Young people in low level vocational education: characteristics, trajectories and labour market outcomes

De Coulon A, Hedges S, Nafilyan V, Speckesser S |   | Centre for Vocational Education Research | Mar 2017

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The analysis in this report, authored by researchers from IES, London Economics and Kings College London as part of the Centre for Vocational Education Research project, engages with the ongoing debate around young people's transitions from school to work.

Although 10 per cent of school leavers in England start low level vocational education (normally below Level 2, ‘BL2’), very little is known about the characteristics of learners, their participation in vocational education and their labour market outcomes.

Benefiting from large size linked administrative data for a full cohort of young people, this report details research, conducted using sequence analysis methods, aimed at understanding the similarities and differences in the biographies of young people who engaged in BL2 programmes. The research also created clusters of learners with similar biographies, detailed in this report.

As a result of the exploratory analysis, the research finds four main BL2 trajectories which can help policymakers target their interventions more efficiently. Around 45 per cent of all BL2 learners show a clear progression in college-based vocational education to programmes at higher levels, while 21 per cent make a transition into a persistent NEET status, mainly from dropping out in year one. Another 21 per cent move to sustained employment, mainly after their first year, sometimes after undertaking a Level 2 qualification. Progression to apprenticeships was achieved by 13 per cent of BL2 learners.

Another key finding is that achieving a low level qualification, started by the age of 16, leads to better employment prospects and to higher earnings four years later. This suggests that policy should encourage and support adolescents’ engagement until they successfully gain their (low level) qualification.