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  • Fri, 24 Mar 2017 14:50:00

    The benefits of vocational education for low-achieving school leavers

    Vahé Nafilyan, from the Institute for Employment Studies, writes on CVER's latest research paper which looks at a previously neglected group: school leavers starting low level vocational courses

    Every year, about 65,000 school leavers start low level vocational courses. As underlined in a report by the House of Lords Select Committee on Social Mobility these young people have received much less attention than those who go on to A-Levels and university and, at the other end of the spectrum, the small minority dropping out of education, employment or training. Although this is a sizeable group (10% of a cohort), their participation in vocational education and labour market outcomes have so far been barely documented.

    In a new paper we analyse in detail the school-to-work transition of young people who left school in the summer of 2011 and started low level vocational courses, known in England as ‘Below Level 2’ (BL2). Using newly available linked administrative data, we examine the characteristics of BL2 learners, their learning trajectory and their labour market outcomes.

    Young people who start BL2 courses after leaving secondary school are amongst those who have faced the greatest challenges in secondary school. They have extremely weak GCSE results. Nearly all of them failed to achieve five A*-C GCSEs, the typical requirement to start A-Levels; 68.5% of them did not achieve a single A*-C GCSE, a proportion higher than amongst those who left education and got a job (48.6%) or became ‘Not in Employment, Education or Training’ (NEET, 60.7%). BL2 learners were already struggling at school prior to GCSEs. Over half of them performed below the expected level in English and maths at Key Stage 3 (i.e. national examinations taken at 14 years old). In addition, 39.0% of them report having disabilities, learning difficulties or other health problems.

    BL2 courses have similar characteristics: most programmes require the completion of 300 to 400 Guided Learning Hours (GLH.), of which 200 to 300 GLH are devoted to the main subject. The main subject for about a third of all young people is Preparation for Life and Work, which focuses on personal and social skills for the purpose of personal growth and further engagement in learning. Amongst the subject areas with a clear vocational focus, the most popular are Construction (23.8%), Engineering (15.5%) and Retail (12.3%).

    We find significant progression in education by the BL2 learners. Nearly 80% of BL2 learners made successful transitions leading into continued employment, higher level college-based vocational education or apprenticeships. Three years after leaving secondary school, over half of the BL2 learners achieved a qualification at, or above, Level 2.

    However, one in five BL2 learners drop out of education and become and remain NEET. Our analysis suggests that females are at higher risk of becoming NEET than males. Those coming from more disadvantaged areas – as measured by the Index of Multiple Deprivation – are more likely to become NEET compared to those from more privileged backgrounds. Achieving the initial BL2 course is associated with lower risks of becoming NEET.

    Looking at labour market outcomes in the 2015 tax year, we find that 59.6% of BL2 learners were doing some paid work, and those who did some paid work earned on average £6,724. Employment rates and earnings are higher for learners who studied Engineering, Construction or Retail compared to Health, Public Service and Care, and Preparation for Life and Work.

    Our results also suggest that BL2 learners who achieved their initial vocational learning aim fare better in the labour market than those who did not. After controlling for demographic characteristics, past performance and behaviour at school, as well as college characteristics, achieving the initial BL2 course is associated with a 4.6 percentage point increase in the probability of carrying out some paid work in the 2015 tax year, and with 16.7% higher earnings. Earnings differentials associated with achievement were significantly different across subject areas. Achieving a BL2 course in Health, Public Service and Care, Retail or Engineering are associated with substantially higher earnings compared to achieving a BL2 course in Preparation for Life and Work, the most popular subject area.

    The main limitation of our study is that the association between achievement and improved labour market prospects cannot be interpreted as necessarily reflecting a causal effect. While we control for a number of individual and college characteristics, there may be other factors that drive both achievement and labour market outcomes. For instance, less motivated learners may be more at risk of dropping out and become NEET. Conversely, some learners may choose to move on to paid employment or higher level learning, before formally obtaining the qualification.

    In our view, the evidence suggests policies should try encourage and support adolescents’ engagement until they successfully gain their (low level) qualification. Evidence on interventions amongst adolescents show that the acquisition of basic skills in numeracy and literacy are greatly valued by employers. But targeting such cognitive skills in isolation is not sufficient for long term impacts on successful labour market performances. Non-cognitive skills such conscientiousness, self-discipline, perseverance, cooperation and willingness to be managed by more senior/adult employees are nearly equally essential ingredients to success on the labour market. The role of training mentors in this process can mimic parents involvement and appears most effective in firms-based environments away from formal schooling (Kautz et al., 2015).

    "Young people in low level vocational education: characteristics, trajectories and labour market outcomes", CVER Research Discussion Paper 004 is available at http://cver.lse.ac.uk/publications/


    Kautz, T., Heckman, J., Diris, R., ter Weel, B. and Borghans, L. (2014). Fostering and Measuring Skills: Improving Cognitive and Non-cognitive Skills to Promote Lifetime Success, OECD Education Working Papers, No. 110, OECD Publishing, Paris. doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1787/5jxsr7vr78f7-en

  • Fri, 17 Mar 2017 07:00:03

    Keeping up with the Joneses: Superstar houses and the US mortgage frenzy

    Built in 1927 on the eve of the Great Depression, the Palm Beach residence of President Donald Trump – Mar-a-Lago – ranks among the 20 biggest houses in the United States. At 62,500 square feet, it is about 35 times the size of the median suburban house in the country. Analysing a large dataset of houses built between 1920 and […]
  • Fri, 10 Mar 2017 11:07:00

    What should we do to help make our economy work for everyone?

    Posted by Henry G. Overman (SERC, LSE and What Works Centre for Local Economic Growth)

    The report of the Inclusive Growth Commission, published earlier this week, asks an incredibly important question: What should we do to help make our economy work for everyone?

    Despite being one of the Commissioners, I should confess up front that I don’t share the reports certainty in terms of specific policy reforms that would work.

    Some I like a lot, at least at the broader level. I support the general argument that the UK remains overly centralised and that further devolution could include some aspects of social policy. I like some of the detailed recommendations around using a small basket of indicators to measure ‘quality GVA’ – although more for the focus on distributional impacts than the proposed re-labelling. I’d like to see greater consideration given to these indicators in policy development and investment prioritisation. I also quite like the idea of a UK Inclusive Growth Investment Fund incorporating repatriated European Structural and Investment Funds (ESIF) – although I’d want to see that sit alongside a more traditional fund, as well as a non-ring fenced needs-based allocation to local areas.

    I flat out disagree with some of the other recommendations. I’m very wary about place-based industrial strategies. Particularly if they involve ‘sectoral coalitions’, local jobs for local people or public procurement procedures that emphasise local purchasing over transparency or value for money. I also remain to be convinced on regional banks.

    This list is far from exhaustive, and people that are familiar with my thinking can probably guess which of the remaining recommendations fit in which camp. But, for me, none of this matters relative to the importance of three central messages that emerge from the report.

    First, as Stephanie Flanders' introduction puts it: “we need to do a better job of measuring what counts”. As the report argues: “Traditional metrics of economic performance, such as GDP or at a regional level GVA, are a poor guide to social and economic welfare. They also do not tell us anything about how the opportunities and benefits of growth are distributed across different spatial areas and social or income groups.” For me, it is the second part of this argument that is absolutely crucial. I am fed up with seeing arguments for (e.g.) ‘high-tech’ strategies for poorly performing places that don’t (and can’t) spell out how particular investments would ever benefit lower income households in the area.

    Second, “investment in social infrastructure – including public health, early years support, skills and employment services – should go hand in hand with investment in physical infrastructure”. Back in 2008, the Manchester Independent Economic Review made a similar point. Right then, and right now.

    Third, we need to “align social and economic policy around promoting inclusive growth”. Again, this is crucially important. For many parts of central and local government, the key policy interventions for delivering inclusive growth lie far outside the traditional remit of local economic growth policy.

    Forget the details, it’s these three key messages that are central to developing policy that will help make the economy work for all.

    [This post first appeared on the RSA Inclusive Growth Commission Blog]

  • Thu, 09 Mar 2017 07:00:38

    Technology may not be responsible for jobless recoveries

    Since the early 1990s, the US has been plagued by weak employment growth when emerging from recessions – so called ‘jobless recoveries’. Georg Graetz and Guy Michaels look at multiple recoveries elsewhere in the world over a 40-year period to see if the same applies – and whether modern technology is responsible. Recoveries from recessions in the United States used […]
  • Sat, 04 Mar 2017 07:00:33

    LSE Growth Commission: invest more in people, not only buildings and machines

    The LSE Growth Commission sets out a new blueprint for inclusive and sustainable growth that deals with the challenges facing the UK, old and new. Based on the latest research, analysis and evidence from leading practitioners and scholars, the Commission – drawn from leading business, policy-making and academic figures – outlines the top priorities in four key areas. Jobs and […]