1 in 5 without basic qualifications | Nacro

1 in 5 without basic qualifications


The Government risks failing a generation of young people as almost one in five don’t achieve the equivalent of five good GCSEs by 19, an eight-year low, a new campaign highlights.
Nacro, one of the country’s largest independent further education providers, launches the ‘Learn Without Limits’ campaign today, calling on the Government to remove barriers to education at post 16, and to address the widening and significant attainment gap between disadvantaged young people and their better off peers to help tackle the growing skills crisis.

Hitting disadvantaged young people hardest

The lack of GCSE-level achievement is even more stark for disadvantaged young people, with more than one in three (38%) students on free school meals not achieving the equivalent of five good GCSEs by 19, a steep rise of 17% in the past five years.

Across the country there are large differences in GCSE level achievement for disadvantaged young people. In Bristol, half of young people on free school meals reach 19 without the equivalent of five good GCSEs, the worst performing Local Authority, compared to Kensington and Chelsea where only 13% leave without the qualifications, the best performing. At aged 16, therefore, it is then very important they there is a broad offer and choice to enable them to catch up and meet their potential before leaving further education or training.

A national crisis

Campbell Robb, Chief Executive of Nacro, said: “Almost one in five of England’s young people reach 19 are without these basic qualifications. This is far higher for those from disadvantaged backgrounds and has been getting worse over the last eight years. This is a national crisis, pure and simple. We work with these young people across England every day. They want the same things everyone else does, a job, a stable place to live, a future. And they are prepared to work for these things, but they need the right support in place, they need barriers removed.

“The Government has rightly identified education as key to levelling up life chances. But the Government’s focus and funding is targeted at school children and, in further education, on higher level qualifications. Those leaving education without five good GCSEs can fall into a domino effect of a lack of career options, low pay and limited life chances. Opportunities like those offered at Nacro at post 16 are so important to stop this cycle.”

Funding where its most needed

Currently extra financial support is cut back for disadvantaged students at 16, but after this point the education attainment gap is wide and increasing. By reducing the extra support at such a critical point we are leaving the most disadvantaged 16-19 year olds stranded.

We want: A Pupil Premium Plus – an extension of the extra funding given to disadvantaged pupils (Pupil Premium), to 16–19-year-olds. This is alongside a simplified bursary process giving students directly the money they need to pursue their educational ambitions.

Clear pathways to work or further learning

The Government’s focus on higher level qualification of Level 3 ignores the importance of the need for a broad set of Level 2 vocational or technical qualifications. Firstly, as a stepping stone to higher level skills and further education and training and secondly, as a direct entry point into the workforce for industries such as hospitality, construction and health and social care. The Department for Education is currently consulting on Level 2 qualifications. Experts fear that the Government may choose to remove many Level 2 qualifications all together, replacing them with a one-year transition programme which may not give the support and time needed for young people to catch up and reach their potential.

We want: A guaranteed broad range of high-quality, employer endorsed vocational or technical qualifications at Level 2 and below.

Digital access for all

We saw during the pandemic how the lack of digital access hampered or even halted learning for some of the most disadvantaged students.

We want: A Digital Inclusion Guarantee in order to close the digital divide – this requires the guarantee of data and devices for all young people; digitally enabling staff at education providers, and ensuring all providers digital infrastructure can cater for online learning.


Notes to editors

Nacro, one of the country’s largest charitable further education providers, committed to giving people the best chance at a second chance. We know that by removing the barriers and providing the right support, we can give people the chance they need to create a better life for themselves, their families and their communities. For more than 50 years we have delivered services across the country, whilst speaking out for those we support.

For further information please contact suzi.price@nacro.org.uk.

Find out more about the campaign at www.nacro.org.uk/learn-without-limits

Level 2 attainment by young people aged 19 – read more.