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.

No good can come of: Online FE applications

Working in a secondary school with no Sixth Form has its benefits for providing independent CEIAG as I would have to be performing whole feats of invention to not be impartial. One of the challenges is that, when they leave at the end of Year 11, they all leave and your preparation and tracking of students to minimise potential NEET risk and ensure suitable progression pathways has to reflect that.

An increasingly common phenomenon that is making  this much more of a task is the move of FE Colleges, Sixth Forms and other providers to only accept online applications through their websites. It must be a very appealing move for them; they are able to both cut the costs of printing hard copies of forms and reassure themselves they are taking steps to appeal to young people by going online.

Set against a backdrop of Raising the Participation Age, Local Authorities struggling to track their 16-18 residents and the pressure on schools to ensure productive destinations for students, this is an unhelpful step for those of us who work in schools.

Hard copies of application forms mean that we can work with students to complete them, we can use the ‘officialness’ of the form to everyone’s benefit when motivating revision weary minds and it means we can track who has applied to what at where and intervene if necessary. I really hope our students don’t apply for 7 A Levels but if I don’t see their application I can’t promise it. I really hope that our students don’t apply for the Level 3 Public Services course without 4 C’s in their predictions but if I don’t see their application I can’t promise it. I really hope they manage to apply in time and by seeing their application I can promise this.

The obvious push back from the FE sector already severely concerned about school IAG will be that none of the above happens anyway so what difference will it make. There isn’t much of a concrete, data based rebuttal I can give to that other than to plead for more time for schools to begin to grasp their new responsibilities with this work. However this transition conundrum is solved, it will require partnership and collaboration from different education providers that relies as little as possible on hard pressed Local Authorities who will be braced for the full storm of austerity to come. Where ever the fault lines run for current any disconnects between schools and FE providers, removing the major part of the transition equation we do have the potential to assist with won’t help.

Me in Centrelink about School Destination Measures

Centrelink is a termly e-magazine from the Centre for Education & Industry at the University of Warwick.

My piece here:

The whole issue is here:

and is very much worth a read and your consideration.

Luton Destination Statistics: Where are our students going?

Recently, lots of destination statistics for school leavers have been published by the Dfe. The stats focus on two sets on data, those learners who left education at Key Stage 4 (end of Year 11) and Key Stage 5 (end of 13) in 2010.

Added to that, the same data can now be viewed as part of a school’s profile on the Dfe performance tables website.

Here are the Luton tables:

Now, trainspotters confession here, this stuff FASCINATES me. Particularly on a local level as you can see the impact the personalities of different institutions have on the mindsets and outcomes of their leavers and you can fairly quickly identify where good practice is flourishing in the town.

So here’s my take on the figures to look out for:


The big singing point here is the massive % of learners now going onto any Higher Education Institution from Luton. 61% puts us 9th out of all Local Authorities and is a testament to the fantastic work throughout the education establishments in the town. In fact this figure has the potential to increase even higher as the Barnfield Federation offer more HE routes and local learners find access to such courses even more convenient. The picture isn’t completely rosy though with only 5% of leavers going onto Russell Group Universities and there is scope for improvement here for our IAG work throughout the Key Stages. Meanwhile at KS4 only 5% of leavers are continuing their education in school Sixth Forms which reflects the largely 11-16 tradition of the town with two big FE institutions in Luton Sixth Form and Barnfield College. The NEET figure of 2% (that is the number of learners who spent between 3-6 months from October to March out of Education, Employment or Training) is low compared to nearby Authorities.


With only 3 providers exiting students at KS5 is fairly easy to draw distinct comparisons between them. Luton Sixth Form far outstrips it’s neighbors for sending students onto Higher Education with 70% choosing this route but it only ties with Cardinal Newman for students going onto Russell Group Universities with 6%. As Newman has a much lower number of leavers, this shows that the school based Sixth Form is getting a much higher ratio of leavers into these highly competitive institutions. It would unfair to include Barnfield in that comparison as the vast majority of their qualification routes are not suitable for Russell Group entry but it is noticeable that 22% of their leavers are not even included in the statistics as this data was not known or could not be traced.

The figures that did strike me were the very low % of leavers from all institutions that went onto Apprenticeships. These figures will be slightly misleading as some learners will be under going an Apprenticeship while at Barnfield but even so, with the rise in the number of Apprenticeships, especially for older learners, I was expecting these figures to be higher.


It’s no surprise that two of the highest three schools for the % of students going onto a Further Education College are the two Barnfield Academies. Not all of these leavers will be going to Barnfield College (West’s proximity to Central Bedfordshire College should impact here) but their close sponsorship links with the College are bound to influence leavers choice of routes. It’s also no surprise that the school with the biggest % moving to a school Sixth Form is Cardinal Newman, the only school in the town (at the time) with an established school Sixth Form.

Seeing just how large a % of their students Denbigh, Challney Boys and Challney Girls send onto Sixth Form College is an eye opener for me. I’ve always know it was substantial just not that substantial. There are many reasons for this, not least the outstanding GCSE pass rates those schools achieve thus opening A Level routes for their students, but another factor will be that the intake of those schools is mainly from ethnic minority communities (for all 3 their percentage of students on roll for whom English is not their first language is above 88%) who (sweeping generalisaion alert) value and expect their children to inspire to traditional professions that require the academic qualifications only historically offered by Luton Sixth Form. It will be interesting to see how those percentages change with the growth of the Barnfield Sixth Form offer thus increasing the choice of school based Sixth Form route. It is also worth noting the that figures for the % of Apprenticeship leavers from Challney Girls is suppressed as it was so small it could have breached confidentiality reflecting the desire for traditional routes.

The Apprenticeship percentages across the schools in the town are fairly consistent with my own school tied for the biggest % of leavers taking this route and all of us would be looking to increase student’s awareness of this area.

The last set of figures to note is the “Education destination not sustained” column. It’s clear the school to aspire to here is Icknield High. Having only 3% of the largest total cohort of leavers fail to sustain their learning in a suitable pathway is a fantastic achievement and one I will be looking to learn from.

After saying all of that it’s worth noting though that these figures are not full proof; they are a snapshot and with any picture of a period of time they will not show the how picture. This point is neatly summed up by Brian Lightman here:

and it is worth bearing in mind when you consider them.

Careers Support vs Careers Independence

When to let go?

A few months back, during the feedback for one of my Level 6 face to face observations, a point was made that highlights an interesting tension in careers work for teenagers.

During the meeting with the student, she mentioned that there was potential for her family to move overseas once she had finished school. In fact, plans were advanced enough that the family had even identified a couple of possible Colleges she might attend but we were both unclear about how her English qualifications would transfer into the new system. So, we went online, found the College and their admissions department and, together, drafted an email to write to them asking for clarification. I ended this part of the session by making a note in the student’s contact book (like a school diary) to come and see me a week later to let me know if the College had replied.

Later in the feedback session, my assessor and I had a conversation about the balance between offering advice & guiding the client’s future behaviour and ensuring that they enact what had been discussed. For me this conversation highlighted a source of tension with providing Careers IAG for young people and the ideal of IAG that is exhorted by the Level 6 and practised with adult clients.

Where do you draw the line on how much you actually do for them and how much they do for themselves?

This article reminded me of this conversation:

“It’s not our place to teach them that. They’ve got to learn”

As a head of department this phrase used to drive me mad. Good teachers in my department would make this claim when it was suggested we supported students as much as we could to get them to understand, and therefore pass the course.

“But when they go to university no one will tell them which bit to read,” or “If I have to correct every part of it…” are arguments that just don’t work. That’s like saying I shouldn’t feed my infant son with anything other than an adult knife and fork as he’ll only have to do it that way in the future. Our job as teachers is to get them over the line that’s set for them and to teach them the right things along the way. Developing independence? Yes, certainly. But don’t use it as an excuse for not giving all the support you can. Build their confidence with all the support necessary, then withdraw the support gradually. Let the university/college/secondary school figure out what to do with them once they get there.

as it neatly summarises the same quandary. When do those stabilisers get taken away? Because, have no doubt, as students take their tentative first steps into the world outside of school by thinking about their post 16 options or experiencing the world of work for the first time or writing an application for an apprenticeship, we are there, supporting their every move and being those stabilisers making sure they don’t (or as few of them as possible) fall. The world that awaits will expect them to arrive with the skills to use the big knife and fork to borrow the analogy above so the balance has to be found. 

Government policy can affect this:

  • The increase in destination data for schools and the anti NEET agenda, the expectation from SLT will be that this support will be there for students and will grow in an attempt to ensure positive outcomes.
  • Good Careers education should prepare students to be better equipped for when that support isn’t there which makes the removal of the Statutory requirement on schools to offer this so perplexing.

With those pressures, some schools may fall into the tempting trap of never taking that support away. 

Striving for this balance, between independence and support, is a skill I find myself learning with each student.

The Nfer discussion panel on Pre-NEETs misses a trick

Earlier @pigironjoe tweeted this link to an Nfer expert discussion panel on the issue of NEETs

It’s a worthwhile watch as the participants clearly have great experience in the area and discuss the many issues that lead to NEET outcomes sensitively and with knowledge.

Some of those issues discussed include:

The lack of school/employer engagement with each other

The second tier regard vocational pathways are held in

Confusing and miscommunicated pathways

A lack of impartial Careers IAG

The thin knowledge of routes and expert career IAG across school staff

The decline in pre 16 work experience

The fear of a move towards a more academic based curriculum that doesn’t take the less motivated student with it

A lack of local collaboration between agencies and education institutions

What isn’t discussed but should have been:

The lack of parental input or interest in their child’s progression

Anyway, I still found it a frustrating watch as, despite grappling with all of these complex issues for an hour, nobody seemed to have noticed that they were given a really good solution to all of these problems at about the 10.20 mark.

At this point in the video a Kelly Kettlewell, a Research Manager at Nfer, explains the preliminary findings from a small number of pre-Neet programmes at a group of schools.

She says,

“there did seem to be particular approaches which transcended all the projects and were seen to be effective by the staff and students and these were having strong relationships between the staff and the students, offering the students one to one support…”

And there you have it. It may not fit in a graph in an overblown research paper but that’s your anti NEET combat solution right there.

Have people in schools who are enthusiastic about their role and can communicate and build relationships with young people so that those young people not only receive scheduled individual assistance but also seek it out from staff at their own behest. 

The 2012 destination figures for 2012 Luton school leavers show that, of 55 students seeking employment, education or training, my school supplied 1.

The year on year destination data shows that, while every other high school in Luton increased year on year, our NEET figures did not. Our 2008 leavers NEET figures did not increase in Autumn 2009 or 2010 or 2011. Why? When those 2008 leavers hit a problem out in the real world, they came back to school to seek help. Those relationships were strong enough for them to rely upon when they needed them. “Boomerang kids” my Headteacher termed them when we spoke to the Authority about the data.

What helps this?

Low staff turnover

A community ethos to the school

A strong tutor group system embedded in the pastoral and behavioural care

A dedicated pastoral team

A dedicated careers base in school open at times suitable for the young people and comfortable for them to use

A member of staff based in school – known to students, in front of them in lessons, assemblies, parents evenings and individual sessions that other staff can refer students to when they feel it is suitable

But that’s it. That’s the first prevention step. All of the rest, the advocates for employer contacts, the networks, the expertise of local routes stems from the enthusiasm of those people building those “strong relationships” and offering that “one to one” support.

Is this a naïve point of view? Probably

Am I distilling a complex issue down to an overly simple solution? Maybe

Am I sheltered by the fact that I only have to ensure that 200 young people are progressing onto suitable pathways each year rather than find the structures that would do the same for a nation’s worth? Absolutely

But I do think there’s a strong case to make that those individual practitioners working in great schools are the foundation stones upon which any other needed preventative NEET structures can be built and that research outcomes (a pre Neet check list is mentioned in the video) are only useful to a point. Get the right people in those roles in schools.