Research from Policy Exchange has found that one in three A-level students drop out of school or college after a year. Around 300,000 teenagers across England, Wales and Northern Ireland take A-levels every year. The report tracked 2,400 of these students in six schools in the North West, recording a dropout rate of 31%. That’s just over a third of students leaving after one year of study.
Why the high dropout rate?
The report blames students being “badly advised at school” and being forced to sit “unsuitable” subjects at A-Level. It argues that “vocationally-oriented programmes of study may be more suitable for them” but also points to a lack of respected technical and vocational courses for young people.
"Vocational and technical studies should not be seen as inferior or second best," explained Dr Owen Corrigan, Policy Exchange research fellow.
"That means ensuring that the technical and vocational options on offer are of the highest quality, allowing us to produce the next generation of technicians, to better prepare students for the world of work, and to better meet the needs of both students and business."
It’s a view shared by many. A recent YouGov poll of 1,624 people found that half of the public thought that there was too much emphasis on academic subjects at the expense of practical, job-related qualifications.
Reforming vocational education…
Given that companies are reporting skills gaps, particularly for technical roles, it seems like an ideal time to start championing vocational and technical qualifications. The research proposes a “TechBacc” qualification, which would reward students taking high quality vocational courses alongside core academic skills, and calls for all apprenticeships to be Level 3 and extended over three years.
Skills Minister Matthew Hancock responded, "We strongly agree that vocational education needs transforming for young people to succeed in today’s job market.”
"That’s why we have such a vigorous reform programme: We are reforming apprenticeships, introducing traineeships and overhauling the system to recognise only high quality vocational courses that lead directly to a skilled trade or profession.”
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