Monday, 13 November 2017

Do secondary school peers influence educational decisions?


Sophie Hedges from London Economics, together with NIESR's Stefan Speckesser, has been looking at how students make choices about their education after GCSEs  


Why did we look at peer effects?

Following the increase in the education participation age, individuals are now required to study towards either a vocational or academic qualification until their 18th birthday once they have completed their GCSEs. However, there is currently relatively little understanding of the factors which determine which route learners choose to follow. Attainment in secondary school is clearly important, given that most A Level courses generally require a high level of GCSE achievement as a prerequisite, but there remain students with strong exam results who choose to pursue a vocational route. Furthermore, it is not necessarily the case that the pupils following a vocational trajectory are veering away from pursuing education at a high level; although it is less common than for A Level students, there are a significant number of individuals who proceed into higher education after achieving vocational qualifications.

In order to better understand such education choices, in our new discussion paper we investigate one of the factors which might drive the transition into vocational or academic routes. Specifically, we examine whether the composition of somebody’s secondary school, in terms of the attainment of their peers, significantly influences which pathway is chosen.

Using census-level National Pupil Data and data from the Individualised Learner Record (ILR) for students completing their GCSEs in the summer of 2011, we can observe peer group composition and qualification enrolment. We restrict the analysis to pupils with at least five GCSEs at grades A*-C, since those with achievement below this level typically do not genuinely have the choice to pursue an academic route in the first place.

What did we find?

Our main results indicate that the composition of secondary school peers is an important determinant of a student’s post-16 education choice. We find that while the main driver of educational choice is individual ability and young people with higher ability more often decide in favour of academic rather than vocational education, peers have a significant impact too. The more able one’s peers are, the less likely one is to choose a vocational course after completion of their GCSEs, after controlling for the individual’s own ability.

Another important finding in this paper is the influence of the social gradient on educational decision making. Using the Index of Multiple Deprivation, we see a significant relationship between deprivation and education choice over the whole distribution of wealth/IMD, i.e. students from more deprived families are significantly more likely to choose a vocational course, other things being equal, than those from better off families.

What are the policy implications?

  • Secondary school composition at transition from KS2 to KS3 should be more carefully looked at and better information on educational choices needs to be offered at school so that individuals can make impartial choices.
  • Our findings also tie in with the policy aim of better understanding and possibly mitigating inequality in access to education for people, who can be identified as deprived e.g. using the information about Free School Eligibility (FSM) in the data (e.g. “just about-managing families”). Our results indicate that students from such less affluent families are less likely to enrol in an academic course irrespective of their ability and the ability of their peers. Furthermore, the influence of the social gradient is not only a matter for the most deprived (e.g. the FSM eligible pupils), but across the income distribution.
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"Peer Effects and Social Influence in Post-16 Educational Choice" by Sophie Hedges and Stefan Speckesser, CVER Research Paper 008 (November 2017) is available at http://cver.lse.ac.uk/publications/default.asp

Wednesday, 11 October 2017

Investment in adult skills in decreasing in the UK – here’s why we should be worried


NIESR's Matt Bursnall and Stefan Speckesser ask are we right to be concerned about access to skills in the UK?


Recently, the FT showed that contrary to popular belief the most troubling issue for SMEs in Europe is not access to finance but access to skills – with the level of concern and the gap between the issues getting larger.

Monday, 9 October 2017

What are the labour market outcomes associated with vocational education and training?

Pietro Patrignani is a Senior Economic Consultant at London Economics working on CVER projects. In this blog he looks at the outcomes for those on vocational paths using newly matched data.


What’s new?

For the first time, the matched Longitudinal Education Outcomes (LEO) data has been made available for analysis of qualification attainment and labour market outcomes in England. This dataset combines information from different school (National Pupil Database), Further Education (Individualised Learner Record) and Higher Education (HESA) data sources in England with labour market outcomes information from HM Revenue and Customs and the Department for Work and Pensions. The key advantage of this matched dataset is that it contains detailed information from administrative data sources on both labour market outcomes and also early scholastic attainment (including Key Stage 1 and Key Stage 2 test score information), but is not restricted to a small sample of individuals (as in the 1970 British Cohort Study).

Monday, 25 September 2017

Three million new apprenticeships – but how many of these are completed and achieved?

Matt Bursnall and Stefan Speckesser from CVER and the National Institute of Economic and Social Research ask what do we currently know about apprenticeship achievement?


The government’s target to create three million apprenticeships by 2020 is a key element of their programme for improving technical education for young people in England and helping to reduce skills gaps. However, the number of apprenticeship starts is only one way to judge progress. Of equal importance is how many apprenticeships are actually achieved. Published statistics do not answer this question well because achievement rates are calculated for apprenticeships that ended in an academic year using a relatively opaque measure.

Tuesday, 5 September 2017

The benefits of intermediate level skills

Using findings from a study of all countries of the European Union, CVER's Vahé Nafilyan and Dr Stefan Speckesser look at new evidence on the economic and social cost of low skills


A new major study by the European Centre for the Development of Vocational Training (Cedefop) seeks to provide evidence for policy-makers on the economic and social cost of low skills in the EU. The authors [1] of this blog were part of the team which estimated the costs (and/or foregone benefits) of low skills to individuals, businesses, the economy and society at large.

Monday, 21 August 2017

Brexit and the skills challenge

Sandra McNally, CVER's Director, on skills in the UK in light of Brexit


The UK’s productivity suffered a shock in 2008 from which it has not recovered, and the ‘skills problem’ needs to be addressed. Within the context of a broader industrial strategy, improving skills is part of the solution – but Brexit may well harm these efforts if the feared negative economic effects put additional pressure on public finances.

Likewise, Brexit will not help if prolonged uncertainty discourages employer investment in skills; nor if employers substitute capital for labour as a response to migration barriers. However, Brexit does do is bring the skills problem into sharper focus.

Wednesday, 17 May 2017

Britain's skills problem

CVER Director, Professor Sandra McNally,  on the shortage of technical level skills


It is well known and acknowledged in the government’s Industrial Strategy that Britain has a skills problem: ‘We have a shortage of technical-level skills and rank 16th out of 20 countries for the proportion of people with technical qualifications’. As the Green Paper also says, ‘a bewildering complex array of qualifications, some of which are poor quality, makes the system hard to use for students and employers’.

Monday, 24 April 2017

Is there a benefit to post-16 remedial policies?

Clémentine Van Effenterre, a researcher at the Paris School of Economics and CVER, reviews the impact of remedial interventions for post-16 students


Remedial interventions in tertiary education are under scrutiny in most OECD countries. They are particularly important in a context of increasing demand for skilled workers. However, they are often costly, and their efficiency in boosting student performance has been questioned. This debate has gained particular relevance in England given recent policy changes that require students who do not get at least a grade C in English or maths in GCSE to repeat exams in these subjects. The low pass rate amongst those who re-sit has raised questions about the sustainability of the policy. What can be done to improve mathematics and English attainment to help students achieving these new requirements? What types of remedial interventions are efficient to address the need of students older than 16? In this context, we have reviewed economic literature on the impact of remedial interventions in tertiary education.

Tuesday, 28 March 2017

The decision to undertake an apprenticeship

CVER's Steven McIntosh, from the University of Sheffield, discusses what influences the decision to do an apprenticeship



What is likely to influence the decision-making of young people who are thinking about undertaking an apprenticeship? In this blog I discuss some research we have undertaken in CVER, answering just this question. The data source is the responses to a questionnaire that we developed ourselves, given to a cohort of apprentices at the Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre (AMRC) at the University of Sheffield. These apprentices were surveyed in January-March 2016, having all begun their apprenticeship in September 2015. In total, 61 apprentices responded to our questionnaire (a response rate of around 50%).

Friday, 24 March 2017

The benefits of vocational education for low-achieving school leavers

Vahé Nafilyan, from the Institute for Employment Studies, writes on CVER's latest research paper which looks at a previously neglected group: school leavers starting low level vocational courses


Every year, about 65,000 school leavers start low level vocational courses. As underlined in a report by the House of Lords Select Committee on Social Mobility these young people have received much less attention than those who go on to A-Levels and university and, at the other end of the spectrum, the small minority dropping out of education, employment or training. Although this is a sizeable group (10% of a cohort), their participation in vocational education and labour market outcomes have so far been barely documented.

Friday, 13 January 2017

How important is providing careers-related information for students?

CVER Director Sandra McNally looks at career advice on offer to students, and what works


The type and quality of education matters for labour market prospects, as reflected in future employment and earnings. There is often dissatisfaction expressed with the careers information and advice provided to students at school and beyond. It’s a matter of common sense (rather than academic study) to say that students do need to have good quality careers information and advice. What isn’t clear is whether cheap information interventions are really going to make the difference for young people as they approach the time where they need to make important decisions. In recent years, there have been a number of economic studies that have used rigorous approaches to test whether simple information interventions actually work. I have reviewed this for a recent IZA World of Labor paper, which focuses on results from 10 evaluations implemented via Randomised Control Trials