Michael Lemin, Policy and Research Manager, NCFE

Two Challenges 

The new Conservative Government must ensure:

  1. No 16-18 year old is left behind during a period of an expanding cohort of 16-18 year olds, and
  2. Level-up attainment of 16-18 year olds with special education needs and from poor and low middle income households. 

Two of the UK’s leading educational charities, NCFE and Campaign for Learning, have come together to discuss exactly that in their new pamphlet, titled ‘No 16-18 Year Old Left Behind’.

Funding Beyond the Cost of Provision

Tackling these challenges will require funding the 16-18 phase of education and training more equitably compared to pre-16 education and higher education. But the funding question goes beyond funding rates for provision and between academic and technical education.

A more generous, extensive, equitable and less complex system of financial support to parents and young people in full-time education and apprenticeships is needed. 

16-18 Year Olds must be In It to Win It

To achieve GCSEs in maths and English, Level 2 or Level 3 qualifications, 16-18 year olds must be participating in recognised education and training in the first place. Education policy makers should desist from putting the cart before the horse.

As the population of 16-18 year olds in England breaks the 2 million mark by 2024, now is the time for the Conservative Government to make effective the duty to participate to their 18th birthdays. 

Full-Time Study for Two Years from 17 to Achieve a Level 3 will not Suit Everyone

Whether a transition year at 16 is intended to facilitate progression to T Levels or A levels to achieve a Level 3, two years of full-time study will not be suitable for every 17 year-old.

Some young people might decide they have had enough of full-time study, however excellent the content and structure of T Levels might be. Others might wish to stay-on and benefit from the promise of a work placement but decide on financial grounds they cannot afford to do so.

The prospect of some money from minimum wage jobs at age 17, 18 and 19 might outweigh the limited amount of child benefit and uncertain eligibility for child tax credits to their parents, and uncertain eligibility for the 16-19 Bursary Grant and diminishing changes of getting a ‘Saturday’ job. 

Review Availability of Advanced Apprenticeships for 16-18 Year Olds

Advanced Apprenticeships for 16-18 year olds are an alternative pathway from A levels and T Levels to increase attainment at Level 3. Some 17 year olds might wish to progress to an Advanced Apprenticeship after completing a transition year.

Advanced Apprenticeships are seen as the gold standard for apprenticeships and there has been debate about limiting public funding to Level 3 Advanced Apprenticeships only. The reality is that the number of Advanced Apprenticeships at both 16 and 17 is a relatively small fraction of each cohort.

Even at age 18, the share is 4.5% or about 29,500. Crucially, the low number of Advanced Apprenticeships at age 16-18 predates the Apprenticeship Levy. The new Conservative Government should consider what steps can be taken to expand Advanced Apprenticeships for 16-18 year olds. 

Don’t Forget Level 2 and Below

The laudable aim of increasing progression and achievement at Level 3 by 16-18 year olds should not blind policy makers of the importance of Level 2 and below qualifications to many young people.

For some, achievement of a Level 2 or a Level 1 followed by a job is a personal success. 

A Brave Decision to Remove Funding for Level 2 Apprenticeships

Any decision to cease funding Level 2 apprenticeships from the Apprenticeship Programme Budget would have a negative impact on 16-18 year olds. More than 62,000 16-18 year olds are on Level 2 apprenticeships.

The new Conservative Government would need to insure against a rise in the number of 16-17 year olds not meeting the duty to participate and 16-18 year old NEET (not in education, employment or training) by funding an extra 62,000 places in full-time education at a cost of £250m. Of course, the NEET group could rise if 16-18 year olds turn their back on full-time education and decide to be unemployed instead.

A more sensible approach would be to guarantee funding for 16-18 year olds on apprenticeships by transferring the cost from the Apprenticeship Programme Budget to the 16-18 Education Participation Budget. 

Maintain Level 2 Qualifications

Achieving a Level 2 before progressing to a Level 3 is the norm in 16-18 education. Level 2 achievement between 16 and 19 increases by 20ppts to 84%. Young people with special education needs also do particularly well at Level 2.

And a 17 year old completing a transition year which does not have a standalone Level 2 qualification and decides not to enrol on a T Level would have little to show for it.

Level 2 qualifications should be maintained in full-time further education and form part of the T Level Transition Programme. 

GCSE Maths and English Re- sits: The Brexit Issue of 16-18 Education

Nothing quite like the maths and English GCSE re-sit policy ignites such polarised views in 16-18 education. It is the Brexit issue of the 16-18 phase. Progress is being made, but at what cost? For those who make the grade, the benefits should not be dismissed, but for those who repeatedly fail the impact can be devastating.

Consider, for example, 16-18 year olds with special education needs. At age 16, 22% have a GCSE grade 4+ in maths and English: by age 19, the proportion is 30%. This is of immense credit to them and their teachers. Many others, however, will have failed not once but twice or sometimes even more.

Compromises are in short supply but we need to break the re-sit impasse urgently. 

Child Benefit to Parents of Apprentices, EMAs for Young People

To underpin participation, and enhance the chances of achievement of all levels of education, the new Government should use the Budget and Spending Review to assess improvements to 16-18 financial support.

  • On the one hand, it should consider extending eligibility of child benefit to parents with 16-18 year olds on apprenticeships.
  • On the other, it should re-introduce Education Maintenance Allowances paid to 16-18 year olds in full-time further education. 

Michael Lemin, Policy and Research Manager, NCFE


No 16-18 Year Old Left Behind

The Spring Budget in March and Spending Review in the summer will be pivotal moments to see if the government will prioritise funding for the education and training of 16-18 year olds compared to other phases of the English system.

These will be against a background of reported 5% cuts in departmental spending and the apprenticeship budget facing overspend. The recent falls in the number of 16-18 year olds starting apprenticeships will also cause concern of a rise in the young people not in education, employment or training (NEET).

In this #No1618LeftBehind mini-series, leading authorities from across the education sector offer policies and measures to help the new Government level-up education and training opportunities for all 16-18 year olds in England: No 16-18 Year Old Left Behind - wherever they live.

 The authors are:


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