FE Voices

Dr Sue Pember CBE, Policy Director, Holex

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It is time to regroup and determine an offer for the 16-18 year old that the school system forgot

I meet many young people who through no fault of their own have found it impossible to get 5 GCSEs at level 4.

Many have known from the age of 11 that they have already been written off but still turn up every day to go through the same despair and demoralisation of sitting in lessons where achieving success was outside their reach.

Some don’t bother turning up as, in their mind, nobody would miss them and, if they do turn up, their boredom stemming from frustration of “just not getting it” leads to disruptive behaviour.

So, their logic is “if I’m not there then at least I don’t get into trouble”.

The 40% without 5 ‘Good’ GCSEs including Maths and English at 16

Every year around 40% of our young people don’t get 5 GCSEs including English and maths and their options are being curtailed.

Traditionally they would have been able to attend college or go on to an apprenticeship and study a level 2 qualification - a trade, a purpose which would allow them to reset and redefine their lives - no longer a failure, and chance to start a career - having pride when asked what they are doing- able to say, “I’m on a Level 2 in plumbing, or plastering, a care course or business admin” and slowly changing their attitude to learning, gaining confidence and seeing life is worth living.

Eroding Options

But by default - I am still hoping it wasn’t by design - those options are being eroded. The unintended consequences of the apprenticeship changes are that fewer young people are pursuing a Level 2 standard qualification and, in some crucial areas, there isn’t one available even though employers have requested it.

And, with T levels being offered only at Level 3 coupled with the threat that vocational qualifications will be turned off, there is now little investment into updating the college/centre- based Level 2 vocational offer.

Beware of Offering ‘More of the Same’ 

The DfE line seems to be that there is no need to worry as they are developing a transitional year? That just doesn’t cut it with young people - another a year of the same, is a year lost where they could be learning new applied skills.

There is no pride in saying “I’m on a transition programme”, it may as well be rebranded as a remedial year because that’s what it sounds like. Traineeships are little no better: true there are some good programmes, but they are only suitable for certain types of individual and they still delay learning a skill for another year.

A New Offer

It’s time to stop this erosion and think again – and ask what will give pride and enthusiasm back to these young people?

It’s not rocket science, we can do this, but we must work quickly before the infrastructure is lost.

We need to restore a Level 2 offer in apprenticeships, and we need to safeguard the vocational Level 2 offer we currently have in all the key subjects. We should have a system which is built on what young people want and need - so for those who want a Level 2 apprenticeship there should be one out there and, for those who want to go to college to learn a new skill, they should have that option.

Young people have no issue with going back to college. The policy resistance to a Level 2 offer seems to stem from some misconstrued interpretation of the value of Level 2 vocational courses.

Research shows that the benefits of following a Level 2 compared with doing nothing makes it well worth doing - something Level 2 learners always knew.

So, let’s invest in and celebrate a Level 2 pathway built around excellent classroom practice, skills acquisitions and enhanced learning including improving literacy, numeracy and confidence building skills.

What Should be Done?

  1. The first action is for DfE to conduct a stock take of Level 2 vocational programmes - classroom learning and apprenticeships - to ensure there are clear progression routes.
  2. Second, the Institute for Institute for Apprenticeships should develop Level 2 Apprenticeships in key areas as a matter of urgency, starting with business administration, plumbing and plastering.
  3. And thirdly, investment going into traineeships and the transition year should be redirected into building a pathway in vocational areas from Levels 1 and 2 to Level 3.

Dr Sue Pember CBE, Policy Director, Holex


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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