Social background and college type can affect earnings and progression

Social mobility charity Sutton Trust is calling for the pupil premium to extend to 16-19s.

Social mobility charity Sutton Trust is calling for the pupil premium to extend to 16-19s.



New research from the Sutton Trust reveals disturbing gaps in progression and earnings following post 16 education. 

While qualified disadvantaged students in FE colleges are more likely to progress to higher education than those in sixth forms, the research also finds that the majority of students that leave compulsory education with a level 1 or 2 qualification had not gained any further qualifications a decade later. This was particularly the case for those that did not achieve 5+ GCSEs at key stage 4.

Researchers at the Centre for Vocational Education Research (CVER) followed the progress of two cohorts on young people to determine how their backgrounds and post 16 institutions impacted on their journeys to the workplace and higher education. One cohort completed their GCSEs in 2002/03 and the other in 2010/11 and students from both cohorts had their HE and employment status recorded at age 28.

Students were tracked through the Longitudinal Education Outcomes (LEO) dataset, which links records from the National Pupil Database, the Individualised Learner Record and the Higher Education Statistics Agency with earnings and employment data from HMRC.

The report, ‘Going further: further education, disadvantage and social mobility’ defines ‘disadvantage’ as those entitled to free school meals. Findings compared and accounted for the larger prevalence of disadvantaged students attending FE colleges than sixth forms.

When comparing the outcomes of disadvantaged students, the report finds that those that attended a further education college were more likely to progress to higher education than those similarly disadvantaged that attended a sixth form institution. 

Yet, regardless of setting, disadvantaged students were still less likely to progress to higher education than their more advantaged classmates. 

Sir Peter Lampi, founder and chair of the Sutton Trust and chair of the Education Endowment Foundation, said that “disadvantage continues after the age of 16. Further education colleges play a vital role in providing a bridge between school and university or the workplace.”

On employment and earnings outcomes by age 28, the research finds that FE colleges are less successful at closing the disadvantage gap. 

The gap in earnings between students that received free schools means and those that didn’t was larger for former FE college students than their sixth form counterparts. The earnings gap at age 28 was 11 per cent for those that attended a sixth form institution and 15 per cent for those who attended an FE college, the research finds. 

In response to these findings, the Sutton Trust is calling for a reversal of underfunding of post 16 education, extension of pupil premium funding to 16-19 year olds and investment in education recovery and extending National Tutoring Programme  to post 16. 

Lampi continues “it is crucial that colleges are well-funded so that they can give the best support they can, particularly in the wake of the pandemic.”



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