16-19 attainment declining?

Funding cuts in the 16-19 sector may now be starting to affect outcomes. Data from by the DfE at https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/791405/L23_attainment_2018_main_text.pdf provides a gloomy picture in terms of many of the outcomes measured. Some of the declines may be due to policy changes, such as the uncoupling of AS levels and changes in GCSE English and mathematics as well as policy changes in the field of vocational qualifications at the lower outcome levels, but others are not as easy to tie into changes.

The most depressing char is that on page 14 that charts the attainment gaps between SEN and non-SEN; FSM and non-FSM and the last and most deprived IDACI areas. Between 2005 and 2014 the gaps were narrowing year on year. Since then, the gaps after flattening in the final years of the coalition have started to widen once again. Is this another example of austerity hitting the most vulnerable?

Perhaps the most depressing comment from the document is that ‘54.5% of those with a SEN (as at age 15) achieved Level 2 by the age of 19, compared to 87.6% of those who did not have a SEN. The gap of 33.0% in 2018 represents a widening of 3.8 ppts compared with the previous year.’ Not far behind is the comment that ‘73.4% of those who lived in the 25% most deprived areas according to the Income Deprivation Affecting Children Index (IDACI) achieved Level 2 by the age of 19, compared to 90.8% of those who lived in the 25% least deprived areas. The gap of 17.4 ppts in 2018 represents a widening of 1.3 ppts compared with the previous year.’ So what was the outcome for those with SEN in the most deprived areas?

Attainment of Level 2 English and maths fell for both the FSM group and the non-FSM group, with the gap between the two cohorts increasing compared to 2017. This might also be a pointer to funding pressures in the 16-19 sector. Most of the increase was in non-GCSE qualifications, suggesting that vocational qualifications might have been coming under more pressure than classroom subjects?

Still, attainment levels for Level 3 remain above the levels achieved in 2010 for the different groups. However, it is interesting to see that young people with FSM status do better at Level 2 by age 19 in the north East than in the South East, according to the local authority tables. Perhaps the smaller percentages of FSM status young people in some parts of the South East where employment rates are often higher than in the north East means that these can represent some hard to reach young people.

Should the funding of the 16-19 age group pay more attention to the needs of those falling behind, on whatever measure? Would that be better than a general boost to funding for the age group? Much may depend upon your views of hypothecated funding compared with unassigned budgets that institutions can spend as they wish.