This blog takes a deep dive into where pupils go after KS4 and whether the type of school they attend has a long term impact.
What are pupil destinations?
At the end of KS4 and KS5, pupils make a choice about their next steps. They may choose to remain in education, transition into work or begin an apprenticeship. These are collectively known as pupil “destinations”. Some young people do not progress to any kind of destination and are referred to as NEET (not in education, employment or training).
What affects where pupils go after school or college?
Destinations after KS4 and KS5 are impacted by various pupil characteristics. For instance, being from a certain ethnicity or having special educational needs or disabilities (SEND) can affect how likley a pupil is to progress to certain destinations or become NEET. You can find out more information on this here.
In previous analysis, we explored regional differences in where pupils go after KS4. Our London Post-16 Trajectories report found that there were higher proportions of young people in London in school sixth forms and academic programmes compared to other regions.
For this blog article, we wanted to investigate whether the type of school someone attends might also impact where they go after KS4. One big difference between secondary schools in England is whether or not they have a sixth form. There are around 4,500 secondary schools and approximately two-thirds of these have a sixth form while a third do not.
Through our work with individual local authorities we have seen that schools with sixth forms tend to have more KS4 pupils progress to education destinations, particularly to sixth forms, rather than starting apprenticeships, entering employment or becoming NEET. Our analysis in this blog article explores whether this is a trend seen across England.
For the analysis, we only looked at state-funded schools that are categorised as a “secondary” or “middle-deemed secondary”. This data is from 2018/19, as this is the last year for which complete destinations, attainment and disadvantage data is publicly available at a school level. As such, it does not show any impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Where do pupils go after KS4?
Across England, 94% of pupils remained in education, employment or training after KS4. The law in England states that all young people should be in education or training until at least their 18th birthday. As a result, both schools with and without sixth forms have high overall percentages of pupils remaining in education, employment or training after KS4. However, there is still a long way to go to 100% and the 6% of pupils who are not in education, employment or training equates to thousands of young people.
Our analysis found that if you compare schools with a sixth form to schools without a sixth form, there are differences in where pupils go. If you attend a school with a sixth form, you are slightly more likely to continue in education after your GCSEs but less likely to be in work or start an apprenticeship, compared to your peers in schools without a sixth form. These differences are more apparent when we take a closer look at specific education destinations after KS4.
Which education destinations do KS4 pupils go to?
For KS4 pupils who stay in education, there are three main options; a school sixth form, sixth form college or a further education college. School sixth forms and sixth form colleges usually offer a variety of A level and some vocational qualifications. Further education colleges, on the other hand, tend to focus on vocational qualifications.
If you attend a school that has a sixth form, you are more likely to attend a school sixth form after KS4 than any other destination. You are also more likely to attend a school sxith form than your peers at a school without a sixth form.
More than half (56%) of all KS4 pupils at schools with sixth forms go on to study at either a school sixth form or sixth form college compared to just under 4 in 10 (38%) of those at a school without a sixth form.
What about attainment?
Pupils at schools with sixth forms often perform better academically and schools that perform well academically also tend to have a higher proportion of pupils that progress to sixth form. Could this be why more of them go on to a sixth form?
In order to assess whether academic attainment could account for these differences in destinations, we broke schools down into those that had a below or above average Attainment 8 score.
Attainment is part, but not all, of the story.
Pupils at higher attaining schools without a sixth form were slightly more likely to progress to a sixth form compared to pupils at a lower attaining school with a sixth form. However, pupils at schools without sixth forms were still more likely to attend a sixth form or FE college, regardless of the school’s overall level of attainment.
What about disadvantage?
Our analysis found that schools with sixth forms have a lower percentage, on average, of pupils who are eligible for free school meals. On average, 12% of pupils at schools with sixth forms were eligible, compared to 16% of pupils at schools without a sixth form. Pupils who are eligible for free school meals are more likely to go on to further education or employment compared to their peers and this may account for some of the differences we are seeing between schools.
To see if this was the case, we categorised schools as either having below or above average levels of disadvantage, measured by the percentage of pupils in attendance who were eligible for free school meals (FSM) and analysed pupil destinations.
This demonstrates that, once again, disadvantage is part of the puzzle but cannot account for all the differences we see. A young person attending a school with a sixth form which has higher than average levels of disadvantage is still more likely to progress to a sixth form after KS4 compared to their peers at a school without a sixth form that has lower levels of disadvantage.
What are the consequences for KS5 destinations?
We might wonder whether this matters for long term outcomes. To investigate this, we looked at destinations for KS5 Level 3 students who had attended a school sixth form, sixth form college or further education college.
Students attending a school sixth form were the most likely to have remained in education, employment or training after KS5 at around 9 in 10 (89%). Sixth form colleges are only a percentage point behind (88%) but further education colleges are trailing, with 84% of Level 3 students in education, employment or training after KS5.
Those at a school sixth form or sixth form college are also more likely to enter higher education compared to their peers at a further education college. Around two-thirds of students at sixth form (either school or college) go on to higher education compared to less than half of those at a further education college. Students at a further education college, on the other hand, are more likely to remain in further education or go on to an apprenticeship or into the world of work.
This demonstrates how the differences in destinations after KS4 have knock-on effects for where students go at the end of their school career. As university graduates earn around £9,500 more than non-graduates and have higher rates of employment, these differences are likely to have consequences across someone’s lifetime.
Conclusion and final thoughts
It is reasonable to suppose that the school a young person attends will have an impact on their destination after key stages 4 and 5.
Indeed, our analysis shows that even after considering average attainment and disadvantage levels, pupils at schools with sixth forms are more likely to progress to a sixth form after KS4 compared to their peers at schools without sixth forms.
However, there are many other factors we’ve been unable to account for here. For example, schools with sixth forms may be better able to recruit more experienced and qualified teachers. They may also be providing information and guidance to pupils that emphasises the value of sixth forms and may provide little information on alternatives. Pupils who attend schools with sixth forms may also be different to their peers in ways we have been unable to account for here. More analysis also needs to be done on the long-term consequences, as is being called for by the National Institute for Education Research.
Get in touch if you would like to discuss education destinations in more detail or find out more about our analysis services