Luton and local

Apprenticeships & KS4 &KS5 students from ethnic minority backgrounds

Released this week was a slew of data on the destinations of 2015 Key Stage 4 & 5 leavers that provides nerds like me hours of interesting noodling about in excel. There’s plenty to get through, not only focusing on the number of students taking up each type of route but also on the characteristics of those students.

This post looks at the trend from the data (now going back to 2010, although breakdowns that include ethnicity only start in 2012) in the percentages of  KS4 & 5 leavers of different ethnicities going into apprenticeships. The charts below detail both the percentage of all leavers in that year accessing apprenticeships and the percentage of students from each named ethnic background accessing apprenticeships.



The first thing to notice is that these percentages are comparatively small compared to other routes. The 6% of KS4 students starting apprenticeships is well below the 38% starting an FE College and another 38% starting a school Sixth-Form. That 6% equates to approximately 34,000 young people while the 7% of KS5 leavers equates to approximately 25,400 students from this age group.

For all the talk from policy makers as apprenticeships solving youth employment concerns, it is largely the growth of 25+ apprenticeship starts that has allowed the previous Government’s target of 2 million to be reached. The starts of those under 19 are inching up, as evidenced by the slow growth in the Total bars in the chart above and this chart


from The House of Commons Library.

and this year 130,000 under 19s commenced an apprenticeship. This is more than double the (approx) 50,400 combine leavers above which shows that many young people are accessing apprenticeships after the first two terms (the definition used by the destination statistics) after leaving their KS4 & KS5 providers.

What seems to be happening though is that the apprenticeship route is failing to find much growth with students from ethnic minority backgrounds straight out of school and college. While their White peers are eking up the percentage of students from that background pursuing this route, the percentage of black or Asian students is either stalled or lagging behind.

This is not to say that the numbers of students from these backgrounds taking apprenticeships has not increased, it has


but that, as a percentage of the total number of students from each of those backgrounds leaving KS4 & KS5, their progression is being outpaced by their White counterparts.

The reasons for this are going to be numerous and complex for different groups.

In Luton we have a diverse student cohort drawn from the local community and this wider trend in apprenticeship progression is reflected in the 2015 destination figures of the town. Of the four schools with highest percentage of students whose first language is not English (from Icknield High School at 64.9% to Denbigh High at 94.6%), only one reaches a 4% progression rate to apprenticeships while the figures of two of the others are so small they are suppressed to protect confidentiality. There is an attainment factor in play here, all four of those schools are in the top six in the town for academic progress. 86% of Denbigh’s leavers progressed to the local Sixth-Form college. The reasons for this huge majority are not only that these students (and their families) see this route as desirable but that the grades they have achieved make that route available. We also know that, comparably, white working class students (particularly boys) underachieve in their academic progress and so, find academic routes Post 16 harder to access. Does this mean that this ethnic group has fewer routes to pursue, so a greater percentage opt for apprenticeships?

Is the fact that the majority of apprenticeships on offer are at qualifications levels perceived to be accessible to (slightly) lower academic achievers but not offering challenge or progression to higher academic achievers a dissuading factor?


Another favourite tactic from policy makers when discussing destinations is to revert to the safe waters of “a lack of aspiration” for low progression figures but I’ve blogged in the past about this is a sound bite hiding a more nuanced situation. Could it be that students from White backgrounds actually have greater social capital around apprenticeships and are more able to access the networks of support to gain a foothold into this route?

Whatever the reasons, it seems that schools and colleges are not currently impacting on the trend for students from Asian and Black backgrounds to access apprenticeships despite a current, diverse advertising campaign. The numbers of young people of all backgrounds accessing apprenticeships needs to increase but the messages are so far struggling to reach all of the students in our schools.


My email in support of @LutonTown Power Court & Newlands Park applications

This is what I emailed over to the planning team at LBC. If you’re thinking of doing the same, guidelines on what to include can be found here:

In support of Power Court (REF: 16/01400) & Newlands Park (REF: 16/01401)

Dear Sir/Madam,

I, as a resident of Luton, write to voice my support for the submitted planning applications from 2020 developments for the schemes at Power Court (REF: 16/01400) and Newlands Park (REF: 16/01401).

I’m certain that many of the supporting emails you have received for these two applications have started with heartfelt tales of the length and depth of the author’s support for Luton Town Football club. This will not be one of those emails. I have no need to recount the magic wand that was Jean Louis Valois’ left foot or how I once saw Steve Howard at a restaurant in London but was too frightened to ask the big man for an autograph because I thought he’d be annoyed and I’d seen how he’d bruised opposition centre halfs season after season. This will not be one of those emails because all of those things are all in the past and this email is about the future.

I work in a Luton High School as a Careers Advisor. This means my role is at the interface of education and local business. Local young people want to be work ready and local employers want a highly skilled local workforce. For both of these outcomes to be successfully achieved, Luton needs to both be a desirable destination for a range of employers to base their operations and engage with the local community and our young people need to experience the local labour market and aspire to live and work in the area in their later lives.

Progress is being made on both fronts. Luton is already home to a number of remarkable businesses that are proud to be involved with the local community and it is also a hugely exciting time in the redevelopment of the town with projects such as Napier Park, the Cultural Quarter and the expansion of London Luton Airport. The local education system is also stepping up to the mark with new schools and facilities opening, impressive Ofsted grades and region beating progression statistics. Both of the developments from the 2020 group would be massively beneficial projects to these aims.

I visited the 2020 exhibition at the Hat Factory and was impressed then with the thought and diligence that had gone into all aspects of the proposed sites but, upon reading the online planning documents and particularly the Socio-Economic submission, I am now convinced of the important role the developments could play in the future economic health of the town. The developments align with the aims of the Luton Investment Framework and the growth outcomes of SEMLEP’s strategic economic plan. The mix of retail, office and entertainment space at Newlands Park and the retail and hospitality plans for Power Court will offer a range of business investment. The commitment from 2020 to offer local young people apprenticeship opportunities during the construction phase and beyond will be hugely valuable to offering desirable progression routes and the KPMG estimate of 9,780 full-time roles added to the local economy by 2030 will be highly beneficial to enticing talented young workers to remain in the local area after leaving education. The influx of new companies to the area that take up the spaces will offer new opportunities for collaboration between education and business across the town and so improve the skills base and work readiness of our young people.

The economic benefits to both of the developments are clear and these, combined with the proposed spaces dedicated for cultural and social events, will have positive ancillary impacts across the wider Luton community which mean I fully support both the Power Court and Newlands Park proposals.



Russell George

(writing in a personal capactiy)

Careers Co-ordinator

Stopsley High School

Local news coverage of our Careers Fair

The Luton News have kindly run a small piece about our careers event last week


Link here:


Stopsley Baptist Church was packed throughout the day on Thursday with Year 11 students from Ashcroft, Putteridge and Stopsley High Schools keen to find out more about their futures.

Over 30 exhibitors including many local employers such as Vauxhall, Selex ES, Pictons Solicitors, Hayward Tyler, Monarch Engineering, Double S Travel and GKN Aerospace where on hand to inform over 550 young people about the careers they offer. Representatives from a wide range of Higher and Further Education providers such as Luton Sixth Form College, Barnfield College, North Hertfordshire College, Oaklands College, the University of Bedfordshire and Oxford University were also present to offer guidance about their routes.

The Careers teams at all 3 High Schools expressed their thanks to all of the providers who attended and made the day such a success. This was the fourth year the event has run and already planning is underway to make next year’s event even bigger and better.


What if this years rules had applied to the last 3 years Luton school league tables?

This summer’s GCSE results will be the first to be league tabled under new rules put forward in the Wolf Review:

“vocational awards do still qualify but no qualification can count for more than one GCSE (instead of being equivalent to 2 or 4) and only two vocational qualifications are allowed to be included in 5A*-C including E&M”

Henry Stewart from the Local Schools Network has put a FOI into the DfE for the data showing how results from the past three years would look judged against this forthcoming criteria.

I’ve copied and pasted the data for the Luton schools from those spreadsheets and added the full 5A*-C E&M (including equivalents) from the DfE performance table website.

luton schools 2013


luton schools 2012

luton schools 2011


There is a fairly clear trend as the “gap” between the headline measure and the WOLF measure narrows across the schools in the 3 years to 2013. This direction of travel is a definitive positive as overall pass rates have remained high as the curriculums have become broader which, in turn, will mean that more Luton school leavers will have a wider range of Post 16 options available to them and be more likely to succeed on those pathways. It also means that the schools have the curriculum offers in place to be much better positioned for the bigger change to the league tables due to happen in 2016 with the introduction of Progress and Attainment 8.

The stories told and not told by school Destination data

A common theme throughout all of the recent commentary on the state of CEIAG in schools has been that the publication of Destination statistics for all schools is a ‘good thing.’ In the modern world, the argument goes, transparency of outcomes for schools should not just rely on qualifications gained by students but on the stability and suitability of the progress those students then make in their first steps beyond the school gates.

With this in mind I wanted to post something concentrating purely on the Destination Data of my own school’s leavers to show how this does and does not offer insight when looking at figures on a school size level.

I’ll be using 4 sets of Destination data to give some context.

Firstly, there is the data currently on the DfE performance tables website. This relates to our 2009/10 leavers.

Second, is the data for the 2010/2011 cohort that is due to be published on the performance table site in June.

So, what to notice between those two? The trend in our numbers to FE seem to be falling while the numbers to Sixth Form College are rising, Apprenticeships are steady and “Destinations not sustained” are falling. The FE and Sixth Form trends have the biggest swing in numbers so could tell the story of a more definitive trajectory. The Apprenticeships and Not Sustained numbers are pleasing but I’m wary of hanging out the bunting because, as you can see from the second table, the numbers of students involved are small. One or two students either way and those percentages alter significantly.

A hugely important factor to bear in mind is that this data is based not on a snapshot but on an extended time period. As the guidance tells us Participation is determined as enrollment for “the first two terms (defined as October to March) of the year after the young person left KS4″ and not sustained destinations are defined as  “young people who had participated at an education destination during the academic year but did not complete the required six months participation.” There is much to commend on the longer term measurement being used here which does more thoroughly test a school’s CEIAG legwork to suitably place their students post KS4. A negative consequence of this more considered approach though is the sheer amount of time that has to be allowed before publication to let the students travel through the system. The most recent set of data above covers students who left us 3 years ago. 3 years can be a lifetime of change in a school with new initiatives, new curriculum, staff turnover, Leadership changes, new priorities and events so to use this to judge that school in the here and now seems to be a little redundant.

The third set of data for our 2011/2012 cohort is from our Local Authority, who, alongside their Youth Service partners, work their way through enrollment lists, phone calls and house visits to get all of the stats which the DfE then utilise in future.

The first thing to notice is that some of the Destination terms are not the same. This immediately causes issues in comparison. Compared to the first two sets of data, the trend away from FE routes and towards Sixth Form (not differentiated between School Sixth Form and Sixth Form College here) reduces but continues. The NEET category (not known in the DfE data) is pleasing again (with the same caveat as above) while the Part Time Education numbers are odd and appear towards the larger end of the local spread (more about this below) but they lead to another concern; any conclusions we draw are only as sound as the data collection and entry job that went before them.

The biggest difference in the data sets is that the Local Authority data is a snap shot taken on the 1st of November 2012, just a few short weeks after the GCSE results. If published then, the immediacy of this data could provide interested parties such as Ofsted or parents much more reactive numbers on which to judge local secondary schools but this immediacy could also cause problems. Any snap measurement could offer a warped view of a reality that would produce very different data if captured on a different date (were the statistics exactly the same on the 2nd of November?) and perhaps not highlight gradual drop out as those learners went through the first term of their KS5 routes. To combat this and to show trends the Authority repeat the exercise in the following April with the same year group and the results of this follow up snapshot for the 2012 leavers are in the columns on the right below.

Clearly the largest change between the November and April is the Part time Education number now reads zero and the number of Apprenticeships has jumped by the same number to 12. How much of this change can be attributed to data entry decisions or to the steady progress of our leavers securing Apprenticeships in the year school would only be known to those with local knowledge of our alumni. It’s a tale not told in the stats.

So, what can we learn from all this data?

1) The considered publication timeframe on the DfE performance tables has both good and bad sides for judging school performance

2) When you drill down to school level, the numbers of actual students involved moving from category to category can be small enough so that only a few students fluctuating between them can significantly impact the percentages

and that

3) Trends in destination growth or reduction for different routes can only be properly identified with multiple data sets over a longer period

If Ofsted and stakeholders such as parents are to get the most out of Destination data in its current form, a considered and measured view and a desire to understand the stories behind the figures really will be required.


2013 Luton Destination Statistics: Less 16 and 17 Year Olds in full time outcomes


Continuing an intermittent series of posts concentrating on the Destination data of Luton school leavers (previous posts here and here), this post looks at the number of 16 & 17 year olds in Luton who were in full time education or employment in December 2013.

At this time 4,940 16 & 17 year olds were known to the Local Authority and of these 88.2% were in full-time outcomes. This is a fall of 3.3% against December 2012 and the only fall in participation in the Eastern Region and compared to a national figure of 89.8%. This regression is also disappointing compared to the positive news across the country as Local Authorities and schools move to comply with the Raising the Participation age legislation.

Of those learners only 1.4% were in an Apprenticeship route, the second lowest in the Eastern Region (behind Southend) which shows that while awareness of this route is growing, the gap between positions sought and those acquired is still huge. 84.1% were still in full-time education.

Delving deeper it’s clear where the fall in participation can be attributed. At 16 both girls and boys show healthy figures for participation (95.8% and 96.6% respectively)  but at 17 something happens and the figures drop to 82.2% for girls and 78.3% for boys. This is the worst 17-year-old boys participation rate in the Eastern Region. There could be a number of reasons for this; students are signing up to unsuitable courses to begin with (aka the Careers advice is poor), the safety nets to stop them dropping out of Key Stage 5 provision are weak or the provisions themselves do not possess the strength to keep them enticed in the first place. It’s a conundrum that needs solving.

A summary of the Barnfield investigation findings and background

The Investigation

The BBC 3 Counties radio reporter Paul Scoins gained a leaked version of the Skills Funding Agency report and broadcast the findings on the morning of February 18th with a follow up story on the BBC website.

Mr Scoins had earlier reported on the testimony (given with condition of anonymity) of ex teachers at the Federation’s Academies which accused Senior Managers of pressuring teaching staff to spoon fee students.

In the interim before the full reports publication, the Federation appointed Dame Jackie Fisher as interim CEO.

The actual Education Funding Agency report was released on the 28th February (a Friday) after Hertfordshire police confirmed they would not be investigating the findings and detailed the following misdemeanors:

  • Financial reports of the Academies were not submitted in time or individually as required
  • Annual General Meetings were not held in a suitable timeframe
  • There was no formal Service Level Agreement that formally agreed the shared services between the Federation company specifically set up to do this and it’s Academies and that the total cost of these services, some £3.5m of the Academies budgets in 13/14 was not considered value for money and set at above market rates. The overpay of £725,000 has been credited back to the Academies from the College but, as this agreement was in place for many years, a considerable sum was probably overpaid for these services
  • There were conflicts of interest in procurement of services from companies outside the Federation
  • That the College had claimed £18,144.97 from the EFA for short courses attended by Sixth Form students from the Barnfield Academies which should have been claimed (and now will be) from the Academies
  • The College had claimed £941,000 for learners in both the Adults skills and 16-18 provision which it could not prove attended the guided learning hours stipulated
  • That the 3 support companies set up by the Federation to oversee the Colleges and the Academy’s (Barnfield Education Partnership Trust, Barnfield Acadmies Trust and Barnfield Education Services) were complex enough to lead to conflict of interests, increased salaries for Board members without proper oversight or approval from the correct committee and breaches of Charity regulation
  • Marble plaques totaling £2,124 where purchased for each Academy to commemorate the Knighting of the Director General
  • Plaques totaling £5,790 were purchased by each Academy after the resignation of the Director General in May 2013
  • An annual staff celebration event was held costing £20,000 in 2013 and £25,000 in 2011/12 with £7,200 of these costs recouped from private sponsorship. A total of £3,127 was spent on alcohol at these events.
  • That credit cards for staff to use had a cost of “between £5,000 and £17,000 a month.”
  • The College was potentially attempting to manipulate success rates (para 81) which will be raised with Ofsted for further clarification
  •  That the College will also need to pay back £350,000 to the Skills Funding Agency of which £40,000 relates to College staff taking courses that should not have been claimed for
  • That, on resigning, the Director General was given an Audi Q5, a months holiday pay and two (undisclosed) cash sums which he neither requested or was contractually obligated to

Overall it concluded the “review has found evidence of significant financial irregularity together with breaches of the Academies Financial Handbook, the Funding Agreement, Charity Commission regulation and the Companies Act 2006.”

The KPMG investigation report was also released. In addition to the above it noted:

  • The College posted a deficit of £7.3m at the end of the 2013 financial year
  • £450,000 was lost with the closing of the Harpenden Hair Academy site
  • Construction and enabling works to the New Bedford Road site have been halted thus incurring a write down of £800,000

On the same day, Sir Peter released a statement in response to the findings.

Going Forward

Also on the 28th were released 3 financial notice to improve letters, one to the Barnfield Academies Trust, one to Moorlands Free School and one to the Barnfield Skills Academy Trust each with their own requirements to improve, timescales by which to submit plans and notification of further EFA visits to check progress.

The final piece of the paperwork jigsaw was a summary letter from Lord Nash and Minister Hancock summarising the assessment of the FE Commissioners findings of his visit to the College with its own requirements on the College to alter its structure and leadership and consider a vision for the future to be submitted before the end of March 2014.


The investigation covers the period while Sir Peter Birkett was the CEO of the Federation. During his tenure he was awarded a Knighthood in 2012 for his services to the “Further Education and Academy Movement” and name checked by in speeches by Michael Gove for his leadership achievements. Incidentally the Barnfield Skills Academy mentioned in that speech has also recently incurred the wrath of Lord Nash for it’s poor performance in last summer’s results. His tenure also saw the downgrading of the College by Ofsted to Satisfactory in September 2012 and the downgrading of Barnfield South Academy to “Requires Improvement” in May 2013. South Academy immediately launched an appeal against the rating which, presumably, was unsuccessful as the 3 rating still stands.

For this service to the public of Luton Mr Birkett was remunerated to the tune of £193,000 with £15,000 in benefits in 2010/11. (April 2014 edit – data released this month shows that Mr Birkett’s basic salary in 2012/2013 was £228,000). He left his role at the Federation  in July 2013 to take up a role at the multinational education company and newly approved UK academy sponsor, GEMS as their CEO and was soon attending seminars with the likes of ex-President Bill Clinton. However this was short lived as he left suddenly on the 3rd December 2013 so to stop the investigation becoming an “undue distraction” for his new company. Still, the Federation has also continued to impress outsiders as they won “Best Academy Chain” in the 2013 Education Investor Awards. This though, didn’t stop the Federation losing the next two secondary academies they attempted to sponsor, first due the decision of Puttteridge High school’s Governors and then by the DfE rejecting their half completed sponsorship of Sandy Upper School.

Soon after news of the investigation broke through the local media Sir Peter released a statement.

Luton needs an outstanding FE College

Most importantly, all of this does not in any way help the current school leavers of Luton who would benefit greatly from a vibrant, energised FE route in the town. Across the 12 High schools in the Authority there is only one with an established Sixth Form and the two, recently opened, other school based Sixth Forms are in academies run by the Federation. This means a the large majority of the town’s youth move educational establishments at 16 and those offering quality routes and a good local reputation should enroll healthy numbers. Yet the most recent set of town wide destination data shows the number of students enrolling in FE Colleges each year has fallen from 1026 in 2008 to a low of 808 in 2012. Consider this against a backdrop where nearly 50% of students from both of the Federation sponsored Academies now move onto the FE route then you can see just how far the College’s stock has fallen among the youth of the town.

Luton Council is currently pushing through a range of upgrades to local infrastructure and transport links and promoting the town as a location for businesses to establish themselves. While striving to improve employment and investment prospects for the area they should be mindful that these companies will need a local skills base on which to draw. Nationally, there is an expectation on the FE sector from Ministers to be drivers of local enterprise and skills which will assist in the economic recovery. A revitalized Barnfield, able to move on from this investigation, would not only benefit young people but also support the future economic prospects of the area and I wish it every luck and support in success in those goals.