Youth Ambassadors Opinions: Reviewing Post-16 qualifications at Level 3

The Department for Education (DfE) is holding a consultation to review post-16 qualifications at level 3 and below in England. The review has two main aims:

  1. Clearer qualifications choices for young people and adults,
  2. Ensure that every qualification approved for public funding has a distinct purpose, is high quality and supports progression to positive outcomes for students.

The previous stage of this consultation saw the confirmation of the removal of 163 qualifications (where reformed versions already existed). This consultation focuses on level 3 qualifications and seeks views on DfE’s proposals for the groups of qualifications that would continue to be funded alongside A levels and T Levels.

Virtual Roundtable and Survey with Youth Ambassadors

We hosted a virtual roundtable with Youth Ambassadors and asked them to answer a short survey on the review of post-16 qualifications at level 3.

In the roundtable we asked our Youth Ambassadors to think about:

  1. Employability support; what would be helpful in understanding the opportunities that are available to you? What skills do you think employers are looking for?
  2. Barriers; are quality opportunities available locally? Have you faced any issues in accessing higher education? Are there financial barriers to accessing your next steps?
  3. Choices: was university, an apprenticeship or a vocational route an option for you? What were your reasons for and against your chosen qualification?

In our short survey we asked Youth Ambassadors:

  1. The Government wants to ensure that the options available to young people post 16 are all equal and of high quality. Do you agree or disagree with the following statement: “choosing an apprenticeship, to study a technical or vocational course, or going to university, should all have the same prestige”.
  2. What do you think the Government will need to do to ensure that ALL post-16 options are seen as quality opportunities by young people, teachers and parents?
  3. Do you think that learning about employability skills and careers should be a higher priority in education? What would good look like to you?
  4. Do you think that where you live and who you are (you’re demographic, are someone with special education needs, receive(d) free school meal or have other protected characteristics and other barriers) impacts your choices and options? If yes what should be done about this?
  5. If you could redesign the education system from secondary school to employment what would you do?

Post-16 qualifications on an equal footing

All respondents in the survey and those attending the roundtable agreed with the statement “choosing an apprenticeship, to study a technical or vocational course, or going to university, should all have the same prestige”.

There was also a consistent theme around the value of work experience related to the qualification or subject being studied that would provide clearer career options and pathways to getting the job once qualifications were complete. Some respondents mentioned that they would like to see more collaboration between employers and colleges/sixth form, universities and qualification providers but highlighted young people should also have a part to play in that partnership

“I’d like to see more promotion around apprenticeship and BTECs. For example posters or visits from past students. Of those who have attended universities, where they attended, whether they have A-levels or whether they have other qualifications at the same level. So many young people think only those with A levels want to/can attend uni. So maybe using the actual candidates experiences, which qualifications they went for, what they achieved and where they are now [in their career/education].” Youth Ambassador, Youth Employment UK

The Priority of Employability skills and Career Options in Education

Young people in our network, in the roundtable and survey for this consultation unanimously told us that employability skills and career options should be more of a focus in education. Education providers and practitioners should give more priority to building employability skills at an earlier age, 14 was the suggested age. They also told us this leads to less confidence in what skills they have that are relevant to the workplace, but even the application and interview process before getting a job. Young people also felt that the pathways to careers were unclear and that they do not feel prepared for work.

“…the earlier young people build these skills the better. Especially since work experience begins from year 11. It should be made mandatory in the curriculum.”“100%. [The Department for Education] Need to add a compulsory careers session from 14yrs old within the curriculum to get people thinking about the options and everything that goes with this.”“I think you should be made to think about what job you want when you’re in y11 and be given websites for job search to get an idea or be given a careers fair to see all the possibilities or other careers help etc.”

“Employability skills should definitely [be a priority] and it should be by work experience, assessment of efficiency in the workplace, workshops about developing work suitable behaviour and skills.”

“Good education would involve comprehensive and clear information on qualifications available, where they can lead, and the support available to take them. It’s super important to talk about financing the different options.” Youth Ambassadors, Youth Employment UK

Location and Barriers

Young people attending the roundtable and answering the short survey focused on four main areas (1) mental health, (2) regional disparities and (3) financial challenges. Mental health and confidence is a growing concern for our young people; more support and understanding is needed around these services. They told us that location really matters, not just in the opportunities that are available in their local areas but also the transport availability, reliability and cost factor involved that impact decisions around education or employment choices.
“Spread out opportunities regionally and provide mental health support”

“Yes because poorer [young] people might be more forced into just getting any job for money etc.”

“…being from north England, we don’t have the same access to opportunities in the south. [Travel expenses are  a barrier] And even when opportunities cover travel expenses, it takes time out of my day when I could be working my part-time job. My family doesn’t have the same connections either.” Youth Ambassadors, Youth Employment UK

Finally, in our roundtable and survey we asked young people how they would redesign the education to employment system in order to gauge what is working well and what needs to be improved. Young people noted the need for a reform, the shift away from focusing on the A-Levels to University pathway and more about other technical, vocational and apprenticeship opportunities available to them. There was a call for more awareness of disability in learning and then moving forward into the labour market. Work experience featured heavily in the conversation, alongside more hands-one learning. Young people had great ideas, some are captured below:

Paraphrased: More opportunities of work experience that allow young people to work in sectors they aren’t working towards, as well as the ones they are. This can give them a wider range of skills and a better understanding of all job sectors rather than the one they have their eye on at the moment. Help young people to understand they don’t need to know what they want to do right now, that career choices change all the time and that should hopefully give them confidence to see how each sector operates and gain practical knowledge.

“Making it more disability confident and help people with a disability to understand that they need to find disability confident jobs and how to do this. Help people with a disability work in the way they need .”“Add more options and opportunities to do work experience /incorporate more apprenticeship style learning with some remuneration to aid the person to live.”

“Abolish private schools. It should be about ability and not what money can buy you. The system needs to be more inclusive- no special schools or SEND classes, everyone should be taught together to increase empathy and understanding.”

“I like it as it is but I think more companies need to get onboard to offer more apprenticeships. More BTECS within schools and not forcing people to do A Levels.” Youth Ambassadors, Youth Employment UK

For more information, please email info@youthemployment.org.uk or call 01536 513388.

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