Datalab challenges claim that 100,000 18 year-olds left education with no exams

Janet Downs's picture

The Children’s Commissioner’s briefing entitled ‘The children leaving school with nothing’ published last week, is inaccurately headlined, says Education DataLab.  It would be more correct if it had been topped, ‘The children leaving school or college without having achieved Level 2 with Level 2 referring to the National Qualifications Framework and being equivalent to five or more A*-C grades at GCSE.’

Such a headline would not have attracted the same attention as the claim by Anne Longfield, the Children’s Commission, that 18% of 18-year-olds in England left education in 2018 with no qualifications.  But the longer heading would have been more accurate.

As Dave Thomson points out in his DataLab blog, “Some thoughts on ‘The children leaving school with nothing’”, the Children’s Commissioner’s description of ‘nothing’ appears to mean not having five or more GCSEs A* to C (new grades 9 to 4/5).  This ‘very broad definition’ of ‘nothing’ would include young people who had four such GCSEs or equivalent.

Leaving education with four GCSEs A*-C is not nothing.  Neither is leaving school with Level One qualifications as I pointed out here.

Longfield’s report called for an independent review to find out why the proportion of young people leaving education at 18 with no Level 2 qualifications had grown since 2015.  DataLab gives two explanations:

1         Attainment at Level 2 is ‘under-reported’ in Department for Education data for the end of Key Stage 5 even though ‘small’ vocational qualifications used to be included in Key Stage 4 data.

2         Changes in secondary school accountability after the Wolf Review and the introduction of Progress 8 have changed Key Stage 4 exam entry patterns.

Claiming that having fewer than five GCSEs (or equivalent) graded A*-C is ‘nothing’ is inaccurate.  Worse, it belittles young people who don’t reach this arbitrary benchmark – a benchmark which has no value for young people but which is only used to judge schools.

Read the full DataLab analysis here.

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