to wanted to do an apprenticeship but that it was hard to actually get into an apprenticeship. When they went to college, the college would say: you need an employer. He wondered how these young people could find an employer without an apprenticeship.

In her home town, Amber said that there were a few apprenticeships for school leavers but these were mostly low-level apprenticeships in a fish and chip shop or packing flowers or food in a factory (Customer Service (Level 2)). Her sister, who is 16, is currently working in McDonalds and can’t find real apprenticeships.

Sonic said that jobs in his local area were all part time and zero hours contracts. Full time jobs did not exist. He was lucky to start working part-time at 16 that was part-time weekend work and progressed with the same company.

All three said their lack of education was a big stumbling block.

“If only one person is for you and everyone is against you, you end up breaking down and believing that people are against you.”

Sofia, a care leaver living independently

Vincent said that when he was doing art around age 18 he would attend the job centre, but the job centre viewed an art career as unrealistic as he had no qualifications. They would ask him why he did not get a ‘proper job’. The job centre recommended a part time voluntary job on a recycling plant, which was not what he wanted to do. He wondered why the job centre could not find him anything useful to do. He had no careers advice.

Sofia had a really good careers advisor who supported her but the whole school was against him in the decision to get her into college.

Sonic said careers guidance was limited. Unless you actively sought their help, they would not come to you. He went to a workshop at Connexions who helped him with his CV and help with interviews, which he had not had before.

Sofia told us charities try to help her now because she lives in a hostel. She was now with a charity called Jobs in Mind, which specialises in supporting people with mental health issues. She said that they understood and supported her, and that a worker would travel with her to her meetings if she felt panicked. Some charities are really good but difficult to get in to. Job centres are not supportive. When she wanted to go back to college the job centre worker said ‘who is going to pay your bills?’ so she did not go back to college.

4.What skills do you think employers look for in recruits? Where do you think you can access these skills?

“The interviewer was not looking for experience, he did not care that I did not have qualifications: he wanted me to be able to learn from the experience I was going to get. He liked my personality and said that he felt that I was hungry to learn and that my personality came across well in the interview.”


Balqis’ job interview for her current job was arranged by the Princes Trust. On the day, her son was unwell and she arrived at the interview with her children. She received feedback on the interview before she was told she had been successful. She was told that the interviewer felt that attending the interview with her children was a demonstration of her commitment. She felt fortunate that the interview was not looking for experience, or for qualifications, but was looking for the ability to learn from the experience the job offered. The interviewer liked her personality and felt that she was hungry to learn.

Khiry felt that determination was important, and doing research on what the job entails before an interview. Cardine said that organisation skills, people skills and Life Skills are important but it depended on what kind of job was being applied for.

“I try to apply the Life Skills to the scenarios. Life skills are useful because they mean you can think about the perspective of the employer.”


Balqis felt that her Life Skills helped her get her job. She felt that the skills she had as a mother were identified by the interviewer and translated into the workplace. Her role as a secretary is a first step in her career, and she hopes to use in her future career the Level 3 qualification in education and training she completed whilst volunteering for the Prince’s Trust.

“I’ve got the skills, I’ve got the qualifications to be a team leader and I need to just find the opportunity to be one. I just need the door to open one day.”


Khiry initially wanted to do something in horticulture, and then something in customer and retail services. People around him have told him he should be a politician as he speaks with passion about certain issues.

Cardine said that she was really interested in midwifery. She would also like to volunteer with young carers, as similar support helped her when she was younger. If she cannot do this, she would like to work in mental health or social work.

Tomas felt that the level of Life Skills required depended on the job. Employers look for qualifications on CVs and think if someone is capable of study, they are capable of learning on the job. He said that qualifications made the initial sift easier when recruiting. Tomas said that if he could go back he would work harder at his GCSEs and get a degree because it opened more doors. He did want employers to see the other side though.

Kristyn said, depending on what job you were applying for, the most important thing was work experience in the sector.

Amber said that there are now apprenticeships in everything that meant you could be paid £3 per hour. In her first apprenticeship, the whole company, from marketing to payroll, apart from the Managing Director were apprentices.

Vincent said a lot of employers look for qualifications. There was a common misconception that youth are not interested in politics but he has been interested from a young age but three is no information or access. There is no information about the skill set needed to get into politics. Employers like to see A-Levels or that you come from a good school. Someone from Oxford or Cambridge.

Sofia did not believe that employers looked for skills over qualifications. She said employers say recruits need work experience. She did not have any work experience when she was first applying for jobs as she had just left school. Lots of young people complain about not having enough experience and the voluntary experience they have does not count. She had been to a few job interviews recently to help her get over her anxiety. Employers were starting to do interviews with big groups and that was intimidating for some people. She said she was a hard worker when she was in work but at an interview she was quiet and she usually does not stand out.

Vincent said at home he had access to internet and a computer. His school did not do anything to help. The company who managed the school were receiving money for each child attending the school.

Sonic said he had support from his family. Sofia said there was support available in the hostel but a lot of people needed support and some workers were quite judgemental.

Group feedback

5.What would you like to see changed? Broadly, or in reference to any of the questions?

Sonic felt that that there needed to be more support for people through the education system. He thought that many of the people participating in the focus group felt they were let down by the education system, and did not have support from teachers or carers, and that this needs to change.

“There needs to be someone there that we should be able to go to and speak to confidentially, with the confidence that they are going to be able to help us.”


Khiry supported this, and felt it needs to change so that the next generation coming through gets a better quality of support when moving from 16-18 and 19 and upwards. Cardine said that young people need more awareness in order to make good decisions, and that people like those participating in the focus group should go and speak to schools and colleges. They have had the experiences, and passion, and young people would be interested in hearing from them as they know where they are coming from.

“We are all passionate about these issues, and we are going to talk to them on their level and we’ve been in their situation. We want to make it right.”


Khiry felt that advertisement of possible career paths had decreased and a lot of the young people he has spoken to do not know what they wanted to when they leave school. Some felt that they were under pressure to attend university, and others wanted to do an apprenticeship but found it hard to get on to one.

“The society we live in is demanding and puts a lot of pressure on young people nowadays.”


Sofia said it was only when she left school and looked into career options that she found different careers, but she still had no idea of how to get there. She said schools did not have knowledge of different careers. There was nothing very different from the ‘norm’ in school in terms of options, she had to wait until she went to college but then it is extremely scary.

Tomas said that a lot charities work with people after they have left school but it is too late. It is good that they provide support but a lot of it lacks personal development. There isn’t much practical learning in schools, it is mostly theory, and there is not much choice. It is how to build someone else’s business. You need someone to sit down with young people, in a confidential manner, and ask what they want to be. Teachers can see whether students are more practical or theoretical but because teachers don’t have a choice they tell students to get back into the classroom.

Vincent said that whilst he was at school, a lot of people wanted to go on and do something great with their lives: they wanted to be artists, or musicians, something in the creative sector. He felt that the state education system does not support these creative career paths. Instead, the school shut down these options saying they were not viable careers.

6.Was it difficult to get on career paths when you left school?

Khiry felt that it was hard. When he was 19 years old and looking for work, the cuts started. This was when he started to feel the pain of looking for work. He would send his CV and never hear anything. He wanted to do horticulture when he left school. He was passionate about it, and looking for a role in this field at the age of 18 and 19. He used to send his CV into hundreds of employers and some of them would never get back to him.

“I used to send in my CV hundreds of times, and some of them would never get back to me. It was heart breaking, at least you’d want some feedback.”


Balqis felt that as people mature, they realise that their confidence has been broken down by schools. Schools segregate students into three categories: lower level, intermediate level, and then the higher level.

“In my school all the teachers were only interested in the students who were getting A’s and A*s. the ones who were going to pass 100 per cent. They just left the rest to themselves and so that is what breaks the confidence and self-belief of these people.”


Cardine felt that she did not have choices at school and she was told what to do effectively. She feels that this has still affected her now. She is 22 and left school when she was 16. The advice she was given made her think because she was a carer that was all she could do. This knocked her confidence and she felt that caring is her only thing as she is known as someone who cares for her mother. She felt that she should not be made to feel like that. She felt that it affects people if they do not have the right choices in places and the right support in life. The repercussions of these choices will have a long term impact.

“You get to a cutoff point at 19 or 21 and then bish bash bosh, that’s it, you’re done.”


Sofia said that a lot needed to be changed in the Jobcentre. She felt that they were worse than schools in suppressing people. When she went to the Job Centre, and wanted to go back to college, they said to her “what are you going to do about money, isn’t this a stupid decision?” This tore her down and made her think they were right that she should not go back to college.

Vincent is working as an artist, and has got quite a good career going as an artist. When he went to the Jobcentre and looked to apply for jobs in the arts sector, there were none available and he was told by advisers that it was not a viable career. Instead he was told to look to recycle tin cans. He was offered job placements sorting through trash at a recycling centre.

Khiry felt that dealing with the Jobcentre was depressing. He said that they should not be giving the advice they are giving as it can damage someone. It starts from the top and works its way down. He felt that when you go in, they need to sit down with you and ask what is going on. They see only a small circle of your life. They get you on their books and want you off them. This is where he has a lot of respect for charities like the Prince’s Trust. They sit down with people, understand what their life was and where they are coming from, and ask what they can do to help that individual. A lot of people had told him about bad experiences with the Job Centre. When you go in there they don’t want to sit down with you and ask what the problem is. He saw it as two circles. The small one was what you want in your life. The big one was outside problems. He felt that the Jobcentre did not care about the big circle and your outside problems. All they cared about is their job and what they have to realise is that people have outside problems, and once that gets fixed, you can start focusing on other things.

Khiry felt that local employers and job opportunities in local areas are essential. He lives in Haringey, and right now they are trying to regenerate it. It is meant to give local jobs for local people but he thinks that this not going to happen. Those local jobs will not go to local people. They will most likely go to people outside of the borough. There is not much local opportunity in Tottenham. Tomas said that they tend to outsource them like in East London and the Olympic Village. He felt that there was a focus on London and it is a problem that people there cannot get local jobs but you cannot only focus on it. He said you feel so far away from starting yourself a career if you are outside of London.

Amber grew up in Lincolnshire. All the jobs there are factory jobs, field jobs or retail jobs (McDonalds, Costa). She works in marketing and could not do this in her home town. She has to be in London to do what she does. Amber said that there was a massive job shortage outside of London for career jobs. Tomas felt that jobs need to be outsourced from London and connected somehow.

Khiry said he sees a lot of job losses in factories. Once it has gone, where are the jobs locally for those people? There are no opportunities outside of London. At the same time, when you are in London, there needs to be more opportunities in the local area, because he did not think there was enough.

Vincent got pulled out of the state education system in year 9 and put his time and energy to focusing on building career as an artist. He did not get a lot of support from the education system.

“Where I got to where I am now is through my own determination, and dedication towards it. It has taken a long time now and now I’ve got galleries interested in my shows and I’m selling my paintings for a reasonable amount of money. It has taken a long time for me to get here and I’ve received little to no support whatsoever.”


Tomas got onto an administration course with the Prince’s Trust, and a year and three months later he is still at Systech International (Construction Consultancy). He continues to develop his skills, he plans on studying and getting into internal recruitment. He believes that timing is important and with confidence, professional and personal development will come naturally.

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