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British public attitudes to education

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DfE today (27 Nov) produced the results from the “Attitudes to education and children’s services: the British Social Attitudes survey 2016“.

Although the majority of people (87%) said that it was essential or very important for schools to aim to help young people develop the skills and knowledge which will help them to get a good job, fewer people (74%) felt that it was essential or very important for schools to help students gain qualifications or certificates of achievement. Fifty-eight per cent of respondents felt that schools should be helping students develop the skills and knowledge needed to pursue a career in science or technology.

Employment prospects

Most respondents (69%) said that it was more difficult for young people to get a job now than it had been when they themselves completed full-time education. Around one-fifth (21%) said it was neither easier nor more difficult nowadays, with 7% saying it was easier than when they finished their education. Those with no qualifications were more likely (80%) to say that it is more difficult for young people to get a job now than those whose highest qualification was a degree (65%) or A levels (66%).

People were asked what they thought was the most important factor making it difficult for young people to get a job. More than one-third (37%) felt that a high level of competition for jobs was the most important factor. This was followed by 20% saying that young people do not have enough relevant work experience, and 9% saying that they do not have the necessary qualifications required by employers

In addition to the most important reason, respondents were also asked to name the second and third most important reasons they thought contributed to difficulties young people face when looking for a job:

  • High level of competition remained the most frequent answer mentioned overall (62%), followed by a lack of work experience (56%) and lack of practical and vocational skills (35%).
  • Issues such as not enough paid training schemes (28%), cost of living where jobs are available (24%), few well-paid jobs available (24%), and a lack of career guidance (21%), were less likely to be mentioned.

They were also asked what factor people thought was most important in helping young people to find their first job after leaving education:

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  • Around one-quarter (24%) mentioned personal attributes such as good basic skills (reading, writing and maths) and around one in five (21%) mentioned having necessary qualifications.
  • Interventions such as careers advice (8%), access to paid training schemes (4%), and financial assistance for relocating or travel costs (1%) were mentioned less often.

As before, this question also allowed respondents to identify the reasons they thought were second and third most important. Looking at the overall number of mentions, those relating to personal skills and qualities were the most popular responses while factors or schemes to support young people were given less frequently. More than half (52%) mentioned the importance of good basic skills and 45% mentioned necessary qualifications.

Only 5% said financial assistance for relocation or travel would help young people find their first job. Careers advice (22%), experience of practice interviews (22%), having good contacts/knowing the right person (18%), and access to paid training schemes (14%) were less likely to be identified as a factor that would help young people get their first job.

Educational opportunities

Most people would advise a 16-year-old to continue studying full time rather than enter work directly. In general, academic qualifications were preferred to vocational qualifications, with 39% saying they would advise a 16-year-old to remain in full-time education and get their A-levels, while 13% would recommend studying full time to get a vocational qualification. One in seven (14%) would recommend leaving school to get training through a job. One-third (33%) of respondents said that their advice would depend on the person.

These figures were similar to the responses in 2004 when 42% of respondent said they would recommend continuing studying for A-levels, 13% said they would recommend that students study vocational qualifications, and 12% said they should leave education and get training through a job. Although the proportion recommending academic qualifications is the same as it was 12 years ago, there has been a large drop over the past 20 years; in 1995 more than half (53%) said they would recommend continuing to A-levels.

The advice offered varied according to income. Academic qualifications were most likely to be recommended by people in all income quartiles, but people in the lowest income groups were more likely than the highest earners to advise a 16-year-old to leave education and get training through a job (19% compared to 9%).

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