There has been much attention on the disproportionate impact of remote learning on disadvantaged pupils, with some evidence that disadvantaged pupils have been more likely to receive fewer hours of schooling then their peers. This has led to concern over a growth in the ‘destinations gap’ between disadvantaged and other pupils in the next few years. To understand what impact there might be on disadvantaged pupils’ destinations, we first need to explore the current pathways taken. This article looks at the latest published DfE data on the destinations of disadvantaged young people following Key Stage 4 (KS4) and Key Stage 5 (KS5).
While there is traditionally a lot of focus on headline attainment and progress accountability measures, these longer term destination outcomes are crucial to students’ future life chances. Below we look at how disadvantaged pupil destinations compare with other pupils at a national level, before exploring the geographical variation in disadvantaged pupil destinations across England. This analysis suggests that where you are disadvantaged could be a more important factor for your destination after schooling than if you are disadvantaged. Specifically, disadvantaged young people in London are far more likely to follow academic pathways, into sixth forms and higher education, than those outside the capital. This post then takes this understanding of the current picture, along with our previous analysis of the 2020 grading system, to consider how the destinations of disadvantaged young people may be affected over the next few years.
The data explored in this post looks at the type of activity that young people went on to following KS4 in state-funded mainstream or special schools and following KS5 Level 3 study (including A levels, Applied General and Tech levels) in a state-funded mainstream school or college. The latest data looks at the destinations in 2018/19 of the cohorts completing KS4 and KS5 studies in 2017/18.
Disadvantaged pupil pathways across England
Destinations after KS4
Across England, 88.4% of disadvantaged pupils stayed in education, employment or training after KS4, compared with 96.2% of other pupils. Beyond this headline disparity, there is a clear difference in the post-16 pathways taken by disadvantaged pupils compared with other pupils. Only 35.4% of disadvantaged pupils went on to a sixth form school or college, compared to well over half of other pupils. Conversely, disadvantaged pupils were far more likely than their peers to go into further education. While disadvantaged pupils were more likely to go into employment, they were less likely to undertake an apprenticeship. In other words, this difference can be broadly summarised as disadvantaged pupils being relatively more likely to pursue vocational qualifications offered by further education institutions, while other pupils are relatively more likely to go into sixth forms that offer a greater proportion of academic courses.
Figure 1 – Destinations after KS4 of disadvantaged and other pupils
Destinations after KS5
Looking at the destinations of students who have completed a Level 3 course at KS5, the difference between disadvantaged young people and their peers was far smaller than after KS4. Just under 85% of disadvantaged students stayed in education, employment or training, compared with 89% of other students. Around half of both groups went onto higher education, though it was slightly lower for disadvantaged students, and around a further fifth went into employment. Despite the similar rates of entry into higher education, disadvantaged students were far less likely to have gone into Russell Group universities.
Figure 2 – Destinations after KS5 of disadvantaged and other students (Level 3)
Disadvantaged pupil destinations by local authority and region
The map below shows the percentage of disadvantaged KS4 and KS5 finishers who went into each destination type in every region and local authority in England.
Figure 3 – Interactive map of the destinations of disadvantaged young people by region and local authority
*The percentages of students going into Russell Group universities are for the cohort finishing KS5 two years prior (2016/17) to allow for the destination to have been achieved in either of the two years following completion of KS5.
Key findings for KS4 destinations:
- Eight of the ten local authorities with the highest percentages of disadvantaged pupils staying in education, employment or training after KS4 were in London, with only one London local authority (Richmond) below the England average. Conversely, all 12 local authorities in the North East were below the England average
- In all regions, except London, FE was the most common destination for disadvantaged pupils after KS4, with more than four in ten going on to FE in each other region. However, there was variation within the capital, with two London local authorities (Islington and Richmond) seeing a higher percentage of disadvantaged pupils going into FE than the England average
- Conversely, at 45.2%, disadvantaged pupils in London were around twice as likely to go on to a school sixth form after KS4 than the next highest region. This pattern was true for other pupils too and is partly down to the much higher proportion of schools with sixth forms in London than elsewhere and Londoners being far more likely to stay in the same institution between Year 11 and Year 12 than elsewhere (see our report on London’s post-16 trajectories for further details)
- With the exceptions of Liverpool and the Wirral, every local authority in the North West had a below England average rate of disadvantaged pupils going on to school sixth forms
- The South West had the highest percentage of disadvantaged pupils going into apprenticeships after KS4, while London had the lowest, under half the percentage of the next lowest region. London had a similarly low rate of pupils going on to employment
Key findings for KS5 destinations:
- As was the case at KS4, academic pathways were far more common for disadvantaged students in London than elsewhere, with more than six in ten going on to HE in London. No other region saw over half of their disadvantaged students go into HE. In fact, in London a higher percentage of disadvantaged students went into HE than other students
- In some London local authorities around seven in ten Level 3 disadvantaged students went on to a higher education institution after KS5. At the other end of the spectrum, in eight local authorities this figure was less than three in ten
- There was similar variation in the percentages of disadvantaged students going into Russell Group universities. In Newham, 22.6% of disadvantaged students went into these universities, more than ten times the percentages in Salford and Warrington
- Across England’s local authorities, the rates of disadvantaged students going into employment range from 40.3% to 9.7%, and the rates undertaking apprenticeships range from 13.6% to less than 1%. Generally, the percentages going into employment were lowest in England’s major cities and highest in rural local authorities. London’s KS5 disadvantaged cohort were again the least likely to go into employment or undertake an apprenticeship.
Is disadvantage different in London?
While it is clear from the analysis above that disadvantaged pupils across England take very different pathways following KS4 and KS5, it is also obvious that London is particularly different from the rest of the country, with much higher rates of disadvantaged pupils pursuing academic pathways (school sixth form and higher education). This means that the pathways taken by London’s disadvantaged cohort look far more like those taken by other pupils than like the destinations of the disadvantaged cohort across the rest of England.
Figure 4 – London’s disadvantaged pupil destinations after KS4 compared with disadvantaged and other pupils elsewhere
Figure 5 – London’s disadvantaged student destinations after KS5 compared with disadvantaged and other students elsewhere
Figures 4 and 5 show that, at both KS4 and KS5, London’s disadvantaged cohorts were much less similar to disadvantaged pupils elsewhere than they were to other pupils elsewhere. In fact, London’s disadvantaged cohorts were even more likely to pursue academic pathways than the other cohorts outside London.
So why is London so different? Some of the difference may be explained by the higher rates of students in London qualifying to Level 3 by age 19 (equivalent of achieving two A levels), giving them the chance to enter higher education. However, this cannot explain why London’s disadvantaged are more likely to enter higher education than the other cohorts elsewhere as, despite having a higher percentage than FSM cohorts elsewhere, the percentage of London’s FSM cohort qualified to Level 3 by 19 was lower than the percentage of non-FSM eligible cohorts in every other region.
Alternatively, London’s demographics may contribute to the pathways students take. We know from national data that ethnic groups that are over-represented in London, such as Asian or Asian British, are more likely than average to follow academic pathways into school sixth forms after KS4 and into higher education after KS5. In fact, almost two thirds of disadvantaged Asian or Asian British Level 3 students went on to higher education after KS5.
Whether the answer is to do with the provision of school sixth forms in the capital leading pupils down academic pathways, the demographic makeup of London’s disadvantaged pupils, the quality of education in London, or something else entirely, this does raise the question of whether looking at pupil destinations by disadvantage status is the best way to understand important differences in outcomes. Focussing solely on disadvantage status could mean we miss other important factors, such as those that separate London from the rest of the country. Further research should explore the importance of each of these factors in explaining pupil destinations in London.
As we discussed in our blog post on the KS4 disadvantage gap, the move to teacher assessed grades in 2020 does not appear to have negatively impacted disadvantaged pupils’ grades. This means the short-term impact on disadvantaged pupils’ destinations is unlikely to be particularly damaging. In fact, the number of students from the most disadvantaged backgrounds going on to higher education has increased this year. However, a large unknown remains – how will the long period of remote learning impact disadvantaged pupils in the long run? Will younger disadvantaged pupils have fallen behind their peers and will they be able to catch-up? As pupils return to school, it will be vital for school leaders and policy makers to pay close attention to this and to support disadvantaged pupils to catch up to maximise their chances of moving into the most appropriate post-16 and post-18 provision.