You would think the Children’s Commissioner Anne Longfield would know better. She is, after all, supposed to be the advocate for children and young people in England. But she seems ignorant about qualification levels.
Yesterday, Longfield published a report entitled: ‘Almost one in five children left education at 18 last year without basic qualifications.’ It was widely reported in the media with many carrying this comment:
‘It is shameful that last year almost 100,000 children in England left education at 18 without proper qualifications.’
You’d be forgiven for thinking that 100,000 18-year-olds (18%) had no qualifications at all after fourteen years of education. But this isn’t true.
Longfield has based her research on the proportion of 18-year-olds who didn’t reach Level Two attainment. In doing so, she ignores those young people who achieved Level One qualifications: GCSE grades 1-3 (old grades G-D) and their equivalents.
But Level One qualifications are basic qualifications. That’s why they’re called Level One. The government’s website makes it clear: Level One covers ‘essential skills’.
The Department for Education’s media department criticised Longfield’s report. It didn’t ‘provide the full picture’ because the data included discontinued exams. The DfE could have gone further: It could have said the report was flawed because it wrongly claimed Level Two was basic.
Why, then, did the DfE not make this clear? It’s because the DfE has an arbitrary ‘benchmark’ for accountability purposes. This is set at Level Two: five GCSEs including Maths and English at grade 5 (a ‘strong pass’) or above. A ‘standard pass’ is set at grade 4 but it’s not standard enough for league table purposes.
What constitutes 'pass' or 'fail' is muddled further when we look at the DfE's school performance tables. These have a section on each school’s record for ‘other measures – additional entry and achievement measures’. These show the proportion of pupils in England who achieve at least one qualification at age 16. In 2018, this was 97.70%
This suggests Longield’s claim that 18% at age 18 leave with no qualifications is flawed.
Longfield has made the mistake of comparing ‘benchmark’ with ‘basic’. According to Longfield, Level One qualifications equal ‘nothing’. In doing so, she has rubbished the achievement of young people who begin their adult life with Level One qualifications.
Instead of demanding an ‘independent review into falling level-2 attainment’, it would be better if the Children’s Commissioner argued for graduation at 18 via multiple routes.
If the Children’s Commissioner doesn’t accept that Level One qualifications are achievements for those young people who have them, then she is failing 100,000 of the young people she says she represents.