Summary statistics for follow-up leaver destinations, no. 5: 2023 edition

This statistical publication provides information on the follow-up destinations of 2021/22 school leavers from publicly funded secondary schools in Scotland.

Chapter 4: Background notes

4.1 National Statistics publication

This is a National Statistics publication. National Statistics are produced to high professional standards set out in the Code of Practice for Statistics.

These statistics undergo regular quality assurance reviews to ensure that they meet customer needs. They are produced free from any political interference. This publication has been assessed by the UK Statistics Authority.

4.2 Impact of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic on these statistics

Destinations figures reflect both the choices made by pupils, and the opportunities available to them on leaving school. It is likely that the COVID-19 pandemic will have affected the destinations of some school leavers in 2019/20, 2020/21 and 2021/22. The greatest effect is likely to have been seen in 2019/20. However it is likely that there has been some ongoing impact on the destinations of some 2020/21 and 2021/22 school leavers.

The impacts of the pandemic should be kept in mind when comparing statistics on follow-up destinations for 2021/22, 2020/21, and 2019/20 school leavers, and when comparing statistics for these leaver cohorts to previous years. They should also be considered when comparing initial and follow-up destinations within each of these years.


The availability of particular opportunities (employment opportunities, for example) to some 2019/20 school leavers was directly affected by the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. For example, the start dates of some opportunities were delayed, leading to a direct impact on the destinations recorded for some pupils. The pandemic may also have affected local partnerships' ability to track some school leavers through home visits.

In addition to this, the approach taken to the certification of SQA qualifications in 2020 will have affected the attainment of many 2019/20 school leavers. The pandemic may also have influenced pupils' decisions on when to leave school (for example, delaying leaving from 2019/20 to 2020/21). Together these factors could have affected the attainment of some 2019/20 school leavers, which may in turn have further affected the destination choices and opportunities available to them.

For more information on the approaches taken to the certification of SQA qualifications in 2020, 2021 and 2022 - and their affect on school leaver attainment - please see section 1.3.1 of the Summary Statistics for Attainment and Initial Leaver Destinations, No. 5: 2023 Edition.


For 2020/21 school leavers, it is likely that the pandemic continued to affect the choices made by, and opportunities available to, some school leavers.

As for 2019/20 school leavers, there may have been some ongoing direct impacts on the availability of some opportunities. In addition, the approaches taken to the certification of SQA qualifications in 2020 and 2021 will have affected the attainment of some school leavers; and the pandemic may have influenced some pupils' decisions on when to leave school, which may in some cases have affected their overall attainment. These factors may together have affected the choices made by, and opportunities available to, some 2020/21 leavers.


For 2021/22 school leavers there may again be some ongoing impact on destinations, resulting from the effect of alternative approaches to certification of SQA qualifications since 2020, affecting overall attainment and in turn affecting the choices made by, and opportunities available to, some leavers.

4.3 Sources and quality assurance

School leaver destination data is sourced from the 'Opportunities for All' shared dataset which is managed and hosted by Skills Development Scotland (SDS) on behalf of partners. The data is held on the SDS operational Customer Support System (CSS). An extract of the dataset is taken in early May which provides information on school leavers' latest destination status recorded as at the first Monday in April. For 2021/22 leavers this is Monday, 3rd April 2023.

This dataset contains information shared by local authorities, colleges, Scottish Funding Council, Student Awards Agency for Scotland (SAAS) and the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) via a secure online portal known as the 16+ Data Hub. The data to be shared is documented within the Post-16 Education (Scotland) Act 2013 and there are a series of business rules governing the processing of this data.

Skills Development Scotland (SDS) aim to validate statuses of the school leaver cohort using a combination of data received through data sharing, ongoing case management of customers and direct follow up of customers by staff in SDS centres and their local contact centre. Most statuses are confirmed throughout March and April. In some cases, it is not possible to confirm a status, in which case latest status recorded is used. This is particularly the case for the employment category which is more reliant on manual data collection by SDS staff as SDS does not currently have any regular administrative data feed of employment information. SDS is currently engaging with HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) to establish a robust source of employment data.

Data that has been shared by partners is combined with information gathered directly from young people, their parents/carers or their representatives by SDS staff delivering services to individuals, including transitional support to school leavers. SDS has at least one named adviser for each school in Scotland, who work directly with pupils and school staff to support the transition of young people from school. As this combined data is primarily used for operational purposes the quality is continually monitored to ensure SDS, local authorities and colleges can monitor and plan for a young person's involvement in education, training or employment and identify those young people who require advice or support.

SDS has developed guidance documents for their staff which set out the specific activities and processes involved in identifying, engaging with and confirming the status of SDS customers. This information includes definitions of the available statuses on the CSS and step by step recording guidance. SDS staff have access to specific reports for data quality and more specifically to support the school leaver destination process. These reports will identify school leavers and provide details of their destinations including the source of the information and the date the information was validated.

Prior to destination data being shared with the Scottish Government, final quality checks are carried out centrally by the Corporate Planning and Performance Reporting team within SDS. These include a review of statuses to ensure the reported destination reflects the available detail e.g. course details and course levels are correctly reported as higher or further education. In addition, final checks of shared data are made to ensure destinations are consistent with data sources e.g. matching information about modern or graduate apprentices.

4.4 Methodology

A pupil is counted as a school leaver if they have a leaver record on the 'Opportunities for All' shared data set, a pupil census record for the same academic year, and no pupil census record in the following academic year. School leavers do not include pupils who transferred to another school or moved outwith Scotland.

The initial destinations data (published in February) provides information on the outcomes for young people approximately three months after the end of the academic year (1st Monday in October) while the follow-up data in this publication provides information on the outcomes for young people approximately nine months after the end of the academic year (1st Monday in April). These collections should be seen as complementary to one another but it should be noted that various factors may affect the results at the different time periods.

Further, a relatively small number of school leavers identified in the initial leaver cohort are not included in the follow-up leaver cohort. This is typically where the individual has been identified as having moved outwith Scotland, as having returned to school or, in rare circumstances, having deceased. In 2021/22, 108 school leavers identified in the initial cohort were not included in the follow-up leaver cohort.

The follow-up destination statistics in this publication only relate to leavers from mainstream schools. They do not include data on destinations of leavers from special schools.

4.5 Scottish Index of Multiple Deprivation (SIMD)

The Scottish Index of Multiple Deprivation (SIMD) identifies small area concentrations of multiple deprivation across Scotland. The SIMD ranks small geographical areas – called data zones - from most deprived (ranked 1) to least deprived (ranked 6,976). The data zones can then be grouped into five quintiles, covering the 20% most deprived areas to the 20% least deprived areas.

In this publication, the SIMD is used to assess how the destinations of school leavers differ based on the level of deprivation in their home (or school) area. Pupils are assigned to an SIMD quintile based on the data zone recorded for their home address in the Scottish Government's pupil census. If the pupil does not have a data zone recorded in the pupil census data, the data zone of the pupil's school is used.

The SIMD is updated periodically (typically every three or four years) and therefore the SIMD used in these statistics is also updated in line with this to ensure that the most appropriate version is used. For example, SIMD 2016 was first used for 2016/17 school leavers; and in line with this, SIMD 2020 was first used for years 2020/21 and has also been used for this year (2021/22).

4.6 Definitions

Leaver destinations are categorised by SDS based on shared administrative data wherever possible. Alternatively, they have been captured by staff in data sharing organisations or through direct data input by SDS staff, as a result of contact with individuals, their parents/carers or organisations an individual is engaging with. The following categories for leaver destinations are included in this statistical bulletin:

Positive destination: includes Higher Education, Further Education, Training, Employment, Voluntary Work, Personal Skills Development and (between 2010/11 and 2017/18) Activity Agreements.

Higher Education: includes leavers following HND (Higher National Diploma) or HNC (Higher National Certificate) courses, degree courses, courses for the education and training of teachers and higher level courses for professional qualifications. It includes programmes at a level higher than the standard of the National Qualifications, i.e. above SCQF Level 7. Leavers with a deferred, unconditional place in Higher Education have also been included in this category.

Further Education: includes leavers undertaking education which is not higher education and who are no longer on a school roll. This may include National Qualifications.

Training: includes leavers who are on a training course and in receipt of an allowance or grant, such as the Employability Fund national training programme. It also includes leavers who are on local authority or third sector funded training programmes who are in receipt of a training allowance, or those participating in Community Jobs Scotland.

From 2018/19 this category includes school leavers receiving support that would previously have been recorded as 'Activity Agreements'. This means that the proportion of 2018/19 school leavers with a destination category of Training cannot be directly compared to the proportion recorded for previous years. Further information can be found in the Activity Agreements definition below.

Employment: includes those who consider themselves to be employed and in receipt of payment from their employers. It includes young people undertaking training in employment through national training programmes such as Modern Apprenticeships and Graduate Apprenticeships.

Voluntary Work: includes those undertaking voluntary work/volunteering which will involve a young person giving of their time and energy through a third party with or without financial allowance.

Personal Skills Development: Young people who have a destination as Personal Skills Development (PSD) on the 'Opportunities for All' shared dataset fall into one of two different categories:

PSD (Employability): including individuals who participate in activities with the aim of employment. For example programmes run by community learning and development or third sector organisations.

PSD (Social & Health): includes individuals who may not be ready to enter the labour market and require access to support from support services to make transitions into learning/work or adulthood. An example of this is where an individual undertakes structured opportunities appropriate to their long term needs or to address their barriers to engaging in education, employment or training.

The way in which school leavers undertaking Personal Skills Development are counted in these statistics changed in 2018/19 and data for previous years was revised to allow consistent comparisons over time. Further information can be found in section 4.1 of the June 2020 release of this publication.

Activity Agreements: prior to 2018/19 this included leavers for whom there was an agreement between a young person and an advisor that the young person would take part in a programme of learning and activity which helped them become ready for formal learning or employment.

The integration of funding streams as part of the ongoing implementation of No One Left Behind[1] means that although local authorities provide the same type of support and opportunities for young people, this activity is no longer funded under the banner of 'Activity Agreements'. This means it is no longer appropriate to record school leavers receiving this support using this category. Instead they are recorded in the Training category for 2018/19 onwards. Note that data for earlier years continues to include the Activity Agreements category, reflecting the support that was available at the time. This means that the proportion of school leavers recorded in the Training category from 2018/19 onwards is not directly comparable with the proportion recorded in this category prior to 2018/19.

Unemployed Seeking: includes those known by SDS or their partners to be seeking employment or training. This includes those receiving support from SDS, Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) and other partners. It is based on regular contact between the supporting organisation and the individual. This does not refer to the definition of 'Unemployed' used by the DWP to calculate published unemployment rates.

Unemployed Not Seeking: includes all those individuals who are not yet ready or are unavailable to enter the labour market for a range of reasons. The reasons may involve ill health/sickness, prison, pregnancy, caring for children or other dependents, or taking time out.

Unknown: includes all leavers whose destination is not known either to Skills Development Scotland, to the school attended or to other partners; or were not able to be contacted at the survey point.

4.7 Rounding

Figures used in the commentary of this report are based on the unrounded data which can be found in the supplementary tables. This means that they may not always match with figures that are derived using the rounded data displayed in tables and charts.

4.8 Symbols

The following symbols are used in this publication:

[z] = not applicable

[c] = value suppressed to protect against the risk of disclosing personal information

[low] = value less than 0.05 per cent

pp = percentage point difference

4.9 Additional Support Needs

An Additional Support Need (ASN) is recorded where a pupil is receiving any form of additional support for learning. This could be for a wide variety of reasons (including being assessed or declared disabled), and the additional support provided could be for different durations and of any type. The types of support provided include Co-ordinated Support Plans (CSP), Individualised Educational Programmes (IEP), Child's Plans and other plans. Under previous legislation a pupil may have been categorised as having a Record of Need (RoN).

4.10 UK comparisons

The information presented here is for young people who have left school in Scotland. In England and Wales information is also collected on school leaver destinations, but these statistics are not directly comparable as they use different methodology. For example, the Scotland follow-up destination figures use a snapshot of status as at April, while figures for England and Wales consider the sustained destination over a six-month period (October – March). Information is also collected in England and Wales on participation of 16-18 year olds in education, employment or training at a snapshot in time. However these figures include all young people of ages 16-18 irrespective of whether they were a school leaver or not. As a result direct comparisons cannot be made. Additionally, in Northern Ireland (NI), statistics are published on destinations of school leavers, but due to differences in methodology direct comparisons cannot be made. For example, the NI destinations collection is based on a survey of destinations manually inputted by schools. The timing of the collections is also different: NI destinations are as at November/December, compared to April for follow-up destination statistics in Scotland.

4.11 List of supplementary tables

Additional tables on follow-up leaver destinations are available in the supplementary tables. These tables on school leaver follow-up destinations include breakdowns by: characteristics of leavers; local authority; reason(s) for additional support needs; and stage of leaving. Table A1.1 shows attainment by follow-up destination category. Information on school leaver attainment and how the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic affects these statistics is available in Summary Statistics for Attainment and Initial Leaver Destinations, No. 5: 2023 Edition.

School Leaver Follow-up Destinations, Supplementary tables:

  • Tables C1.1a and C1.1b: Number and percentage of mainstream secondary school follow-up leavers by stage of leaving, 2009/10 to 2021/22
  • Tables L1.1a and L1.1b. Percentage of mainstream secondary school leavers by initial destination category (1992/93 to 2021/22) and follow-up destination category (2006/07 to 2021/22)
  • Table L1.2. Percentage of mainstream secondary school leavers by follow-up destination category and sex, 2009/10 to 2021/22
  • Table L1.3. Percentage of mainstream secondary school leavers by follow-up destination category and 6-fold Urban Rural classification of school, 2009/10 to 2021/22
  • Table L1.4. Percentage of mainstream secondary school leavers by follow-up destination category and Additional Support Need, 2009/10 to 2021/22
  • Table L1.5. Percentage of mainstream secondary school leavers by follow-up destination category and ethnic background, 2009/10 to 2021/22
  • Table L1.6. Percentage of mainstream secondary school leavers by follow-up destination category and national identity, 2009/10 to 2021/22
  • Table L1.7. Percentage of mainstream secondary school leavers by follow-up destination category and whether declared or assessed disabled, 2009/10, 2014/15 to 2021/22
  • Table L1.8. Percentage of mainstream secondary school leavers who sustained a destination or moved into another destination category, 2009/10 to 2021/22
  • Table L1.9. Percentage of mainstream secondary school leavers by follow-up destination category and stage of leaving, 2017/18 to 2021/22
  • Table L2.1. Percentage of mainstream secondary school leavers by follow-up destination category and local authority, 2009/10 to 2021/22
  • Table L2.2. Number of mainstream secondary school leavers by follow-up destination category and local authority, 2009/10 to 2021/22
  • Tables L2.3. Number and percentage of mainstream secondary school leavers in a positive follow-up destination, by local authority and SIMD, 2009/10 to 2021/22
  • Table A1.1. Percentage of mainstream secondary school leavers by highest SCQF Level achieved and follow-up destination category, 2009/10 to 2021/22

4.12 Recording of 'Unemployed Seeking' statuses

The rollout of Universal Credit (UC) commenced in March 2016 and has replaced out of work benefits, such as Jobseekers' Allowance, that were previously used to update the status of individuals to 'Unemployed Seeking'. For previous releases of these statistics, Skills Development Scotland did not receive data from the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) on Universal Credit claimants.

SDS now receive UC data from DWP which they have used to validate the destinations of 2021/22 school leavers.

SDS maintains an accurate record of the circumstances of the school-leaver-aged young people in unemployment that it engages with, through the delivery of post-school services. The availability of UC data from DWP will, in many cases, simply have confirmed the statuses of school leavers which had already been determined through this engagement.

4.13 Transcript of the infographic

The Infographic presented at the begining shows the following:

That 93.5 per cent of all 2021/22 school leavers were in a positive follow-up destination (up from 93.2 per cent in 2020/21) and 6.5 per cent were in an other follow-up destination.

That 37.7 per cent of 2021/22 leavers were in Higher Education (down from 40.3 per cent in 2020/21), 20.7 per cent were in Further Education (up from 18.3 per cent in 2020/21), and 31.8 per cent were in Employment (up from 31.5 per cent in 2020/21). 3.2 per cent of leavers were in Other Positive Destinations.

That in 2021/22, 95.7 per cent of leavers in a positive initial destination were also in a positive follow-up destination. This includes leavers in the same destination or in a different positive destination. Employment was the most sustained destination category. 94.1 per cent of leavers whose initial destination was Employment were also in Employment for their follow-up destination – although leavers may have changed their employer or type of employment during this time.

4.14 Cost

As part of the overall approach to delivering the Scottish Government's Opportunities for

All commitment, the follow-up of school leavers is a business as usual activity for Skills Development Scotland and costs are embedded within their daily operations.

4.15 Further information

This publication is available on the Scottish Government's website.

Information on positive initial destinations of senior phase school leavers (plus other school level information) is also available through Insight (a professional benchmarking tool used by local authorities and schools) and published on the School Information Dashboard. However these sources do not include follow-up destination statistics.

The scope of these destination statistics is limited to school leavers, but other sources are available to assess patterns across wider society. For example, information on employment trends more broadly is available from the Scottish Government labour market statistics website, and the Scottish Funding Council publishes data on participation in Higher Education.

The Scottish Government and Skills Development Scotland (SDS) produce the Annual Participation Measure (APM) which complements school leaver destination statistics. Published every August, the APM captures the activity of all 16-19 year olds across a complete year, including those who choose to stay on at school as well as those who have left school. The APM has been adopted as the metric for measuring success in relation to the young people's participation national indicator within the National Performance Framework. The indicator measures the percentage of young adults (16-19 year olds) participating in education, training or employment. Latest results were published in August 2022.

The text below provides summary information for some of the key sources of data on attainment and the activity of young people in Scotland.


Summary Statistics for Attainment and Initial Leaver Destinations

Organisation, usual month of publication:

Scottish Government, February

Key points:

Provides information on the attainment of school leavers and on the activities being undertaken by school leavers on a given day ~3 months after the end of the school year.

Coverage: School leavers


Summary Statistics for Follow-up Leaver Destinations (This Publication)

Organisation, usual month of publication:

Scottish Government, June

Key points:

Provides information on the activities being undertaken by school leavers on a given day ~9 months after the end of the school year.

Coverage: School leavers


Annual Participation Measure

Organisation, usual month of publication:

Skills Development Scotland, August

Key points:

Reports on the sustained economic and employment activity of the wider 16-19 year old cohort, including those at school.

Coverage: All 16-19 year olds

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