DfE urged to review falling Level 2 attainment

The Children’s Commissioner has released analysis showing that in 2018, 98,799 children in England (18% of all school leavers) left education at 18 without substantive qualifications (reaching Level 2 attainment - five GCSEs grade A* to C, or equivalent technical qualifications).

This rate is now rising after it fell continuously between 2005 and 2015. The Commissioner’s research shows this rise is being driven by a sharp increase in the proportion of pupils receiving Free School Meals (FSM) 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.

The research shows that while children are now in education for longer, more of them are failing to get basic qualifications. This means that hundreds of thousands of young people are leaving education without the necessary qualifications to begin certain apprenticeships or start technical or academic courses. This is despite the compulsory education age in England extending to 18 during this period and children therefore being in education for longer. 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%. This means that children spent more time in education, yet were still more likely to leave without basic qualifications.

The report also finds that attainment gaps between 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 gaps 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 3 Local Authorities across England – Derby, North Lincolnshire and Swindon – 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.

In response to this research, the Children’s Commissioner 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.

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