Non-academic students ‘overlooked’ by focus on traditional education

Young people who don’t follow a traditional education after the age of 16 are “overlooked and left behind”, according to a House of Lords report.

Research by the Social Mobility Select Committee found that more than half (53 per cent) of young people shun the traditional route of A-levels and university, yet are “significantly overlooked” in their transition into work.

The study suggested that over-16s suffer due to too great an emphasis on higher education and a lack of other suitable training options.


Social mobility stifled

In England in 2013-14, just 47 per cent of 16 and 17-year-olds started A-levels, the report found. In addition, it said, the heavy focus on academic performance in schools can leave too many pupils disheartened – especially those who are middle-ability achievers – which in turn affects social mobility.

Apprenticeships and vocational training routes can offer viable alternatives, but more options need to be made available for school-leavers for whom these routes are not suitable, argued chair of the committee, Baroness Corston.

“The current system for helping people move from school to work is failing most young people. They are simply not being adequately prepared for the world of work,” she said.

“This significantly disadvantages a huge number of young people and limits their opportunity for social mobility.


Life skills are crucial

“We have found that without being taught life skills, given the right support, access to work experience and robust, independent careers advice, we are in danger of trapping these young people in low-skilled, low-paid work, with little chance of a rewarding career.”

A further barrier to young people finding the most appropriate ways into a career is the lack of clarity surrounding different qualifications, their quality, and the opportunities they might lead to.

This can also prove problematic to employers, Baroness Corston added, with disparities in funding between academic and non-academic options putting many young people at an even greater disadvantage.


Held back by ‘gobbledygook’

“A young person considering their options for further education or employment is presented with gobbledygook. It is totally unclear to them how they can get the skills needed for a successful career. Non-traditional qualifications are also poorly understood by employers, who cannot be expected to understand the bewildering array on offer, much less have confidence in their quality.

“The huge difference in funding between the academic and non-academic route into work is something that the government must look at if we are to give all our young people an equal chance at succeeding in life.

“Simply put, young people choosing not to go to university are not invested in as they should be.”