Chief statistician’s update: how the pandemic has changed post-16 education

Darllenwch y dudalen hon yn Gymraeg

The pandemic has made us think differently about the kinds of analysis we produce, with many of our regular statistical publications changing to reflect new circumstances or topics of interest. In just one example of this, we’ve published new analysis this week looking at the impact on learners in post-16 education.

You are probably aware of the rise in A level grades last year. But there was a lot more going on in post-16 education behind the headlines. We’ve published a report that takes a wider look at the outcomes for learners. Here are some of the things we’ve learned.

The type of education Year 11s go into has changed

During the pandemic people asked us what was happening to learners after Year 11. So we developed new statistics to look at where Year 11s went at the start of the new academic year.

The proportion of Year 11s going onto post-16 education hasn’t changed much, but what they do has.

During the pandemic, more learners have been taking A levels and going to sixth forms.  However more people are also dropping out or changing programmes. When learners do switch programmes, they’re more likely to switch to a lower level of programme.

chart 1: Of the Year 11s who went on to do post-16 learning in 2021/22, 44% went to a sixth form, 14% started an AS programme at a college, and 31% started a full time vocational programme at a college.

Year 11s who were eligible for free school meals (an indicator of disadvantage) were more likely to take post-16 learning in 2021/22 than before. But they’ve also been more likely to drop out.

In a similar way, we started tracking what happens to AS and vocational learners after they completed their programmes. AS learners were more likely to go onto an A2 programme in 2021/22 and vocational learners were more likely to stay in post-16 learning.

It depends on the type of learning

A levels aren’t the only form of post-16 education. Since the pandemic started, outcomes have been worse for learners in non-level 3 vocational education, adult learning and apprenticeships.

Some apprentices and learners on vocational programmes have experienced long delays. The average apprenticeship was completed 86 days late in 2020/21, over a month later than before the pandemic.  Learners have been less likely to finish their programmes, and less likely to achieve their main qualifications when they do.

chart 2: Outcomes have been worse for learners on non-level 3 vocational programmes, apprenticeships and adult learning.
Source: Outcomes for learners in post-16 education affected by the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic: August 2020 to July 2021.

Post-16 education was less equal in 2020/21

Our analysis has revealed that many inequalities in outcomes resurfaced or widened in 2020/21. Whilst A level grades increased for most learners, they fell steeply for learners with Black, African, Caribbean, Black British ethnic backgrounds.

Chart 3: Only 90 out of 170 A2 learners with Black, African, Caribbean, Black British backgrounds got at least three Cs. That is a drop from 72% in 2019/20 to 54% in 2020/21.

Grades also increased more for learners from less deprived backgrounds. The rise in A level grades was equivalent to 5 times as many learners living in the least deprived 10% of neighbourhoods going up a grade boundary compared to learners living in the most deprived 10% of neighbourhoods.

There were similar trends across post-16 education. There was a 7 percentage point gap in achievement between the most and least deprived neighbourhoods for full time level 3 vocational programmes, a 6 point gap for apprenticeships and an 8 point gap in achievement for adult learning.

Age gaps and gender gaps also widened in 2020/21. Our full report contains more details on this and breakdowns of the inequalities across all types of post-16 learning.

Find out more

This is only a glimpse of the wider trends in post-16 learning last year. The full report was published on Outcomes for learners in post-16 education affected by the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic: August 2020 to July 2021. Read the report for more context on these trends, and for other key findings and detailed breakdowns.

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