On 2 June 2021, the Department for Education (DfE) released a research paper introducing a new analysis of the Longitudinal Education Outcomes (LEO) dataset. While there were several novel findings presented in the paper, one striking fact stood out:
Students who did not achieve five GSCEs (A* to C) were 500% more likely to end up on benefits than their counterparts who did achieve those qualifications.
 Anderson, Oliver, and Moira Nelson. 2021, Post 16 Education and Labour Market Activities, Pathways and Outcomes (LEO).
In addition, a lack of GCSE attainment did not only negatively impact the chances of employment for these students, but even those who gained employment suffered a significant wage gap versus their peers. The DfE stated:
“15 years after KS4, individuals achieving five GCSE (or equivalents) passes A* to C earn around £9,000 more than those not achieving and the gap is widening. This means there is a ‘double whammy’ of fewer in employment and lower earnings for those in employment for individuals not achieving five GCSEs (or equivalents) A* to C.”
For years, there has been a serious effort focused on getting students into further and higher educational pathways to increase their opportunities and employment outcomes. However, these recent findings point to a much more pressing issue within our system. The gap that exists later in life is actually being caused much earlier than originally predicted.
One contributing factor to this attainment gap is likely to be a lack of clarity for students regarding how these qualifications will affect their futures. Students typically begin considering their GCSEs in Years 8 or 9 (or between the ages of 11 and 13). Did you know what you wanted your career to be when you were 11? Did you know which subjects and qualifications might help you get there? If you’re anything like me, you didn’t have a clue.
This issue is one that cannot rest on the shoulders of educationalists, alone. Providing students with a clearer picture of where they can go and what it will take to get there is in the best interest of society at large, which means that more active engagement is needed from those who are currently less participative in the process: businesses.
Most businesses tend to start their efforts engaging with young people around the age of 18. Historically, this has been seen as fairly common practice and created quite a reasonable return on investment for recruitment activities at that level. However, the skills landscape in the UK has changed dramatically over the last two decades. In the October 2020 publication of the Employer Skills Survey 2019 Research report, the DfE reported that there were 214,300 skill-shortage vacancies across the country. In fact, of the employers who reported that they had vacancies within their organisations, 24% of those roles were classed as skill-shortage vacancies. With all that has happened since that survey took place, you can only imagine what this picture looks like presently.
Employers need to begin to recognise that engaging with students at younger and younger ages may actually pay longer-term dividends when it comes to recruiting the skills they need for the future. (Not to mention that it may also just be the right thing to do to support the success of more young people.) Many businesses may express similar platitudes: “We just don’t have the capacity to support those efforts” or “We’re not experts in that space, so we don’t believe that we can help.” While these statements do contain elements of the truth, they are, in a broader sense, illegitimate excuses. Nobody is asking employers to go directly into hundreds of schools and engage directly with thousands of students. However, businesses should be willing to take a more serious look at investing in organisations that can support that work.
In the education market today, there are hundreds of fantastic organisations who would gladly partner with large employers to bring a more realistic version of careers and future-focused education into the classroom. Companies like Speakers for Schools, The Careers and Enterprise Company and us, here at The Inspirational Learning Group, are always looking to work with new employers to create meaningful enterprise programming for young people.
With every student in the UK about to go through a major reset when it comes to learning, and their in-school experience, we find ourselves with the perfect chance to make a radical change. Businesses and educators must now work together to reform the system by pairing the UK’s traditional education system (one that has worked very well for hundreds of years), with the new need for skills-based education. Only this type of change will allow us to bring clarity of the future to young people before these attainment gaps are able to occur.
Anderson, Oliver, and Moira Nelson. 2021, Post 16 Education and Labour Market Activities, Pathways and Outcomes (LEO).
Winterbotham, Mark, et al. Government Social Research, 2020, Employer Skills Survey 2019.