Patchy post-16 picture

STRIKING variations in patterns of post-school progression and participation across England are revealed in an Economic and Social Research report.

The work, by Greenwich and Leeds universities, looked at the Further Education Funding Council's Individualised Student Record. It explored the compatibility of this data with other sources and involved three case study areas with similar populations. These were Leeds, East Sussex with Brighton and Hove unitary authority, and Greenwich and Lewisham in south-east London.

Each area has an old and a new university plus a variety of competing colleges and sixth forms. Participation patterns in publicly-funded post-compulsory education and training pan out in each area in relation to the hierarchy of old over new universities locally and nationally. The research found different proportions of 16 to 25-year-old students and trainees at different levels and on different pathways in each area. It also explored the validity of the ISR for research purposes.

It concluded that the ISR, as a database of individual college students, is a rich source for investigating post-

compulsory education and training, but is not easy to handle. It was designed purely to allocate public funding to


However, there is renewed interest in how the record can measure participation, achievement and progression because it may provide the model for funding all education and training, starting with sixth forms, under the new local learning and skills councils from April next year.

Researchers designed methods to cope with the complexity of the ISR. The details of the different courses taken b students were summarised into broad descriptions, such as "three or more A-levels", "vocational course with an A-level", or "course at introductory level". In this way, an overview was obtained of the qualification level of students at entry; the level on which they were enrolled; the level they achieved at college; and the level to which they progressed in the following year.

In the absence of an integrated, comprehensive, national system of tracking students across schools, further and higher education and training, the research traced them from one year in the ISR into the following year.

Researchers also worked with the Higher Education Funding Council for England to adapt the "fuzzy matching" software they have developed to track movement from further to higher education. Significant variations in participation and achievement were detected between study areas. While Leeds colleges have an influx of students from neighbouring areas, East Sussex has a rough balance of travel into and out of the county. South-east London students tend to travel either south or west, to colleges and sixth forms in outlying suburbs.

Significantly fewer students left the south-east London colleges with market-able qualifications than in the other two areas. Leeds has relatively high numbers of students on vocational courses at advanced levels and also at higher education levels within the FE colleges.

East Sussex has the highest numbers obtaining advanced-level qualifications in colleges and going on to higher education.

Patrick Ainley and Judith Watson, School of Post-Compulsory Education and Training, University of Greenwich

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