Too many young people are dropping out of school or college or failing to pass their courses, due to a flawed emphasis on getting higher numbers of students into post-16 education or training. The rush to fill places on courses in order to secure funding currently fails to take into account whether individual students are suited to the courses. This results in both the individual and the UK economy as a whole losing out.
A recent report from the Local Government Association (LGA, 2015) has highlighted the £814m cost per year due to teenage drop out rates across the UK. The report was based on research carried out by the Centre for Economic and Social Inclusion, which found that combined dropout and failure figures for 16-18 year olds enrolled on A Levels, apprenticeships and further education courses totalled 178,000. The total figure included 92,000 students who had withdrawn from schools (primarily from AS and A Levels), another 24,200 who had dropped out of apprenticeships or training programmes, and 61,900 who had failed to complete further education courses. Apprentices were the group at highest risk of dropping out, with a quarter withdrawing part way through the placement. In comparison, the report suggested that the success rate for AS and A Levels and FE courses had shown improvement in recent years, with 16 per cent of students dropping out of further education, 9% from individual AS Levels, and 5 per cent from individual A Levels. However, 12 per cent of all government funding for post-16 education and skills is wasted on ‘uncompleted’ courses; a figure that is still far too high.
Many have blamed an approach that has been overly focused on quantity over quality; getting higher numbers of young people into post-secondary education and courses at the detriment of making sure those individuals were suited to the courses, just to secure additional funding. This has left many teenagers at risk of dropping out of courses, without the skills necessary to get a job. The LGA has argued the need for devolution of funding and powers to local areas, suggesting that councils could do more to get young people who do drop out back into learning and direct them into courses more suited to their individual skills that would most likely lead to a local job. The change would allow for partnership between councils, schools, colleges and local employers to ensure that teenagers pursue options that increase their employability later on.
A Lack Of Careers Advice
The LGA reported highlighted the related problem of many students facing a lack of careers advice. Responsibility for providing information and guidance on different options available was given to schools in September 2012, a decision that some believe was short-sighted. Critics have highlighted a lack of consistency and availability in provision, with many schools failing to offer comprehensive and individualised advice for its students. In September 2013, Ofsted reported that the majority of schools needed to work harder to ensure pupils had sufficient information on the full range of education, training options and career pathways available to them. Ofsted found that out of 60 schools surveyed, only 12 had ensured that all students received sufficient guidance (2013), with others unaware of how to provide a comprehensive and coordinated service and lacking the skills and expertise to do so. Additionally, the report found that too many schools relied on their own staff to provide guidance, but these staff lacked training and were unable to offer up to date information. Vocational training and apprenticeships were rarely promoted, with many schools instead relying on the A Level route to universities.
Many youngsters are therefore left struggling to decide on a suitable career, with little to no real understanding of the world of work, and a narrow view of options available to them. This can result in a sense of failure when it becomes clear that a course or placement is unsuitable for them later on. Many will drop out and accept jobs with no tangible notion of how to progress, potentially leading to on-going dissatisfaction and a sense of underachievement due to their failure to thrive. Aside from the human cost, there is a substantial financial cost to the economy when individuals fail to realise their potential.
In an effort to improve the situation, the government plans to establish a new independent careers and enterprise company that will advise schools and colleges, build links with potential employers, and fill the gaps where there is currently an absence of good careers advice. It is hoped that the new organisation will establish a greater relationship between schools and businesses and inspire and offer independent advice to young people regarding all apprenticeships, vocational training and higher education available to them. Allowing employers to get involved should go a long way in helping students develop skills that will be valued in the workforce.
- Local Government Association (2015) Achievement and retention in post 16 education. Available at: http://www.local.gov.uk/documents/10180/11431/Achievement+and+retention+in+post-16+education%2C%20February+2015/746a1fb2-2a89-49e9-a53b-f5339288d4b1 [Accessed February 3rd 2015].
- Ofsted (2013) Going in the right direction? Careers guidance in schools from September 2012. Available at: http://webarchive.nationalarchives.gov.uk/20141124154759/http://www.ofsted.gov.uk/sites/default/files/documents/surveys-and-good-practice/g/Going%20in%20the%20right%20direction.pdf [Accessed February 3rd 2015].
Photo: Leland Francisco