What are the consequences for young people leaving school as a result of the pandemic?

How can more detailed statistics about school leavers help us understand and effect real change for our young people?

Last year we published our UK wide report – Exploring the public value of statistics about post-16 education and skills. This was an in-depth look at the post-16 education sector and covered statistics on workforce skills, universities and higher education, further education and colleges and apprenticeships. Doing a multi country, multi sector report of this nature was for me, a challenge in many ways, not only due to the fact that we were engaging with multiple producers and users all with diverse viewpoints, but also because there was a myriad of different statistics as well as data gaps to consider. We also wanted to ensure that areas of good practice and shared learning opportunities were highlighted across the four nations.

Our research highlighted the following areas as being of greatest importance to the sector:

  1. the coherence of the available statistics, how they inform the bigger picture
  2. the accessibility of the statistics to users
  3. how well the current statistics fully meet the information needs of users and understanding where there may be information gaps

They say that timing is everything and of course by July last year we were in the midst of the global pandemic with the post-16 sector like many others facing immense challenges. We still felt however, that it was important to publish and share what we had found.

One year on…

Across the country this month, young people are leaving compulsory education and making decisions on their future career prospects. As both a parent and regulator in the children, education and skills domain, I think of the tough decisions young people are making, with the stakes seemingly higher than ever in a world of increased uncertainty during the pandemic. We need to ensure that the data available to help them is timely, relevant and accessible to those that need it.

We have been encouraged that, even with the challenges faced by the post-16 education sector, we have seen many of the recommendations we made in our report progress, but there is more to do.

Statistics to make a real difference

Leading the user engagement of the Scotland statistics, I remember how passionately some researchers spoke about the need for good quality statistics to track individuals from their early years in the education system, through to the choices they make in their post-16 years and beyond. They felt this could make a difference, building an evidence base to support targeted interventions at the right time.

It was also an eye opener for me to find out about the complexities around linking this data using a common unique identifier between schools, colleges and universities as well as other post-16 options. Again, the real value comes when the linked datasets tell the stories and thus allow progress and change within the education system. This has benefits beyond those who have been linked in the data as it enables researchers understand issues and develop appropriate solutions for the future.

As we continue our engagement with the relevant statistics producers, we will encourage them to address issues around data granularity, quality and linkage so those working within this sector can understand and effect real change for our young people. As the effects of COVID-19 may affect their outcomes for decades to come – they deserve it now, more than ever.

If you wish to discuss user views for post-16 education and skills statistics please get in touch with us.