As we look back over the devastation the pandemic has wreaked on many young people’s educational careers over the last two years, it’s clear that young people from disadvantaged backgrounds have been the most adversely affected. If you weren’t lucky enough to have parents at home who could pick up the slack as stand-in teachers, you were immediately at a huge disadvantage compared to your peers.
Within this context, Nacro’s vital Learn without Limits campaign is drawing attention to the urgent need for Government to remove barriers for disadvantaged young people aged 16 – 19 in the years ahead and set them on the path to fulfilling aspirations and ambitions, as well as being able to productively contribute to the UKPlc.
I believe that every young person is bright and each have their own unique abilities and can contribute positively to society, if only they are given the chance. Sadly, the current education system is just not stacked in every young person’s favour. We seem to have an unhealthy preoccupation in the UK with forcing young people to repeatedly resit GCSEs in the erroneous belief that they will eventually pass – (spoiler alert, many will not and will just end up dropping out of the schooling system in frustration) – and view access to university as the ultimate gold standard destination at the end. However as we are witnessing more and more people graduating from University are often less likely to be employable than say an Apprentice, or get into jobs they could have done even prior to going to university.
Last year, a shocking fact but a third of young people left school without their Maths and English GCSEs, immediately putting them at a huge disadvantage in the jobs market. The reasons that young people do not achieve their GCSEs are complex, they might have a learning disability, come from a background of entrenched poverty with generations of low attainment and low aspiration, be a young carer or have been unwell and struggled to catch up, amongst a myriad of other reasons.
The Further Education sector is often a lifeline for people who have failed to achieve in the academic education system. Giving the opportunity to have a second chance at gaining some qualifications and confidence that will allow them to enter the jobs market and access a meaningful career.
At City & Guilds we launched a piece of research earlier this year which discussed the importance of alternative Level 2 and below qualifications in helping people (young and old) who have not been able to leave school with a clutch of GCSEs, for whatever reason.
The Government is currently undertaking a review of Level 2 and below qualifications with the central belief at the core of the review being that most of these qualifications are low value and unnecessary. Whilst we at City & Guilds certainly agree that some streamlining of these qualifications is very much needed, there are currently a baffling array of them available, a key finding of our report is that the review of Level 2 and below qualifications fails to consider the full value of these qualifications in helping to create a level playing field for those who leave full time education without basic GCSE qualifications.
For decades, Level 2 and below qualifications have provided people with essential workplace skills, as well as critical core skills such as literacy, numeracy and digital skills. They have also in many cases formed a springboard to further education and progression, often then into Higher Education or Degree Apprenticeships – (even better!)
Crucially, Level 2 and entry level qualifications have provided many people with the opportunity to specialise in vocations and sectors such as construction, transport, childcare, hospitality and catering – many of which were essential skills we relied on during Covid and as we now know, many of these careers facing huge skills shortages, thanks to the impact of Brexit and the pandemic. Therefore, we urgently need to offer people access to qualifications that deliver these skills in demand and at same time pay better and fairer for these skills. That’s what levelling up looks like.
We have asked Government to consider the consequences of their review of Level 2 qualifications carefully or risk ‘kicking out the ladder’ from some of the most vulnerable in society, and another consequence would be to further create a chasm in the skills gaps we have today in many good level 2 jobs.
To ensure that the eventual reforms to post 16 education don’t harm the chances of the many learners who depend on these qualifications, we’re asking Government to ensure that any approach to rewrite post 16 education is more nuanced, providing opportunities for people to progress, retrain or get ‘a second chance’ at all ages and stages of their lives.