Skip to main content

CVER Research Paper

Post-compulsory education in England: choices and implications


Most students do not follow the 'academic track' (i.e. A-levels) after leaving school and only about a third of students go to university before the age of 20. Yet, progression routes for the majority that do not take this path but opt for vocational post-compulsory education are not as well-known and not subject to the same degree of discussion in the media or in academia. In this paper we track decisions made by all students in England who left compulsory education after having undertaken the national examination (GCSE) at age 16 in the year 2009/10. We find that A-levels and vocational equivalents at Level 3 are equally strong predictors of staying on in education up to the age of 18 and achieving a Level 3 qualification before the age of 20. Our findings are more troubling in relation to lower levels of learning: most people classified as pursuing 'Level 2' qualifications at age 17 do not progress any higher up the education qualification ladder.

With respect to apprenticeships, the people accessing intermediate or Level 2 apprenticeships are lower achieving on average, and although the people accessing advanced apprenticeships are a little higher achieving than the average, they have a completely different profile than those students who undertake A-levels and go to university. In the public debate, it is often suggested that those undertaking A-levels should instead take up an apprenticeship. Our analysis suggests that this scenario is unlikely unless the type of apprenticeships on offer change in such a way as to appeal to these high achieving students. However, at a time of rising concern about UK inequality, it is more important than ever to focus on educational opportunities for all. One key focus should be on tackling the problem that our research reveals: that those lower down the educational ladder lack clear progression routes.


Claudia Hupkau, Sandra McNally, Jenifer Ruiz-Valenzuela and Guglielmo Ventura

8 July 2016     Paper Number CVERDP001

Download PDF - Post-compulsory education in England: choices and implications

This CVER Research Paper is published under the Centre for Vocational Education Research.

This publication comes under the following theme: Vocational education and training