The Childrens Commissioner for England has urged the government to take action after analysis has shown that 18 per cent of children are leaving education at 18 failing to reach five GCSEs grade A* to C, or equivalent technical qualifications.
Anne Longfield has published research showing that 98,799 children in England (18% of all school leavers) left education at 18 without substantive qualifications by reaching Level 2 attainment. This rate is now rising after it fell continuously between 2005 and 2015.
Anne Longfield, the Children’s Commissioner for England, said: “It is shameful that last year almost 100,000 children in England left education at 18 without proper qualifications. It is particularly unacceptable that children growing up in the poorest areas of the country and children with special educational needs are most likely to leave school without reaching basic levels of attainment."
The research suggests that the rise is fuelled by a sharp increase in the proportion of pupils receiving Free School Meals failing to achieve these targets. Since 2015, the number of children receiving FSM who have left education without proper qualifications has increased to 28,225 – up from 28% to 37% of all education leavers in England.
While children are now in education for longer with the compulsory education age in England extending to 18 during this period, more of them are failing to get basic qualifications. Hundreds of thousands of young people are leaving education without the necessary qualifications to begin certain apprenticeships or start technical or academic courses.
In 2015, 6.6% of 16-18 year olds were not in education, employment or training. By the end of 2018 this had dropped to 6.3%.
Anne Longfield's report also highlighted:
- The attainment gap between children with Special Educational Needs and non-SEN pupils by age 19 have risen from 26% in 2015 to 33% in 2018, making SEN students the worst affected.
- The attainment gap between children living in the least and most deprived areas of England has risen from 13% in 2015 to 17% in 2018.
- Children receiving Free School Meals who live in London had the best academic outcomes.
- London stood out for having the lowest attainment gaps between FSM and non-FSM at 11.9 percentage points in 2018.
- This contrasts with the East Midlands which had a far greater attainment gap of 27.8 percentage points in 2018.
- In Derby, North Lincolnshire and Swindon local authorities – less than half of FSM students are achieving Level 2 by age 19. Nottingham has the worst attainment rates across England with around a third of all children (32%) not being qualified to Level 2 by age 19.
Using her powers under Section 2C of the Children’s Act 2004, the Children’s Commissioner has written to the government, to formally request that ministers take action. Specifically, Anne Longfield is asking the Department for Education to conduct an independent review into falling Level 2 attainment, to commit to halving the number of children failing to get a Level 2 qualification by the age of 19 within five years, and for the Department to set out a clear action plan for improving opportunities and attainment of children who do not achieve 5 GCSEs or equivalents by 16, including access to apprenticeships and vocational courses.
Ms Longfield said: “While we should celebrate the progress that is being made in raising standards for millions of children, it should never be an acceptable part of the education system for thousands of children to leave with next to nothing.
“The government must urgently investigate why the progress that has been made over recent years in closing the attainment gap has stalled and now going backwards, and commit itself to halving over the next five years the number of children failing to gain a Level 2 qualification by the age of 19," she concluded.
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