8. Conclusions and recommendations
8.1 This document has reported the findings from an in-depth study of young people's experiences of the education and training system in Scotland. The research was co-designed and delivered with young people, who have taken a lead role in shaping the approach taken to each stage. This final chapter provides summary conclusions and recommendations for consideration by the Scottish Government and wider stakeholders and partners working in the education and training sector in Scotland.
Young people's experiences of education and training
8.2 The research identified a number of clear and consistent messages relating to young people's experiences of the education and training system in Scotland. Firstly, young people report that the focus on attainment and qualifications within schools is not giving them the skills required to succeed in life, learning and work. As a result, many feel ill-prepared for life after school and this is having a negative impact on their learner journeys. This was found to be particularly true of young people from socially disadvantaged backgrounds, who may have limited support to develop life skills at home.
8.3 A second clear message is that when young people's learner journeys falter, this is often the result of personal, social and health issues. Young people report that schools are not always well equipped to deal with these issues. In some cases, the support required is just a degree of flexibility to respond to individual needs, and in others it is a referral to external support. Access to the right support at the right time was identified as being key to minimising the potential negative impact that these issues can have on young peoples' learner journeys.
8.4 The third consistent message from the workshops was that there is a lack of parity of esteem between vocational and academic career pathways. Schools were widely reported to view university as the top destination for leavers, with college being the preferred second choice. This ties in with the focus on attainment and qualifications, with a perception that the 'ideal' pathway is to achieve good grades and then go to university. There is an assumption that leavers in the top cohort in terms of grades and attainment will go to university and alternative options, including vocational and technical routes, were reported to be very rarely discussed with this group.
8.5 These messages were consistent across the study and no major differences were found in the experiences of young people from different equalities groups. This includes those from minority ethnic or care-experienced backgrounds, who have been identified in previous research as facing particular issues and challenges in their learner journeys. However, it should not be assumed that differences do not exist. It would not have been possible to identify them in the current study as it was open to young people from all backgrounds and equality and diversity monitoring data was collected from anonymously.
Recommendation: Explore options for the provision of additional support and guidance to educational institutions to help them identify when young people are facing personal, social and health issues and facilitate access to support to help address these.
Recommendation: Work with stakeholders across the careers, education and learning sectors to promote parity of esteem between vocational and academic pathways.
Decisions and transitions
8.6 The study focussed on the learner journeys of young people between the ages of 15 and 24 years old. The key decision and transition points during this time were found to relate to subject choices, first destinations on leaving school, next steps and progression into employment. In terms of subject choices, many young people reported a tension between choosing subjects that they enjoyed or were good at versus those that were perceived to offer better career opportunities. They also requested more guidance and support to be made available to inform subject choices, including information on the implications of these on future opportunities.
8.7 First destinations on leaving school were found to be mainly determined by academic attainment, with minimal consideration of individual aspirations, preferred learning styles, personal attributes (such as ability to cope with independent living) or final destinations. This was resulting in some young people choosing pathways that in retrospect were not right for them. In terms of next steps, the study found that most young people who go to university tend to delay consideration of what do next until the latter stages of their degree. For those who go to college, apprenticeships or employment, decisions about the next steps are often based on what is available locally at the time they are looking.
8.8 The study found that a lot of young people from all backgrounds find it difficult to secure full-time paid employment and many report negative early experiences of the world of work. Lack of work experience was cited as a key barrier to young people getting jobs.
Recommendation: More tailored support available to young people to help with subject choices, including consideration of the implications of these.
Recommendation: Expand the range of opportunities available to young people during the senior phase of school to better prepare them for the next stage.
8.9 Parents and family were found to be key influencers on young people's career choices and learner journeys, both directly and indirectly. Friends were also found to be key influencers, particularly for those who were pursuing apprenticeships or other types of training. These opportunities were often found about through word-of-mouth rather than through schools, other educational institutions or support services.
8.10 Young people's learner journeys were also found to often be influenced by personal and social issues, such as their own and family member's health problems, economic drivers (a need to earn money) and the skills and confidence gained through sports and other hobbies.
Careers advisers were found to have had most influence on young people who were disengaged or at risk of disengagement. The career guidance that is available was reported to work best for those who know what they want to do and wanted to work in traditional occupations, but was less effective for those who are not sure or looking to pursue opportunities in new and emerging industries. Work experience was found to have a profound impact on career choices, but young people report limited opportunities to access good quality placements.
Recommendation: Young people be given greater exposure to the world of work whilst in education to inform career choices, including quality work experience placements, encounters with employers and mentoring opportunities.
Ideas for change
8.11 The 45 young people who attended the Insights Lab identified 12 ideas for change to better enable young people to make effective decisions about life, learning and work, and to progress in their learner journeys. There was a lot of consistency between the ideas identified on the day and the themes emerging from the earlier workshops, with a focus on additional support to address personal, social and health issues and to develop key life skills. There was also an appeal to change the emphasis within education from exams to coursework and for access to impartial guidance on different career pathways, more varied and better quality work experience opportunities and greater exposure to different post-school routes.
Recommendation: Consideration should be given to taking forward some of the top priorities for change identified by the young people who participated in the Insights Lab.
Recommendation: The Scottish Government, and wider stakeholders and partners, should continue to actively engage young people in this evolving policy area to ensure that policy decisions relating to the learner journey are based on insights from young people themselves.
Email: Lorraine Forrester, firstname.lastname@example.org
Phone: 0300 244 4000 – Central Enquiry Unit
The Scottish Government
St Andrew's House