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Evidence check: Impact of Raising the Participation Age 

Education Committee

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11 Contributions (since 18 November 2014)
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Sion Humphreys (NAHT)

15 December 2014 at 09:14

NAHT supports the government’s decision not to implement the enforcement powers contained in the Education and Skills Act. NAHT’s position was to oppose the legislation arguing for the provisions of the measure to be an entitlement. The decision to withhold enforcement is in keeping with this position. The Association finds the points in the government’s rationale to be somewhat empirically tenuous and speculative. It is surely a truism, for example, to point to a link between continued participation and higher attainment as the former is a virtual prerequisite for the latter. NAHT believes that the evaluation offered of international research is a fair summary of the situation. Paragraph 6, for example, considers the impact of continuing participation on previous cohorts whose members had chosen to remain engaged. The current and future cohorts will include individuals who feel a greater degree of coercion and this makes abstraction from previous research to be methodologically problematic. The association believes that this is an area that demands ongoing investigation. It is important, for example, to draw distinctions in the framing of research between those ‘pulled’ to continuing participation by that which is on offer and those ‘pushed’ by greater coercion to continue and by the absence of viable and acceptable alternatives. Despite our reservations outlined in 3.2 NAHT is encouraged by the government’s openness in its response to this initiative. Young people’s ability to make good and personally appropriate decisions are framed by the availability and effectiveness of the careers education, information, advice and guidance available. NAHT is deeply concerned about the impact of the government’s policy of deregulating its activity in this area. The Association believes that the coalition inherited a framework that merited perseverance and continuing investment and we commend the re-visiting of ‘Quality, Choice and Aspiration’, the previous government’s policy. The careers community has sought to fill the void created by the peremptory decision to jettison the provisions in ‘Quality, Choice and Aspiration’, the removal of ring-fenced funding to schools and to revoke work related leaarning’s statutory status. The various initiatives that have been developed by the community are in many cases of high value and quality but have struggled to make an impact due to the fragmented nature of the careers landscape. The government’s belated recognition of this, reflected in the Secretary of State’s recent statement, is welcomed but it remains to be seen whether its provisions will prove sufficient to create the foundation for the education, information, advice and guidance to which young people are entitled. NAHT argues that RPA cannot hope to have its due impact without this foundation.

Pirandeep Dhillon

12 December 2014 at 15:53

Despite Raising the Participation Age (RPA) being introduced, there has been limited investment, resources and accountability in place to ensure and indeed monitor whether young people are staying in education or training until the age of 18. Many people wrongly refer to RPA as 'raising of the school leaving age' and the lack of impartial and transparent careers advice available to young people means that too often they will stay in a school sixth form unaware of alternative pathways such as a vocational route or apprenticeship that they could study at a college, sixth form college or University Technical College. On coming to office, the Coalition placed a protective ringfence around spending on the education of 5 to 16-year-olds. This meant that when the Department for Education was asked to reduce spending by the Chancellor, it couldn’t cut funding for this age group. Inevitably therefore much of the austerity has fallen onto the shoulders of FE and sixth form colleges, with their primary objective being the provision of education to 16 to 18-year-olds. Not only is this situation unsustainable, especially when everyone is expected to remain in education or training, funded by DfE, until their 18th birthday, it has caused serious problems for colleges as they seek to maintain an excellent education for their students. It has resulted in spending on 16 and 17-year-olds being 22% lower than 11-16 year olds and 18-year-olds receiving an even worse deal – despite them often needing additional support. The recent National Audit Office report about the participation of 16 to 18-year olds in education and training confirms that the DfE core budget for this age group has reduced in 2013/14 by 8% in real terms compared to 2010/11 . There should be no further cuts to spending on 16 to 18-year-olds and, immediately on taking office, the next Government should bring this age group within the protective ringfence. By the end of the first year of the next Parliament, a once in a generation review should be conducted setting out how much is required to adequately educate or train children and young adults. The results of this review should be implemented by the end of the Parliament in 2020 at the latest. There should be no further funding cuts to the education of 16 to 19-year-olds and they should be brought within the Government’s protective ringfence. Government needs to conduct a once in a generation review of how money is spent at each stage of compulsory education to ensure the budget is used most effectively.

Ben Durbin (NFER)

11 December 2014 at 17:44

There is evidence that some young people are not receiving the best advice Young people need to be equipped with the right information so that they are able to make the right choices (for them) in order to make a successful transition at 16 and ensure sustained progression. There is some evidence that RPA is not fully understood by teachers (for example, Kettlewell et al., 2014). Furthermore there is evidence that teachers would not recommend an 'able' young person to apply for an apprenticeship (Nash, 2014). This raises the question as to whether the spirit of RPA is fully and widely understood and whether it is always being carried out in the best interests of the young people. Kettlewell, K., Lynch. L,. Sims, D., Walkey, S. and Dawson, A. (2014). NFER Teacher Voice Omnibus: Questions for the Department for Education - March to May 2014 and May to June 2014 (Research Brief). London: DfE Nash, I. (2014) Higher Ambitions. London: Sutton Trust.

Ben Durbin (NFER)

11 December 2014 at 17:43

The national statistics address quantity of participation, but not quality Currently no investigations have been made into whether young people in the first two RPA cohorts are progressing onto higher level courses. It may be the case, for example, that a level 1 student is choosing (or being encouraged) to study another level 1 qualification at 16 rather than progressing to level 2. Furthermore, there is also no evidence yet that the courses young people are choosing to study are those that will equip them with the skills they need to move into (sustained) employment, and importantly whether these courses meet future skills gaps and address local skills needs. Nor is it clear whether these young people are making the right choices for them personally which will help them to remain engaged in the long term and prevent drop out from education/training. It is also too early to explore to what extent RPA will result in delaying the NEET issue until the young people are 19 years old, effectively shifting the problem until a later time point. In order for RPA to have maximum benefit, the 16-19 education and training system needs to be fit for purpose - providing a holistic approach so that it meets the full range of learning, training and skills needs of a local area. Again, this is something that needs to be explored.

Ben Durbin (NFER)

11 December 2014 at 17:42

But other factors could be at work, and there are regional variations Currently participation data does not take into account other factors that may have contributed to increased participation, such as the recession and the widely reported impact of this on youth unemployment. For example, evidence suggests that in times of rising unemployment young people tend to return to full-time education (Bell and Blanchflower 2009), suggesting that the high levels of youth unemployment may in part explain some of the increase in participation. Furthermore, there are also great variations in the NEET figures regionally, with some regions not showing a decrease in the proportion who are NEET. This suggests that the picture is not as clear cut as is presented in the evidence note. Bell, D. and Blanchflower, D. (2009) What Should Be Done about Rising Unemployment in the UK? IZA Discussion Paper No. 4040. Bonn: IZA.

Ben Durbin (NFER)

11 December 2014 at 17:41

The national statistics suggest the policy has been a success The evidence provided for the rationale for raising the participation age (RPA) appears sound and the official national statistics have shown a decline in NEET figures for the 16-18 age group and a concurrent increase in full-time participation since the introduction of RPA. It is therefore logical to suggest that RPA may have had some impact on increasing participation, although the extent and effectiveness (in terms of, for example, sustained progression) of this has not been determined. In coming years, as the cohorts of students affected by RPA move through the education and training system, there needs to be a more refined examination of the evidence to understand how RPA has impacted on participation rates, the quality of education received, and the subsequent benefits of this at a personal, social and economic level.

Ben Durbin (NFER)

11 December 2014 at 17:40

The underlying case for increasing young people’s participation in education is strongly supported by the evidence. Additional years of education and further qualifications have an impact on labour market, and a range of other, outcomes. Furthermore, we agree that the national statistics suggest that the RPA policy has successfully increased participation. However, other factors could be at work, and there are regional variations. Furthermore, the national statistics address quantity of participation, but not quality, and there is evidence that some young people are not receiving the best advice on what participation is best for them. A more sophisticated examination of the evidence is therefore required to verify whether RPA has been of genuine personal, social and economic benefit. In the following four posts we will expand on these points in greater detail.

Nansi Ellis ATL

11 December 2014 at 14:54

This evidence is extremely unclear. It would be much more useful (to government, and for the benefit of young people and their teachers) to understand differential benefits from staying at school, going on to FE college, taking up an apprenticeship and taking a job with training for example - or combinations of those. ATL would hope that this kind of analysis is being undertaken as the routes become more widely available. It would also be useful to undertake analysis of different groups, in order to understand whether different routes are being taken up disproportionately by young people from different ethnic backgrounds, socio-economic backgrounds or gender for example, and what impact this has on future attainment or employment. Geographical analysis would also be helpful, as the rate of employment and work-based routes must sure vary depending on the availability of employment in particular areas. While young people may have a choice about how they participate, this will be dependent on the opportunities available, the financial and other support available to young people, and on the information and guidance available for young people about the options they might pursue. ATL’s own evidence from members suggests that this is not evenly spread across the country, nor do teachers necessarily have the information they need to provide information. Cutting the EMA has also impacted on the choices some groups of young people can make, particularly where they would need to pay to travel to reach an employer or college.

Stephen Gorard

08 December 2014 at 00:39

Having abolished the Education Maintenance Allowance (EMA) intended to assist young people from poorer families to stay on in education at the age of 16, the current government is presiding over a quiet revolution set up by the previous government in 2008. From September 2013, all young people currently in their first year of secondary school in England must remain in education or training until the age of 17. Young people in primary school must remain in education until aged 18. This is the most recent raising of the education leaving age in a long-term historical trend. In 1880, the school-leaving age was originally set at 10. In 1893 it was raised to age 11, and then to 13 in 1899. In 1918 it was raised again to 14, then 15 in 1944, and 16 in 1972. On each occasion the same three kinds of arguments were made for the increase in compulsory education. It would protect young children from exploitation by employers, it would make the system fairer by increasing participation among the most disadvantaged families, and it would improve ‘human capital’ both for individuals and for the state. The latter is apparently necessary to meet the demands of international competition and the nature of modern employment. And on each occasion the same kind of opposition was voiced. It was an erosion of liberty and choice, it would be expensive (extra staff and classrooms), and it was only being done in an attempt to improve the unemployment figures. The latter point was particularly important in 1918 and 1944 with large numbers of conscripted service personnel suddenly released onto the job market. It may also be a factor today with England still in the grip of an economic downturn. Overall, is this revolution a good idea? What does the evidence suggest? It is true that previous voluntary post-compulsory participation in England is heavily stratified by social class, ethnic origin, region, school type and prior attainment. It has been this way for as long as records are available. This is unfair and inefficient. It is also true that those who are more likely to stay on past age 16 – middle class, high achievers, fee-payers etc. – are also likely to earn more later and have better health and life outcomes. The dispute is about whether this link is causal. Will making everyone stay on in education past the age of 16 cause them to earn more, and have generally better lives? Or is this treating the symptom rather than the cause? We know from numerous studies that achievement at school by the age of 16 is stratified by the same factors such as class and ethnicity, and that higher achievers are more likely to stay on. It would probably be better and relatively simple to remove the structural and other barriers in compulsory schooling that lead to the stratification of achievement in the first place. This would mean more balanced intakes to schools, less diversity of schooling, and an entitlement for all – almost the exact opposite of current education policy. Given that some young people already wish to leave school by the age of 14 or even earlier, raising the education leaving age to 18 may cause short-term resentment for those forced to stay on. And this could lead to disruption for other students who would have wanted to stay on anyway. As with the prior achievement gap, it might be better to sort out why people want to leave school even before the age of 16 and try to solve that problem (if it is a problem), rather than just increase their ‘sentence’. We could then offer something like a ‘voucher’ guaranteeing the free extra years of education or training to the minority who might still want to move to work aged 16 and then change their mind later. Of course, for the first time this new age for compulsory education does not just apply to school or college. It encompasses apprenticeships, and those in part-time education or training while in full-time employment. Full-time employment means more than 20 hours per week, including self-employment and even volunteer work. It is hard to see how this could be policed. The cost of enforcement will be added to the cost of the extra provision itself, plus the opportunity and other costs borne by the learners (without even their EMA to assist them). The human capital advocates had better be right about the eventual payoffs, or this could be a lot pain and very little gain. The evidence on the causes of unequal participation rates is robustly reviewed in: Gorard, S. and See, B. (2013) Overcoming Disadvantage in Education, London: Routledge (August 2013) – ISBN 978-0415536905


21 November 2014 at 13:55

Unfortunately, until schools can focus on inspiring our young adults(certainly not children) then this will fail. My daughters school has outstanding OFSTED reports and she is doing extremely well. However the pushing to attain all the time in academic subjects and constant talking about continuing in education for a further 2 years if they ever want to attain anything in their lives, has meant we have a very unhappy daughter who at the moment just wants to leave school. If the government really believes in this they need to do much more, i.e. Providing many many more apprenticeships and other training schemes.

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