Should schools be held accountable for the progression of their students?

With the recent report by Impetus-PEF on how too many disadvantaged young people are failing to transition from school to work and the news the Ofsted and the Department for Education are “going to war,”  you can be sure that this debate is only going to get bigger.

As a charity it’s often hard to work within the framework of the big picture as so much of our efforts are put into ensuring we reach the most disengaged young people and help them successfully transition from school to work. However these two publications have given us some time to reflect. Our experience is that the most disadvantaged young people need long term, targeted support to enable to enable them to overcome significant challenges both at home and at school, and eligibility for Free School Meals is only part of the challenge. Our rigorous ‘risk of NEET’ scoring matrix takes into account many other risk factors including Special Educational Needs and whether they are known to social services to identify young people who need specific support. Due to these background factors, the young people we work with frequently have poor engagement with school, characterised by low attendance and disruptive behaviour.

Taking this all into account we know that lack of such support is not the only factor ensuring young people are ready for work when leaving school. Our engagement with businesses is equally important, for a number of reasons:

  • Young people we work with often have limited aspirations and a lack of diverse roles models in the world of work. Which is why we provide opportunities for young people to visit businesses and people they wouldn’t otherwise engage with, widening the range of careers they would consider.
  • Engaging with businesses helps young people appreciate the importance of academic attainment for their future careers and feedback from our school leads is that this can have a transformational effect on young people’s engagement in education and increase their likelihood of achieving qualifications at school.
  • We also educate employers about the requirements of recruiting for apprentice positions and the possible additional support which might be needed for young people from disadvantaged backgrounds.
  • Finally, our support for young people continues once they are in entry level jobs. (Issues of which are detailed on p15 of the Impetus-PEF, Life After School report)

In terms of the shaping policy, we know many young people are failing and will continue to fail in the transition from school to work across the UK until such issues can be addressed on a much larger scale. Which is why we pose the question: should schools should be accountable for the progression of their students after they leave school? Impetus-PEF’s paper and our model have proven it is essential for schools to track the progression of their students. Evidence has shown that if young people from disadvantaged backgrounds have access to early long term support that despite predictions, they can successfully achieve at school and transition into employment. One of our partner schools has been leading the pack by setting themselves an internal KPI of pupils’ destinations.  It is this kind initiative taking that will enable schools not only to have strong stats but be able to track and react when research like Impetus-PEF’s highlights worrying national trends.

School to work transition: lessons from Australia

With support from the Winston Churchill Memorial Trust, earlier this year I undertook a traveling fellowship to Australia looking at what we could learn about how they prepare young people for the world of work. Historically the Australian system of education and vocational training was modelled on that in the UK but, whilst we had a significant dip in Apprenticeship numbers during the 80s and 90s, their buoyant economy has seen considerable growth and innovation.

Here are seven lessons we could learn from our Australian counterparts:

1. We  should make employer’s needs more central to the vocational training and Apprenticeship system. In Australia although some money still goes to the training provider, most of the financial support for Apprentices is aimed at employers. As recommended in the Richard Review, the bulk of skills funding in the UK should go to employers, so that they can then invest in the training provider of their choice.

2. We  should use other financial incentives sparing and to encourage the employment of disadvantaged groups, including 16/17 year olds, young people with disabilities and, in some professions, young people of underrepresented gender/ethnicity. In Australia there is a complicated system of financial support, which at first sight appears very attractive (  However, over time they have come to be seen as entitlements and a review by Deloitte seemed to show that they had very little incentivising power.

3. We should develop the system of group training organisations, so that in industries where there is a high turnover of employees, e.g. construction,  Apprentices can be passed between host companies more easily.  In Australia, about 10% of Apprentices are now employed through a group training organisation (  They provide a particularly attractive option for employers who find it difficult to add additional permanent employees to their headcount or who simply want more support.

4. Progression planning should begin much earlier, with the first conversations about the world of work starting in primary school and occurring regularly thereafter. By the time young people enter Key Stage 4, they should have clear post-16 pathways mapped out and be clear how to get there. In Australia they ensure this by establishing links between schools and businesses, so that young people and teachers have access to industry knowledge. In the UK, all young people, and particularly those who come from workless families, need to have access to engagement opportunities with employees, work skills training and workplace experiences.

5. We should provide more support for young people to stay in school and improve their behaviour and attendance. In Australia I saw the work of the Beacon Foundation (, which aims to help young people make informed, high aspiration decisions about their future pathways. High quality pastoral support from a school-based tutor/mentor, backed up by life skills development and access to a network of specialist support, is the best way of ensuring all young people leave with the best possible achievements.

6. We should explore the options for School/College-Based Apprenticeships, perhaps within a ‘TechBacc’ framework, so that young people are able to start high quality work-related learning earlier. Although the UK’s Young Apprenticeship programme was stopped following the recommendations of the Wolf Review, in some Australian states it has provided a high quality alternative route to employment. It may also enable young people to tap into the growing part-time job market and, if paid, offset recent reductions in financial support for 16-19 year olds.

7. The proposed new system of Traineeships should provide high quality pre-Apprenticeship training for young people who are not yet work-ready.    The current foundation learning offer should be enriched to be more like the  Australian approach, which includes qualifications more directly leading into Apprenticeship opportunities and some real, paid work experience.

Kevin Munday is the ThinkForward Programme Development Manager at Private Equity Foundation.

Mind the gap – the scandal of school-to-work transition

Youth unemployment is at record levels and the truth is that this is not purely a result of the recession or austerity measures; in fact, youth unemployment has been rising since the early 2000s.  If we are to stop this trend and fix the deeper structural issues surrounding youth unemployment we need to focus our attention on another scandal in our communities: the large number of young people who are failing to make a successful transition from school into the world of work. Many young people are being let down. They are leaving school without the skills or experience employers are looking for and ultimately, this is fuelling an even greater youth unemployment crisis.

Through our programme called ThinkForward, which places super coaches in schools who work with young people most at risk of not making a successful transition into work, we have learnt that there is no single answer or easy fix. But there are some simple things which can be done to help young people navigate their way from education into the labour market.

1. Start young – from the age of 14 years when young people are making GCSE decisions they need information about the types of jobs in their local area and guidance on the skills, experience and qualifications required for entry into these jobs. They also need space to discuss their future career goals and aspirations with teachers, mentors and professionals who will inspire them to succeed.

2. Contact with employers – research by the Education and Employers task force found that young people who recalled ‘four or more employer contacts’ were five times less likely to be NEET. The tragedy is that only 7% of those questioned recalled four such activities taking place. Surely, those of us who who work in  schools, voluntary organisations and the business community could together provide opportunities for young people to have meaningful experiences of work. As we have found through ThinkForward, this can include activities as simple as visiting a workplace or having a local business leader speak at a school to more involved activities such as having a dedicated mentor or completing a work experience placement.

3. Responsibility for post-sixteen destinations – the pressures schools face to achieve GCSE results coupled with recent changes to the provision of careers education and guidance mean there is little room in the curriculum for ’employability skills’. Yet if young people don’t learn these skills during their time at school, how can we expect them to be work ready when they leave? Businesses and charities must play their part and schools also must ensure they are giving young people the very best chance of future success once they walk through the school gates for the final time.

4. Extra support for the most vulnerable – our ThinkForward super coaches support young people most at risk of making a successful transition, from the age of fourteen through to nineteen. We believe this continuity of support helps young people not only get a job or college course but to stay with it.  There has been much criticism of employment programmes that last for three or six months with no ongoing support. For those furthest away from the labour market, having a named coach who will stick with them and help them navigate the complexities of their personal life and the world of work can make the difference between a young person making a successful transition from school into work or getting stuck in a gap unemployment with significantly reduced prospects.

Rhian Johns is the Policy and Communications Director at Private Equity Foundation and will be speaking at The Work Foundation and Private Equity Foundation’s next fringe event at the Labour Party Conference.