International comparisons highlight the low participation rate in education and training by 17 – 19 year olds, particularly in England.2 Given the poor long- term labour market prospects for those with few or no qualifications, this low participation suggests the need for a social inclusion agenda that addresses structural inequalities as well as encouraging individual participation. There is also a need to recognise the structural conditions within which a discourse based on personalisation and individual choice is framed. Living and learning in a society where there are major social and economic inequalities means that people’s freedom to choose future education and employment pathways varies widely. Indeed there are a whole range of economic and labour market factors as well as social behaviours such as stereotyping, discrimination and prejudice that influence the extent to which individuals can realise the choices they make.
Vocational provision is sometimes regarded as a vehicle for engaging or reengaging young people who are disenchanted with general education. This is a worthwhile aim. But such provision is not necessarily ‘vocational’ in the sense of leading somewhere particular in labour market terms. It may also be that some individuals are not ready to re-engage with formal learning at this time in their lives but may do so at a later stage. So it is important to continue efforts at reengagement beyond the age of 19.
Issue How to promote inclusion, equity and social justice for all young people in a way that does not undermine the perceived value of vocational routes?
The TLRP does not claim to have simple answers to such challenges. It is committed to working with partners to develop ways forward based on the production, review and analysis of high quality evidence, and the application of professional judgement.
This Commentary offers overviews of some key issues concerned with teaching and learning in further education and in the workplace, coupled with brief reports from TLRP projects that are conducting research with particular relevance to 14 – 19 education and training in these areas. There is also an outline of how other TLRP projects are handling issues of progression from this phase into higher education, and the role being played by the Nuffield 14- 19 review in facilitating debate about policy in this area.
The final section of the Commentary highlights some enduring issues and dilemmas with which practitioners and policy-makers are engaging at this pivotal, and historic, time for the sector. We have identified seven such issues, from which various challenges for policy and practice follow.
2 The FE White Paper (DfES, 2006) points out that the “proportion of our young people staying on in education and training post-16 is scandalously low: the UK ranks 24th out of 29 developed nations.”