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16+ Learning Choices: Policy and Practice Framework: supporting all young people into positive and sustained destinations


16+ Learning Choices

The model

"A coherent curriculum requires close collaboration across transitions. This means that educational providers must work with each other, with parents and with other services for children and adults to ease learners' transitions between stages and educational sectors. Such joint working ensures a continuous lifelong learning experience where barriers to learning are successfully identified and tackled." 8

16+ Learning Choices will ensure clear, robust systems and processes so that all young people have a suitable, high quality offer of post-16 learning. As such it will support the planning and delivery of a coherent and inclusive curriculum in the Senior Phase, irrespective of setting. 16+ Learning Choices is a universal offer: by its nature, though, it gives particular attention to vulnerable young people who require more choices and chances. It will support the transition, first, from compulsory education and then from subsequent episodes of learning broadly up to age 18 to ensure all young people achieve positive and sustained destinations.

The model includes the following 3 critical elements:

  • the right learning - with a range of options on personalisation and choice. This will include staying on at school, entering further or higher education, taking up employment, participating in a National Training Programme, or taking part in personal skills development in a community learning and development setting or a third sector organisation.
  • the right support to remove barriers that might restrict young people's learning choices and information, advice and guidance; to help young people take up and sustain their offer; and
  • the right financial support to help young people take up the offer which is right for them and not the choice which pays best or offers the most generous support.

An explanation of what constitutes 'an offer of learning' is provided in Annex 1.

Successful delivery of these elements will require local partnerships to develop systematic approaches to the way post-16 learning is planned, delivered and supported for all eligible young people, with ongoing tracking and monitoring of individuals. 16+ Learning Choices, therefore, has a number of key interdependencies relating to non-formal learning; financial support; information, advice and guidance ( IAG) and data management which are described in Annex 2.


Implementing the model will continue to be challenging and putting in place the right offers of learning and support will take time - particularly when it means using limited mainstream funding differently and more effectively. Twenty-one early implementer local authorities introduced the model in winter 2008; for the most part in targeted schools and focusing on young people most at risk of moving into a negative destination. Building on this experience, every authority is on board from winter 2009. To date the model has been applied mainly for young people who are eligible to leave school for the first time.

Looking to winter 2010 - the target date for universal delivery - the model will be extended to cover all young people making a transition within the Senior Phase, including:

  • young people eligible to leave school for the first time
  • S5 and S6 school leavers
  • young people whose initial destination was a one-year course at a college
  • young people whose initial destination is Get Ready for Work or a more tailored programme of personal and skills development
  • those who fail to sustain an (initially) positive destination

Clearly, it will be more challenging for partners to engage with some young people at subsequent transition points when they are moving between different post-school options.

Early implementation indicates that 16+ Learning Choices has provided the catalyst for tightening up transition planning, bringing together community planning partners to support young people into positive and sustained destinations. The experience of local partners, thus far, shows:

  • greater focus on early identification of young people at risk of moving into a negative destination
  • sharper focus - across local partnerships - on post-16 transitions than ever before
  • closer working between SDS and local partners (including schools), with their Key Worker Service playing a vital role
  • more innovative use of resources to enhance the range of offers available locally
  • targeted action to re-engage non-attenders through SDS Key Workers, community learning and development, Youthworkers and third sector agencies
  • area-wide multi-agency networks and teams have been established to drive implementation
  • local partnerships are building on existing good practice, eg option choice interviews in schools and Transition Planning procedures for young people who need additional support for their learning


16+ Learning Choices is for all young people within the Senior Phase who are eligible to leave compulsory education. Local partnerships will need to work together closely to plan for, deliver and support the young person with their learning choices. Local authorities should take account of their statutory responsibility for those:

  • on the school roll of publicly-funded secondary schools, including grant-maintained secondaries (including non-attenders)
  • in (publicly-funded) special schools
  • on a school roll but attending other provision commissioned by the authority in, or outwith the local authority area, for example, on a purchased placement
  • in residential and secure settings
  • missing from a school roll but known to local partners, eg social services, community learning and development, young people's services etc

It is important to emphasise here that young people should be treated as individuals in respect of 16+ Learning Choices rather than as cohorts or year groups. The 'passport' for all young people to a post-16 offer of learning is reaching the statutory leaving age of 16. Schools and SDS will need to identify and engage with all eligible young people, ie both those who are making a first time transition from compulsory education, and those who are making a subsequent transition. In doing so, they will need to take special account of young people who are:

  • in S4, but eligible to leave school in the winter of their fifth year
  • in S3, but have repeated a year in education
  • in S5, but approaching their statutory leaving date
  • staying in education, ie on a school roll beyond age 18 in, eg Special Schools

For young people who are eligible to leave school in the winter of their fifth year, there will be an additional focus on those:

  • attending special programmes/courses between August and December
  • who have exceptional entry to a full-time college course from August
  • in identified priority groups such as looked after children 9, care leavers, young carers, those who need additional support for their learning and young offenders

Where parents/carers choose to educate their children at home, the local authority and other partners will often have limited scope to influence or support post-16 learning choices. However, the young people concerned have the same learner entitlements as those attending school or learning elsewhere and it will be for local partners to respond to any requests for their support in line with their overall responsibilities for young people.

Similarly, the Senior Phase learner entitlements apply to young people being educated in the independent school sector. It will be important for schools in the sector to consider how they will work with partners to ensure that their young people have access to the provision and support they need to make, take up and sustain positive post-16 learning choices.

What 16+ Learning Choices means for young people

"Every child and young person is entitled to support to enable them to gain as much as possible from the opportunities to develop their skills which Curriculum for Excellence can provide. Timely provision of support to meet individuals' needs will enable children and young people to effectively engage with opportunities for skills development." 10

Every young person who is eligible to leave compulsory education and is making a transition to further learning, training or employment within the Senior Phase should receive an offer of post-16 learning. Effective transition planning will ensure that the offer is in place in advance of their planned date for leaving school or other episode of learning. It will include staying in school; attending college or university; taking part in a National Training Programme; learning in a community learning and development or third sector setting, including with an Activity Agreement; volunteering and employment.

Their learning choice must be appropriate to their needs and aspirations: so it must be at the right level; accessible both in terms of location and local labour market opportunity; and delivered through the right learning method. Having no offer is better than a wrong, or poor quality, offer of learning. Equally, some young people may choose to take up an opportunity that may not be advisable: the decision to act on advice or decide otherwise rests with the young person. Any young person without an offer will continue to be tracked and supported by SDS so that appropriate learning provision and specific supports can be put in place at the earliest opportunity by a local provider.

All eligible young people will get high quality, impartial careers information, advice and guidance from SDS to help them decide on and take up the post-16 learning choice that is right for them. Additionally, they will get the support they need to help them sustain their learning choice; with more intensive, on-going support for particularly vulnerable young people.

For young people in low-paid employment, partners should make them aware of Individual Learning Accounts ( ILAs) as an important tool to help them to continue in part-time learning. ILAs fund those on low pay and with low skills so they can improve their skills, gain qualifications and be better placed to get or stay in employment. The eligibility criteria for ILA benefits 16 and 17 year olds.

Preparing for post-16 transition

"Learners need to experience opportunities which are designed not only to raise their awareness of future choices but also raise their expectations and aspirations. They develop the skills for personal planning and making decisions in the context of curriculum, learning and achievement which will prepare them for next stages in life." 11

Joint planning must start early. This will require schools and relevant partners to place higher priority on transition planning, giving added attention to young people at risk of moving into a negative destination.

Self-evidently, the foundations for successful transition should be laid throughout a young person's education. Specific support should be put in place from S3 for those who have been identified as having specific barriers to learning: this should involve schools, SDS and relevant partners. In delivering the Senior Phase entitlements, therefore, partners should provide a continuum for learning, achievement and progression for all young people. This will mean building on the Curriculum for Excellence Experiences and Outcomes around which the broad general education 12 up to the end of S3 is framed; and with a continued focus on literacy, numeracy and health and wellbeing. Within the latter, young people will receive help to prepare for, and to move through, changes and choices.

More Choices, More Chances Partnerships

Local authority-led MCMC Partnerships provide a well established structure for delivering 16+ Learning Choices, with opportunities to build on the good practice which has been developed in increasing the number of young people in education, employment and training. MCMC reaches beyond post-16 transitions, but, like 16+ Learning Choices, focuses on prevention - stopping young people moving into negative destinations at the end of compulsory school education; intervention - providing those who are in negative destinations with opportunities to develop the skills for learning, life and work; and sustainability - preventing young people from churning back into negative destinations. These Partnerships include the wide range of partners involved in delivering services for children and young people, drawing together relevant policies and strategies in a multi-agency approach. They should form an integral part of - or be linked to - Curriculum for Excellence planning mechanisms.

More targeted action to deliver 16+ Learning Choices will take place during the last year of a young person's education. It is essential that planning and implementation of these actions begins early and that most activity takes place before young people leave school or any other learning.

Young people's post-16 transitions should be planned thoroughly and systematically, with a clear process to deliver both a first offer of learning and subsequent offers if required. Effective planning will require specific action from partners at certain points in the year as well as on-going activity with young people and between partners. The flow chart at Annex 3 explains what needs to be done, when and by which partner: it links to more detailed timelines ( Annex 4) which illustrate the optimum planning cycle for delivering both 'first' and 'subsequent' offers of learning.

Schools are at the heart of post-16 transition planning. They are, therefore, well placed to facilitate the process required to help young people make and take up effective post-16 learning choices. This will involve a range of partners and agreed approaches, building on existing good practice and established relationships. Emerging local practice highlights the significant benefits of having a dedicated 16+ Learning Choices team in school, with key partners actively supporting individual young people to achieve positive destinations. The following diagram illustrates the range of partners who are likely to be involved in an in-school team: this is equally relevant to other non-school learning establishments.


The offer

"All children and young people are entitled to opportunities for developing skills for learning, life and work. The skills are relevant from the early years right through to the senior phase of learning and beyond." 13

Responsibility for ensuring there is sufficient suitable learning provision - formal and non-formal - to deliver 16+ Learning Choices lies with a number of agencies: local authorities, including schools; community learning and development; colleges; SDS; training providers and the third sector. Local partnership mapping of provision, a continued priority for local More Choices, More Chances partnership planning, should be the basis for identifying gaps in provision. Information on young people's needs and intended destinations, together with labour market information, should form the basis for planning and commissioning learning provision to eliminate any gaps and unnecessary overlaps.

Young people should have accurate and up-to-date information about the range of opportunities available to them along with appropriate career information, advice and guidance and information on the local labour market to help support the decision-making process. Here, SDS will have a central - but not exclusive - role.

16+ Learning Choices means an agreed offer of an appropriate place in learning: this must include an agreed start date. A place on a waiting list does not count as an offer.

Whilst in some cases, the economic climate, will influence the timing and availability of opportunities, clearly it is important to minimise the gap between making - and take-up - of the offer in order to promote continuity and progression; and to reduce the risk of disengagement. Where there is a gap, on-going support will be essential to ensure the young person remains motivated and engaged. In such cases, partners should work closely with the young person to put in place an interim offer, eg personal skills development or volunteering, until they can start their preferred option.

Staying engaged and motivated through volunteering

Rob left school last summer when he was 16 and wanted to follow his brother into the army. He discussed this with his Careers Adviser, his parents and the local Army Careers Officer and knew what was expected of him before he could join up when he turned 17. He enrolled for an army-prep course at his local college, starting in September. However, Rob's Careers Adviser suggested he could usefully develop his skills doing some sort of programme before his college course started. Rob was introduced to a local Youth Project which involved voluntary work, building mountain bike tracks in the local country park. He thrived in this environment since he is a mountain biker himself: he loved being active, working with a team and doing something for his community. Supported by the Project Coach, he learned valuable skills that would stand him in good stead for his college course and army career.

Additionally, it may take longer to identify appropriate provision for some young people, particularly those who face specific barriers to learning.

With that in mind, our expectations are that:

  • summer leavers should have an agreed offer in place by the end of June following their leaving date, with a start date no later than the coming September (the only exception being where a young person has a confirmed deferred place in higher education)
  • young people leaving school in December should have an agreed offer in place by the end of the following February, with a start date no later than April of that year.

These timescales are challenging and there will undoubtedly be some young people whose plans will change as a result of, for example, exam results.

For the group of young people leaving school in December, local partnerships will require to take account of young people who - between August and December - are doing their learning in school; at college or in alternative provision, taking part in a short-term dedicated programme or on exceptional entry terms for a full academic year. However there should be equal focus on those young people who leave provision in December and those who are not actively participating in any learning in the lead-up to December.

Local partnerships should also reflect requirements under the Additional Support for Learning Act 2004 ( ASL Act) and the 2009 amendment Act 14 for young people with identified additional support needs. Here, progression planning should commence at least 12 months before the statutory leaving date and an appropriate post-school option agreed with a provider and young person at least 6 months prior to the actual leaving date.

It is important to minimise delays in notifying offers made to young people in order to help SDS track those who are still to receive one . It is expected, therefore, that offers made are notified to SDS by the learning provider within 5 working days.

Local authorities, as leaders of the strategic Partnerships, should actively work with SDS to monitor and facilitate ongoing support for young people who:

  • are still to receive an offer - establishing the reasons why they are without an offer
  • do not take up an offer - and the reasons why

Local authorities should take the lead on working with partners to address any barriers identified.

Supporting the needs of vulnerable young people

"Every child and young person in Scotland is on a journey through life: experiencing rapid development and change as they make the transition from childhood through adolescence and into adulthood. As they progress, some may have temporary difficulties, some may live with challenges that distract them on their journey and some may experience more complex issues. No matter where they live or whatever their needs, children and families should know where they can find help, what support might be available and whether that help is right for them." 15

Although a universal offer, 16+ Learning Choices gives added focus to young people who face significant barriers to learning and need more choices and chances to enable them to achieve positive and sustained destinations. Building on early identification and tracking mechanisms - a priority for local MCMC Partnerships - partners should be aware of the circumstances and needs of these young people; be alert to specific issues likely to arise in relation to post-16 transitions; and put in place relevant supports to ease their passage.

Getting it right for every child ( GIRFEC) 16 - the Scottish Government's strategy for improving outcomes for all children and young people in Scotland - provides a framework for all services and agencies working with children and families to deliver a co-ordinated approach which is appropriate, proportionate and timely. Local partnerships will wish to align post-16 transition support with the approaches promoted through GIRFEC.

Local authorities should also consider how they can support implementation of 16+ Learning Choices through their statutory responsibilities in relation to the ASL Act and its associated Code of Practice. They will wish to take account of the information on individual young people which they must request from other agencies who are likely to be involved with the young person on leaving school. Due attention should be given to the following groups of vulnerable young people, many of whom will have clearly identifiable additional support needs:

Looked After children and care leavers

Young carers

Young parents

Winter leavers

Young offenders, including those in custody

Young people with low attainment in school

Young people on a school roll who persistently truant

Young people with physical or mental health problems or disabilities

Young people involved in alcohol or drug misuse

Young people with behavioural issues

Young people for whom English is a second language

Young people leaving special schools

Young people who are homeless

Young people who are a risk to themselves or others

Young people who have interrupted learning, including as a result of transient lifestyles

Young people who do not sustain an initial positive destination

Young people with other identified additional support needs

For these young people, needs-led targeted assessment and planning must start early, often at the transition from primary to secondary school; and should bring in wider services for children and young people as appropriate.

Local authorities will require to fulfil their specific responsibility as the 'corporate parent' for young people who are Looked After or leaving care, harnessing the support of the wider Partnership to deliver better outcomes for this group.

Improving Positive Destinations for Looked After young people

Key partners in North Lanarkshire - Education, Social Work and Skills Development Scotland - have mapped service delivery to better align, co-ordinate and integrate operational practice to help Looked After children, young people and care leavers to achieve positive post-16 destinations. The focus is on a shared vision and shared outcomes around assessment, planning and support, and shared action planning to improve outcomes for individual young people. Key learning points have included:

  • using a GIRFEC approach complemented by implementation of the ASL Act connects partners in respect of assessment, planning and support; and ensuring an integrated, joined up approach
  • early identification of support needs followed by early intervention, particularly at transitions from Primary to Secondary and from Secondary to next steps, is crucial

Partners should pay particular attention to young people whose additional support needs and/or personal circumstances present significant barriers to learning - many of whom will have already disengaged from learning pre-16. These young people may not yet be ready for a 'formal' route: in such cases, non-formal learning, including personal and skills development opportunities, is likely to be more appropriate.

However, since these activities for most young people are likely to be of relatively short duration, on completion the young person remains entitled to further choices and chances to help them progress into formal learning or employment. Young people taking this path will require sustained - often intensive - support and tracking. It is acknowledged that for some vulnerable and high risk young people more sustained periods in such opportunities will be necessary though it is important that a clear focus on progression into more mainstream options is maintained.

Measuring the success of 16+ Learning Choices

The success of 16+ Learning Choices will be measured on the basis of an appropriate agreedoffer of post-16 learning. A place on a waiting list does not count as an offer.

In measuring the success, local partnerships should establish the number of:

  • young people who have reached the statutory school leaving age and who have an offer of post-16 learning in place
  • school leavers across S4-S6 who have an offer of post-16 learning in place
  • young people who have left school, but remain within the Senior Phase and require a further offer of a place in learning

Separately, the annual School Leaver Destination Return ( SLDR) and the follow-up survey undertaken by SDS provides a valuable snapshot of post-school destinations in Scotland. The SLDR - in particular, the detailed local analyses - will help local partnerships understand where young people are going after school; to identify specific issues and trends; and to align resources and provision more effectively to meet need.

However, the SLDR does not provide the more detailed 'real time' data that is required to support and deliver effective post-16 learning choices. This requires a detailed understanding of individual young people, their learning journey and outcomes, and their career ambitions; together with a clear understanding of the opportunities and supports available locally. It will be crucial for partners, therefore, to make effective use of the wide range of information that's available on young people and their learning choices to ensure improvements in the number of young people achieving and sustaining positive post-16 destinations.

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