From education to employment

Pulling back the curtain: where young people are now

As the UK officially passes into recession and we prepare ourselves for a Christmas that looks likely to be characterised by soaring energy bills and industrial action, three new sets of statistics were released last week that give us crucial insight into what life is currently like for the nation’s young people. This fresh data opens a window into our young people’s likelihood of being suspended or excluded, their likelihood of being out of both education and employment, and their employment outcomes. 

During school shutdowns which have caused learning loss on a scale yet to be fully quantified, young people’s chance of being suspended or excluded fell during Covid-19 restrictions. As was predicted post-pandemic, last week’s data shows that the number of suspensions and permanent exclusions experienced by students is again going up, closer to though not yet reaching pre-Covid-19 levels. We know that academic outcomes for these young people, particularly those who are excluded is poor – only 4.7% of students who sit their GCSEs outside of mainstream schooling, meaning in an alternative provision school for excluded and suspended students, receive their English and Maths GCSEs. That stands in contrast with 65% of students in mainstream school.

The importance of English and Maths GCSE

Impetus’ own research has established the vital importance of English and Maths GCSE to securing a young person’s future – we found that 29% of young people lacking these important qualifications were NEET at age 18, in comparison to 15% who do have them. To increase our shared understanding of the medium- and long-term effects of suspensions on students, Impetus is currently funding research that will investigate in depth the impact the suspensions and multiple suspensions on a young person’s attainment and employment outcomes.

This work is vitally important because last week’s data also adds to evidence which shows that some groups of young people are more likely to be excluded or suspended. For example, students from disadvantaged backgrounds (those eligible for Free School Meals) face a nearly quadrupled risk of being suspended.

The worrying increase in young people who are NEET

The second tranche of data released last week tells us more about the number of young people in the UK who are NEET. The data reveals that the number of young people who are NEET has increased between the second and third quarters of this year, from 711,000 to 724,000. This means the NEET rate for those aged 16 to 24 remains at above one in ten. Worryingly, the increase has also nearly entirely been driven by women.

To get under the hood of NEET figures like this, Impetus is building on its ground-breaking Youth Jobs Gap work in 2023 by investigating the relationship between a young person’s chances of being NEET and disadvantaged, while looking into protected characteristics such as race and gender. This will enable a deeper understanding of the issue of NEETs in the UK, pushing forward policy thinking on how to move these young people into learning or earning. Doing so is vital because the NEET status carries with it the risk of serious economic scarring and negative long-term impacts on a young person’s earning potential, job satisfaction and even mental health. This is a particular issue for disadvantaged young people, who our Youth Jobs Gap work has already established are twice as likely to be NEET as their better-off peers.

The LEO dataset

It is due to the existence of the Longitudinal Educational Outcomes (LEO) dataset that we can generate insights such as these. The LEO dataset connects individuals’ education data with their employment, benefits, and earnings data. New data from LEO is the third important set of statistics in terms of understanding the current experiences of young people that was released last week.

Concerningly for all those who advocate for young people from disadvantaged backgrounds, the new LEO data on university graduates shows that those young people who are eligible for Free School Meals were less likely to be in sustained employment or further study post-degree than better-off graduates. Graduates from disadvantaged backgrounds also had median earnings lower than their peers, by 8.9% a year after graduation and over 10% five years later.

What do these figures show?

These findings highlight the risks of using outcomes data as the main tool for valuing higher education courses. Are many universities less good at supporting young people from disadvantaged backgrounds into employment? Are universities with lots of young people from disadvantaged backgrounds less effective? Or do young people from disadvantaged backgrounds face other barriers to employment that aren’t meant to be solved by getting a degree? If you ignore these questions and instead label some courses “low value” instead, all you do is disincentivise universities from taking on the young people with the fewest options – which is not what anyone intends.

In combination these figures show that hundreds of thousands of young people are already struggling, and this is particularly true for young people from disadvantaged backgrounds. As we look to the coming months, to the recession and who is likely to be most impacted, it’s almost certain that young people from disadvantaged backgrounds – who are already 40% less likely to pass English and maths GCSE, and twice as likely to be out of a job – will fall further behind. As we enter what will hopefully be a period of Ministerial stability, DfE, DWP and the wider sector must make sure that all young people – regardless of their background – are getting the support they need.

By Phoebe Arslanagić-Wakefield, Senior Policy Advisor, Impetus

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