From education to employment

Levelling Up 16-19 Education

Sam Tuckett, EPI

Between the ages of 16-19 students’ time at sixth form, colleges and independent training providers is the crucial, final stage of education. It is the point at which young people refine their skills and prepare for the transition to employment or continued study. As at every education stage, however, you don’t have to look far to find widespread inequalities.

16-19 Inequalities

Research from the Education Policy Institute shows that the overall gap between students from disadvantaged backgrounds and their peers is over three grades across their qualifications by the end of 16-19 study.

This gap widened in 2020, due largely to how teacher assessed grades impacted upon those taking applied and vocational qualifications compared to A Level students. However, the levelling up strategy is decidedly lacking in its proposals to benefit these young people.

Two Announcements

The Levelling Up White Paper only included two substantial announcements relating to the provision of direct support in the 16-19 phase. The first is to create new Institutes of Technology and to boost their status. The second is a proposal to create new 16-19 free schools and specialist maths schools, to be prioritised within local authorities selected as Education Investment Areas (EIAs).

Place-Based Strategies

Place-based strategies are certainly a good starting point when targeting support, as our research lays bare the extent of inequality that persists around the country.

In the 16-19 phase of education, disadvantaged students in Knowsley, Barnsley and Hartlepool were all over five grades behind the average non-disadvantaged student nationally, while those in many London boroughs were not trailing their peers at all. This hammers home the point that if we want to improve the opportunities of the most vulnerable, focusing on the areas where these gaps are the most pronounced is a sensible way to proceed.

Limits to Targeting

The targeting of these areas, however, comes up short. Firstly, although the interventions listed above are targeted towards the 16-19 phase, the criteria for selecting areas were based entirely on Key Stage 2 and 4 outcomes. Whilst true that education outcomes at Key Stage 4 and post-16 are highly correlated, there are many exceptions to the rule.

Of the 15 local authorities with the widest 16-19 disadvantage gaps in 2019 or 2020, 7 were not selected among the 55 EIAs earmarked for further investment. In fact, Barnsley and Stockton on Tees were among the local authorities with the widest 16-19 disadvantage gaps nationally, yet still missed the cut.

As on average, disadvantaged students fall further behind their peers by the end of the 16- 19 phase, and well over half leave the education system at this point, neglecting these areas will leave many students behind.

Institutes of Technology

The proposals around Institutes of Technology are a continuation of existing policy. Although not a new initiative, boosting the status of STEM education and helping more young people to achieve higher technical qualifications is a step in the right direction, and a renewed place base emphasis is good to see, even though the targeting could be improved. However, although these institutes will deliver T Levels, their focus is on Level 4 and 5 qualifications, so the role they will play in levelling up 16-19 education remains to be seen.

Free Schools for 16-19 Year Olds

With regards to the new free schools for 16-19 year olds, there are potential benefits for high performing students in those areas with a limited variety of institutions. It is important to enable these students to make educational choices based on what is right for them rather than what is available locally.

However, highly selective institutions will do little to benefit those students who are not selected. If those in most need are to level up, a greater focus is needed on improving provision for low attainers, not high attainers.

Limited Ambitions

The Levelling Up white paper presents some good ideas and the area-based focus is the right one. However, as a flagship proposal it falls way short of its ambitions, and some of the positive initiatives risk being executed poorly. To level up truly, the government needs to increase its focus on 16-19 education and skills in general.

Recommendation 1

The government needs to improve the targeting of areas for interventions such that those from disadvantaged backgrounds stand to benefit the most, based on measures that include student outcomes in the 16-19 phase.

Recommendation 2

The government must address the longstanding underfunding within the 16-19 phase, to ensure that all students are able to make good progress during these important years. This should involve creating new institutions where this can be demonstrated to improve access opportunities, but prioritise improving and expanding existing provision.

Recommendation 3

A greater emphasis should be placed on improving provision for those with low attainment, not just those students in disadvantaged areas who left school with sufficiently high GCSEs to access elite institutions.

Sam Tuckett, Senior Researcher, Education Policy Institute

Post-16 Education and Skills: Levelling Up Everyone, Everywhere

Campaign for Learning’s paper Post-16 Education and Skills: Levelling Up Everyone, Everywhere, is a collection of 18 articles and recommendations by leading stakeholders and thinkers across the post-16 education and skills sector.  

The paper covers six key considerations for the Levelling Up agenda – national and place based strategies, young people, lifelong training, lifelong learning and post-16 providers. 

As the articles show, from the perspective of post-16 education and skills policy, levelling up is about people as well as places – the policy canvas is vast, the perspectives diverse and the insights important.

Together, our authors demonstrate the need for strong, nationally based as well as place based strategies if everyone, everywhere aged 16 and over are to level up through education and skills’ 

Part 1: Levelling Up and National and Place

  • Andy Westwood, Professor of Government Practice, University of Manchester -  Levelling Up and the Department for Education  
  • Sam Freedman, Research Fellow, Institute for Government  – Levelling Up and Post-16 Education and Skills  
  • Fiona Aldridge, Head of Skills Insight, West Midlands Combined Authority  – Levelling Up the West Midlands by 2030  
  • Mark Hilton, Policy Director, London First  – Levelling Up London by 2030  

Part 2: Levelling Up and Young People

  • Geoff Barton, General Secretary, ASCL - Levelling Up and Education: Lots of Stuff but Little Substance  
  • Sam Tuckett, Senior Researcher, Education Policy Institute  – Levelling Up 16-19 Education   
  • Becci Newton, Director of Public Policy and Research, IES  – Levelling Up Participation by 16-18 Year Olds  
  • Kathleen Henehan, Senior Policy and Research Analyst, Resolution Foundation  – Levelling Up 18-24 Year Olds in England   

Part 3: Levelling Up and Lifelong Training

  • Olly Newton, Executive Director, The Edge Foundation - Placing Vocational Education at the Heart of Levelling Up   
  • Mandy Crawford-Lee, Chief Executive, UVAC  – Higher Technical Education, Higher & Degree Apprenticeships and Levelling Up  
  • Ewart Keep, Emeritus Professor, University of Oxford  – The Role of Employer Training in Levelling Up  

Part 4: Levelling Up and Lifelong Learning

  • Stephen Evans, Chief Executive, L&W– Levelling Up in England through Lifelong Learning   
  • Susan Pember, Policy Director, HOLEX  – Levelling Up as a Nation of Lifelong Learning  
  • Simon Parkinson, Chief Executive, WEA  – The Future of Adult Learning is in the Hands of Local Leaders  

Part 5: Levelling Up and Post-16 Providers

  • David Hughes, Chief Executive, Association of Colleges  – Well-Funded Colleges to Serve Every Community   
  • Nick Hillman, Director, HEPI   – A ‘Higher Education Institute’ in Every Community   
  • Chris Hale, Director of Policy, Universities UK  – Levelling Up and Widening Participation into Higher Education   
  • Jane Hickie, Chief Executive, AELP  – Levelling Up is as much about People as Places   

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