Offering vocational courses to Year 10 pupils does not stop them becoming disengaged from education, according to Government-backed research. There is "little evidence" that studying non-academic subjects helps children perform better at school, and it does not encourage more of them to stay in education after the age of 16, according to the study, which was published in October.
Academics found no evidence that pupils with "borderline" GCSE results (up to four good grades) who studied vocational courses after Year 11 had "better outcomes".
The report, The Impact of KS4 Vocational Courses on Disengaged Young People's Engagement with Education 15-18, was produced for the Department for Education by the Centre for Analysis of Youth Transitions. Researchers compared the levels of engagement, attainment and destinations between disengaged young people who reported taking at least one vocational course in Year 10 and those who did not, examining differences in Years 9, 10 and 11.
"This study investigated the hypothesis that offering vocational options in Year 10 can help improve levels of educational engagement and subsequent outcomes among young people disengaged from education. However we found little evidence to support this claim," the report concludes. "Disengaged young people who reported following vocational courses did not differ from those who chose not to take these courses in terms of their subsequent engagement or destinations post-Year 11."
Pupils were classed as disengaged if they underachieved, had a poor attitude towards school, played truant andor wanted to leave education. Those classified in this way were more likely to be male, from a lower social position and have poorly qualified mothers.
White young people were more likely to have poor attitudes to school and to want to leave education and training at 16, but young people from ethnic-minority backgrounds were more likely to underachieve andor play truant.
Disengaged young people were also more likely to opt for vocational courses than other pupils.
Researchers say their findings suggest young people who take at least one vocational course in Year 10 are more likely to show signs of disengagement over time, compared to those who take no vocational courses. Those who took vocational courses were also more likely to achieve basic qualifications at key stage 4, but were less likely to achieve higher levels of qualification.
"We found no evidence to suggest that taking vocational courses in Year 10 helps to re-engage young people who are already disengaged from education. Neither did we find any evidence to suggest studying vocational courses makes matters worse," the report says. But the researchers say they cannot "entirely reject the idea that vocational courses may help foster improvement for some young people under some circumstances" on the basis of this study alone.
This is because the data comes from young people who began their key stage 4 studies in 200405, before the start of many new vocational qualifications. Researchers used data from the Longitudinal Study of Young People in England, which is maintained by the DfE and follows a cohort of young people through the last three years of their compulsory schooling and their following destinations.
All the children in the study completed KS4 in 2006 and most took GNVQs or vocational GCSEs. "It is therefore possible that today's experience of vocational education, including its methods of teaching, assessment and curriculum are different to those we were able to examine in this research," the study admits.
"Second, it is also possible that vocational study may be of more benefit to young people who are less disengaged than those that we studied here. Nevertheless, for the type of vocational courses and the particular kinds of disengaged young people that were examined, there appears to have been little impact, at least in the relatively short term."
"The Impact of KS4 Vocational Courses on Disengaged Young People's Engagement with Education 15-18", a report by the Centre for Analysis of Youth Transitions for the Department for Education, can be downloaded at http:bit.lyuMdCwk
Children who did not achieve the GCSE grades necessary to get them on to A-level courses were no more likely to be Neet (not in employment, education or training) by the age of 18 if they followed vocational pathways than if they followed academic ones, the report says.
"There was no difference even after adjustment for gender, ethnic group, parental social class and mother's highest qualification. There was also no difference when measured in terms of the total number of months spent being Neet at the age of 17-18," the report adds.
"It therefore appears that taking vocational courses offers little benefit to borderline students in terms of their likelihood of becoming Neet. However, it is of course possible that these courses may benefit the young people in other ways that were not explored in this study, or may benefit them in terms of being Neet later in their lives."
WHAT AND WHY
Disengaged young people who reported taking at least one vocational course in Year 10 were no less likely to play truant, defined as skipping at least the odd day or class, than those who took no vocational qualifications.
45% of young people who took part in the research said they had chosen a vocational course because they thought they would enjoy it
24% said they took the course because they thought they would do well, and a quarter because it was needed for further training or employment. Just 4 per cent said they had no choice
51% of those who thought about taking a vocational course but decided against it said they preferred other subjects
7% said their parents did not want them to study vocational courses and 9 per cent said their teacher had advised them against it.