Disadvantaged young people are being left behind. Vocational and technical qualifications can help.

Education helps young people discover their talents, develop resilience and realise their potential. Unfortunately for some young people, our incumbent education system prevents them from doing so. Disadvantaged young people face the biggest educational challenges, particularly when they qualify for free school meals (FSM) and/or have special educational needs (SEN). The more disadvantaged a young person is, the greater the negative impact on Key Stage 4 (KS4) attainment is likely to be. 

For example, young people with SEN have a GCSE attainment gap deficit of 17 grades in comparison to young people without SEN. 

The government claims that the attainment gap is narrowing, but a report by the Education Endowment Foundation show that this gap is only shrinking very slightly. Between 2006 and 2017, the attainment gap between disadvantaged young people and advantaged young people in primary schools fell by 2.8% and in secondary schools by 3%. 

Although there is a visible fall in the attainment gap in that 11 year period, if the government is to persist on its current track, it would take 50 years to close the attainment gap between young people with disadvantages and those without them. This is simply too slow. 

What happens in the classroom makes the biggest difference and all young people need a broad curriculum, that gives them essential life skills and provides them with high quality qualifications to progress into employment, training or further education. That is why I believe introducing a new technical route alongside GCSEs, during KS4, would provide young people who are disaffected with the current GCSE system with a promising alternative. 

By 19, over 164,000 young people had still not achieved a good standard of recognised qualification in English and Maths, this included 50% of young people who qualified for FSM. With a new technical route at KS4, young people would be required to take English and Maths GCSEs alongside a suite of technical qualifications (as I outline here in another blog post). 

Students with SEN who have taken a technical award/qualification in a state funded school have a 21% lower absence rate, 44% lower permanent exclusion rate and a 10% lower fixed exclusion rates. The link between absence and taking a vocational or technical qualification shows a statistically significant positive link. By keeping disadvantaged young people in school through the alternative technical route at KS4, the attainment gap could be closed faster than its current rate. 

By using vocational and technical qualifications to keep disadvantaged young people engaged in their studies, through greater attendance and a desire to achieve, we can focus their attention on passing English and Maths at level 2. This would provide an answer as to how we can lower the staggering number of 164,000 young people without a good recognised qualification in English and Maths. It would also fulfil the pre-requisites, that are good English and Maths qualifications, for young people progressing into secure employment, further education or training helping these students move onto higher earning jobs. 

Furthermore, supplementing disadvantaged young people’s fundamental skills learning with subjects they are interested in, and that provide them with the best opportunities for future life, gives disadvantaged young people the opportunity to achieve their very best, to break the vicious social cycle of their disadvantaged background and prompt an upward movement in social mobility. 

The government should be helping schools deliver the very best education for all young people. Currently cohorts of students in today’s education system are being left behind. By adapting and reforming the current curriculum, to provide greater choice and opportunity for young people to thrive, should be of paramount importance. Making these changes can help prepare Britain’s young people for the fourth industrial revolution, where technical skills and training will be strongly desired by employers. This can help put our most disadvantaged at the forefront of this new age. Furthermore, by engaging the poorest and most disadvantaged in society to participate and thrive in education and training we can help supercharge social mobility in Britain, allowing these disadvantaged young people to do significantly better than their parents. 

By J Logan

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