Amid all the debate about whether GCSEs are getting easier or harder, and the coverage of those impressive young people achieving ten or more A*s, there is another story to tell. More young people than ever before are getting the 5 GCSEs A*-C that are a predictor for their future success. Good attainment at 16 is not just the gateway for young people to be able to go on to study more advanced further education courses, it is also the foundation required for longer-term success in the labour market. Sadly those young people who do not attain 5 GCSEs at A*-C are seven times more likely to be not in education, employment or training (NEET) at 17 than those who achieve this level.

Schools are already doing much to raise attainment and should rightly be proud of their pupils’ achievements. They are aided in this task by a range of charities and social enterprises who deliver interventions in schools, often targeted at the most disadvantaged young people. For example,
ThinkForward, aims to help more young people achieve a successful transition from school to work. Our qualified coaches offer five years of intensive support for young people who have been identified by their schools as being most at-risk of dropping out of learning and becoming NEET.  We work with young people to improve their behaviour and attendance, focus on learning and decide what they want to do when they finish school. Programmes like ours give young people from low income families the confidence to strive for a future they never dreamed was possible.

Although most of the young people we support achieved Level 4 or below in their Key Stage 3 assessments at age 14, we are delighted that over 60% of them today achieved 5 GCSEs at A*-C. For example, Halima from Oaklands School in Tower Hamlets passed all of her GCSEs and will now study A-Levels at Cambridge Heath Sixth Form. Over the last two years she has gone from being a shy pupil who lacked confidence in her own abilities, to someone who now wants to pursue a career in law. Her coach has helped her to be in school consistently and focus on her studies, linked her up with a mentor in an investment bank and supported her get a part time job.

The programme wouldn’t have been possible without support from the DWP Innovation Fund, a payment by results scheme that funds us for every successful outcome we achieve. An increasingly common way of funding public services, payment by results incentivises the effectiveness of providers and ensures government only picks up the bill for the programmes that work. As a taxpayer, this is an attractive proposition, but can be challenging for small charities without the cash flow to manage payments sometimes years in arrears. The solution for us has been a Social Impact Bond, with investment by Big Society Capital and Impetus – The Private Equity Foundation. They have provided the upfront capital that enabled us to start delivering the programme and have taken all of the financial risk. In return, if we continue to be successful, next year we will pay back their investment with a small return.

So today let’s praise not just those with the very highest grades, but all young people who have achieved and those who have supported their attainment.

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