Publication - Research and analysis

Young people's experience of education and training

Published: 28 Sep 2017

Report on young people's experience of their learner journey from the age of 15-24 years.

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Young people's experience of education and training
7. Key findings: Ideas for change

7. Key findings: Ideas for change


7.1 The young people that attended the one-day "Insights Lab" were asked what they thought needed to change to better enable young people to make effective decisions about life, learning and work. In doing this, they were asked to consider what would have made their own learner journey better. The ideas for change emerging from the discussions were then voted on by the young people to identify their top priorities for change.

7.2 Table 7-1 lists the 12 ideas for change that were identified and the number of votes cast for each. The young people each had five votes, which could be allocated to single or multiple recommendations. There was a lot of consistency between the ideas for change that were put forward on the day and the discussions that took place during the earlier workshops. The remainder of this chapter looks at each of the ideas for change in more detail, including the discussions that took place in relation to each one.

Table 7-1: Top priorities for change

Ideas for change No of votes
1. Personal, Social and Health Education ( PSHE) – improve, redesign & repurpose 42
2. Better links to additional support – disabilities, mental health, young carers 31
3. Coursework, not exams – change the emphasis 30
4. Focus on 'life skills' – interviews, confidence and money 28
5. Overcoming bias of choices – e.g. university is the best option 19
6. Value of vocational opportunities – e.g. Modern Apprenticeships 11
7. Partnerships with employers, schools, FE/ HE – diversity of topics & experiences 9
8. Mentoring schemes – industry insight, support and guidance 9
9. Try before you buy – experiences and information to make better choices 8
10. More career 'face-time' tailored to your needs – information in multiple formats and meetings with advisors 6
11. Wellbeing – support for your choice/plan 4
12. Bridge to the future – 6th year opportunities 3

Source: Insights Lab
Base: 45 participants

1. Personal, Social and Health Education ( PSHE)

The top priority for change identified was that Personal, Social and Health Education ( PSHE) in schools be reviewed and redesigned. The consensus was that it was not fit for purpose and does not provide young people with the basic skills required to succeed in life. These include how to develop a CV and prepare for an interview, how to manage finances and how to develop and maintain healthy relationships. A secondary suggestion was that any review of PSHE should be done in collaboration with young people themselves to ensure that it meets their needs.

2. Better links to additional support

Young people report a lack of support within educational institutions to deal with personal, social and health issues. There is a perception that the system is 'inflexible' and that even some of the small adjustments required to address some of the issues faced can be difficult to obtain. Young people facing personal, social and health issues often require intensive support tailored to their specific needs. It was acknowledged that educational institutions may not always be best placed to provide this. However, it was felt that teaching and support staff should be able to identify when young people are experiencing problems and signpost them to the appropriate support. Getting the right support at the right time was identified as key to enabling young people to progress in their learner journey.

3. Coursework not exams

It was suggested that educational institutions, particularly schools, consider shifting their emphasis from exams to coursework, with the perception being that coursework is much more aligned to the realities of working life. Young people do not always see the value in exams, described be some as "memory tests" – success at which does not necessarily equate to an ability to succeed in the 'real world'. Less of a focus on exams would also reduce the intense pressure and stress faced by many young people during exam time.

4. Focus on 'life skills'

Young people report that they often feel unprepared for life after school and that this can hold them back in their learner journey. For example, many who go to university have to cope with living independently (often in a new town or city) for the first time. If they are ill-prepared to do that, their learner journey will falter, regardless of how well they are doing academically. They suggest a need for a greater focus on developing the life skills required for them make successful transitions, particularly within the senior phase of school.

5. Overcoming bias of choices

Young people are aware of biases surrounding the different post-school routes. University was perceived as being the 'gold standard' for those who achieve well academically, and alternative options and pathways are rarely discussed with this group. College is perceived as the "next best" option and young people provided several examples of where felt they were being 'pushed' towards local colleges even when they did not feel this was right for them. Vocational pathways, including apprenticeships and other types of training, they felt, are perceived as a lesser option. Young people reported that they would like to be given impartial information on all available pathways in order to make informed choices. Some participants felt that they were not progressing in their learner journey (and repeating stages) due to making post-school decisions based on the biases of the school and not what was needed for their individual journey.

6. Recognising the value of vocational opportunities

Young people would like to see greater value placed on vocational pathways and opportunities. This includes having more vocational subject options within school, and greater promotion of post-school vocational routes through college and Modern Apprenticeships. Many young people see the value in vocational routes and pathways and can feel frustrated when they are not promoted or discussed by schools and other influencers. Those who achieve well academically can often feel pressure to go to university, but sometimes discover later that a vocational pathway would have been a better option for them.

7. Partnerships with employers, schools, further education and higher education

Schools are perceived as being a very protected (but also very isolated) environment for young people, providing minimal exposure to the 'real' world. Young people would like schools to work more closely with employers, colleges and universities in order to broaden their exposure to opportunities outside school. Related to this, young people would like more varied and "quality" work experience opportunities whilst at school to help inform decisions about the future. They would also like colleges and universities to work more closely with employers, again providing greater exposure to potential future opportunities.

8. Mentoring schemes

Young people would welcome access to careers advice and guidance from people they can relate to and who have direct experience of their chosen career paths. This could include other young people who have taken a similar course at college or university, or similar apprenticeships (perhaps matched to them through school alumni networks). It could also include employers in jobs or industries in which they would like to pursue a career in. These types of mentoring opportunities can provide valuable insights into career pathways that are difficult to obtain from elsewhere or through more "generic" careers guidance.

9. 'Try before you buy'

Young people report feeling that they have to make big decisions about their future based on limited information about what these will actually involve. They would welcome the opportunity to try out different options to help inform these decisions. This could include, for example, "taster" opportunities at colleges or universities, or work experience placements in particularly jobs or industries in which that they are interested. These experiences would help them to make informed decisions about the next steps and also help minimise the risk of taking "mis-steps" along the way.

10. More career 'facetime'

Young people would like more time with careers advisers in tailored face-to-face sessions, particularly when making decisions about subject choices and career pathways. They are often directed to online websites (such as My World of Work) to research options themselves. However, whilst these were generally perceived as useful, young people would like the opportunity to talk options through with someone who is knowledgeable and can advise on the implications of different choices. This would give them greater confidence that they have made the right decisions.

11. Wellbeing

Young people report that they want to feel happy with choices they have made. This comes from knowing that they have access to the right level of information, advice and guidance at key decision points. It also comes from having the support of parents and teachers for their choices. There were several examples provided of where young people had to go against the expectations of their school or family in order to pursue career pathways that they felt were right for them. They would like their choices to be respected and supported even when they do not align to others' expectations.

12. Bridge to the future

Young people suggested that the final stages of school should have more of an emphasis on preparing them for the next stage. A key discussion point from the day was around broadening the scope and range of activities that could be supported in sixth year. Some young people said that they felt this had been a "lost year" for them, particularly if they had already achieved the grades required to get into college or university and therefore did not 'need' any more qualifications. Several said that they would have liked to have used some of their time in sixth year to do work experience, volunteer, learn to drive or pursue other subjects not available within the school (either at another school, college or through distance learning). However, the perception was that schools were still very much focussed on attainment and qualifications, even at this stage, and were not always inclined to support young people's wider skills development.


Email: Lorraine Forrester,

Phone: 0300 244 4000 – Central Enquiry Unit

The Scottish Government
St Andrew's House
Regent Road