The report, published this morning by the Centre for Economic Performance at LSE, says that politicians who are serious about addressing social mobility and the shortage of people progressing within vocational education “need to do more for the third of young people who are not able to access level 3 qualifications and get forgotten”. “The policies put forward by parties to date do not address this group of people,” it adds.
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The authors – Jo Blanden, Sandra McNally and Gill Wyness – find that the T levels, due to be introduced from next year, and reforms of higher education would “not touch the bottom third of students who each year fail to achieve a grade 4 in GCSE English and mathematics”. These pupils, the report goes on to say, will usually go to colleges of further education to enrol in low-level qualifications at level 2 or below.
“Nowhere is the education system more confusing,” they point out, with many different qualifications and “no clear pathways”.
They add that one major barrier to progressing to further education comes from poor English language results at GCSE, with research showing that narrowly missing the threshold in English language decreases the probability of enrolling in a higher-level qualification by at least 9 percentage points. There is a similarly large impact on the probability of achieving a higher academic or vocational qualification by age 19.
“Perhaps most surprisingly, narrowly missing the threshold increases the probability of dropping out of education at age 18 by about 4 percentage points. It increases the probability of becoming ‘not in education, training or employment’ (NEET) by about 2 percentage points,” the report states.
Failing to reach this threshold in English can also lead to a narrowing of opportunities in the choice of post-16 institution and course, the authors say. “In a well-functioning education system, there would be ladders for the marginal pupil – or at least alternative educational options with good prospects... Politicians who are serious about addressing social mobility and the shortage of people progressing within vocational education need to do more for the third of young people who are not able to access level 3 qualifications and get forgotten. The policies put forward by parties to date do not address this group of people.”
The value of apprenticeships
According to the LSE report, apprenticeships have a good reputation and are frequently put forward as a way of tackling poor productivity and a significant fall in employers’ investment in training over recent decades.
With apprenticeships having been a focus of government policy in the past few years, today’s report considers whether those who undertake an apprenticeship earn more compared with if they had undertaken equivalent vocational education in the classroom. The authors point out that there is a “sizeable average earnings return, although it varies strongly for different types of apprenticeship”.
“Whether apprenticeships are a good investment depends on the type of apprenticeship on offer and whether they are directed at younger or older people," the report says. "The debate on employer investment in skills needs to be widened beyond use of the apprenticeship levy."