This five-year ESRC-funded study is investigating how England’s vocational education and training (VET) system can better support the school-to-work transitions of the 50 per cent of young people who don’t go to university. Routes into further education, training and employment for these young people are often characterised by complexity, instability, uncertain prospects and drop-out. Currently, 13 per cent of 18-24 year olds are not in any form of formal education, employment or training.
This study is focusing on the 16-20 age group and has a particular emphasis on engaging with the perspectives of young people themselves, including those who are marginalised and whose input is often not heard in policymaking. These young people are more likely to fall between gaps in the system and not be in formal education, employment or training, which is associated with a range of negative outcomes and lifetime costs.
The research will compare the opportunities for young people living in different places and the resources they are able to draw on to help them make and exercise meaningful career and employment choices. It will explore what young people value, how they exercise their agency, their experiences of navigating a transitions landscape in which they are differently positioned and resourced and the implications of all of this for equality, policy and professional practice.
The research is guided by the principle that, to make transitions more equitable, we need to fully engage with: different dimensions of equality and the challenges of realising equality in practice; combinations of different kinds of advantages and disadvantages experienced by young people; and how the range of possible opportunities interacts with young people's life experiences, values and agency.
By helping policymakers develop greater insight into young people's lives and perspectives and supporting reflection on how the tensions involved in simultaneously addressing different kinds of inequality might best be managed, the research will help ensure that policy is more sensitive to the complexity of young people's experiences and inequality; and hence more likely to be successful in creating more navigable and equitable transitions.
The research addresses pressing national policy priorities as England is currently engaged in fundamental reforms to its VET system. These have been fuelled by linked concerns about equality and productivity, in particular, the disparities in education and skill levels that can prevent those from disadvantaged regions, women, and black and minority ethnic and disabled people from accessing high-skilled employment. The project will provide new understandings of how these disparities are produced and how they might be reduced.