02 SES 02 A, Enrolment and Diversity in VET
Mapping and managing local and regional variations in the increasingly complex patterns of youth transition from compulsory schooling that can be hidden at a national level through lack of robust data is a challenge in many countries (see inter alia, Amaral et al., 2019; Eckelt and Schmidt, 2015; Schoon and Eccles, 2014; Tarabini and Ingram, 2018). The problem has been further compounded by the economic impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on the youth labour market and the associated consequences for the provision of vocational education and training (VET) programmes. This paper addresses youth transitions from the perspective of young people in England who get labelled as ‘lower attainers’ due to their results in national examinations (GCSEs) taken at age 16. The majority enter a VET programme. The paper explores the spatial differences in provision in local education and training ‘markets’ and how this contributes to variations in educational outcomes in the upper secondary phase. The paper is based on findings from a mixed-method study funded by the Nuffield Foundation. It outlines a methodological approach for exploring the spatial and structural dimensions of transitions at sub-national level (see Webling et.al. 2015 for a spatial analysis from Germany).
Young people in England are required to remain in education or training until the age of 18. At 16, they sit examinations (GCSEs) in a range of subjects and receive grades from 9 (the highest grade) to 1 (the lowest). GCSEs, introduced in 1988, act as the key watershed for further progression in education, training and employment. To gain entry to academic (A level) courses aimed at university entrance, to the better quality apprenticeships, and to technical education courses, young people typically need to pass at least five GCSEs at grade 4 and above including in both Maths and English. If they do not achieve grade 4 in Maths or English, they have to work towards improving their grades up to age 18, although some, including apprentices, can take alternative Functional Skills exams. Around two fifths of young people in England (41% of the 2018/19 GCSE cohort) fail to meet this standard. However, the types of programmes that are on offer and, importantly, are accessible to young people vary across the country, in some cases substantially. Despite the large number of ‘lower attainers’, surprisingly little was known about them or about the nature of the post-GCSE provision they could access. We set out to address this research gap.
Through detailed case-study analysis of the post-GCSE options for ‘low achievers’ in 7 localities in England, we identified how key differences in the nature of transitions in these areas arise from decisions made at the individual provider level as providers have to operate in a local ‘market’ to attract young people. Our analysis also shows some association between destinations and outcomes in these local ‘markets’. For example, some areas with more accessible options at higher levels typically also have higher percentages of young people attempting and completing these routes by age 18. However, in some areas where the provision structures appear similar, the destinations of young people and their outcomes
Our research study used both quantitative and qualitative methods, but in this paper we focus on the quantitative findings. The study involved analysis of data from two national administrative datasets in England – the National Pupil Database (NPD) and the Individual Learner Record (ILR) – to construct a combined dataset containing information about the destinations and educational outcomes of 16 to 18 year-olds who did not obtain grade 4 in English and/or Maths by the age of 16. Building on previous work (see Thomson and Velthuis, 2019), we segmented this group of young people into categories based on their general attainment profile as we recognised that, because they have diverse attainment (for example some young people may fail to achieve grade 4 in Maths, but gain a high grade in English and other subjects) that this may affect what is accessible to them in the post-16 phase. This enabled us to explore differences in routes followed by the different categories of young people and their educational outcomes by 18. We focused specifically on seven case study localities in two city regions of England: Greater Manchester and the North of Tyne. These regions were chosen because they have different local structures of post-16 provision and socio-economic variation including in the nature of their labour markets and transport links. Within each city region, we selected a number of smaller localities, to illustrate how, even within the same region, there are differences in post-16 transitions and outcomes. To understand how these transitions and outcomes are shaped by the nature of the local post-16 ‘market’, we investigated structural variations in provision in these areas, extending and adapting an approach outlined in Schagen et al (2006) which positions the relative mix of provision in an area as a key structural feature. We collected data on courses and apprenticeships offered at each of the post-16 providers located within a reasonable travel-to-learn journey from the relevant case study locality, including information about the level of the course and its entry requirements.
By analysing the local data in this, we are able to show how the accessibility of provision across different levels varies between localities. These variations in accessibility can be related to differences across areas in attainment by 18 for similar categories of learners. This has allowed us to see if some types of provision structures seem to be helpful or detrimental for some learners. We suggest that identifying the complexities involved in the interaction between providers and learners in a particular locality points to the need to develop a holistic understanding of the education and training landscape that 16-18 year-olds have to navigate. We argue that our methodological approach enabled us to develop a more robust way to examine sub-national patterns of transition and participation. These methodological challenges are particularly pertinent across Europe as education and training systems look to adapt to a post-pandemic future where inequalities in employment and progression opportunities for all young people are likely to grow in the short to medium term and particularly for those with lower levels of attainment as they enter the upper secondary phase. The paper will conclude with some reflections on the ways in which this kind of spatial analysis can be helpful in other countries where regional and local variations in the structure and management of VET and the upper secondary phase more generally may be underplayed when policies are based largely on national data. In the English case, current policy treats those young people without the required grade in English and Maths as a homogenous group in terms of their attainment profile and takes little account of the significant local variations in the structure and availability of VET provision. We hope the paper will trigger debate with researchers in other countries who are using mixed-methods to investigate youth transitions.
Amaral, M.P. do, Kovacheva, S., Rambla, X. (Eds.), 2019. Lifelong Learning Policies for Young Adults in Europe: Navigating between Knowledge and Economy. Policy Press, Bristol, UK. DfE, 2019a. Key stage 4 performance, 2019 (provisional): London: Department for Education. DfE, 2019b. A level and other 16 to 18 results: 2018 to 2019 (provisional). London: Department for Education. Eckelt, M., Schmidt, G., 2015. Learning to Be Precarious--The Transition of Young People from School into Precarious Work in Germany. Journal for Critical Education Policy Studies 12, 130–155. Schagen, I., Lopes, J., Rutt, S., Savory, C., Styles, B., 2006. 'Do post-16 structures matter? Evaluating the impact of local patterns of provision'. Presented at the British Educational Research Association Annual Conference, University of Warwick. Schoon, I., Eccles, J.S. (Eds.), 2014. Gender Differences in Aspirations and Attainment. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge. https://doi.org/10.1017/CBO9781139128933 Tarabini, A., Ingram, N. (Eds.), 2018. Educational Choices, Transitions and Aspirations in Europe: Systemic, Institutional and Subjective Challenges. Routledge, Abingdon. Thomson, S., Velthuis, S., 2019. '‘Choice’ in Complex Education and Training Landscapes: a spatial and choice-set methodology for analysing post-secondary transitions of English ‘Lower Attainers.’' Presented at the European Educational Research Association Conference, Hamburg, Germany. Webling, K., Hartung, A. and Hillmert, S. (2015) Spatial structure counts: the relevance of regional labour‐market conditions for educational transitions to vocational training. Empirical Research in Vocational Education and Training. 7(12):2-20.
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