Welsh pupils should leave school as young adults prepared for living and working in Wales, or in other parts of the world. The WISERD Education project has given us the opportunity to ask pupils about their hopes and expectations for their futures, including, but not limited to, careers. These questions were varied and focussed on what the pupils wanted to achieve by the time they were 30 years old, what job they wanted to do as an adult, where they think they will live and other aspects of adult life, and what their plans are after finishing year 11.
An important decision for a year 11 student to make is whether to stay on in education, either at school or at a college, or not. Staying in formal education beyond 16 is considered to be a very good choice, personally and economically. In recent years, newspapers have been reporting on the number of young people not in education, employment or training, so called NEETs, and the damage this does to society, as well as the young people who find themselves out of education and out of work. In October last year, the BBC reported that a Welsh Government scheme to start in 2015 would help the 10 per cent of 16 – 18 year olds in Wales who are ‘NEET’. They quoted a minister as saying that staying on in education means that young people ‘can gain the skills they need to find employment in the future’ (Ken Skates AM, quoted).
We asked the year 10 pupils in our study what they intended to do after completing their GCSEs, which have been collapsed into their plans to either stay on in education (school or college) or to leave education. Staying on in education was by far the more popular choice, with 82% saying this is what they were planning to do. This is encouraging for teachers, parents, and politicians, who all want the best for these young people in terms of their access to further education and employment, and thus future well-being (seediscussion of employment and well-being).
However, this does not paint the whole picture. There are concerns that the kinds of pupils who want to stay on in education do not reflect society. In this study we have found that female students are significantly more likely to plan to stay in education than their male peers: 89% of girls planned to stay in education, but only 75% of boys were planning to stay on. This is important for Wales’ young people and economy. In order to understand these findings, we need to understand why these students choose education over leaving school, and particularly why fewer young men choose this route.
Post-16 education can lead to higher education, but given the high rate of pupils intending to stay in education after their GCSEs, it is perhaps surprising that only 27.6% of our sample said they thought they would definitely graduate from university by the time they are 30. The differences between girls and boys are stark in this as well: 39.1% of the girls definitely thought they would graduate by the time they are 30, while only 27.5% of the boys thought the same.
The next stage of this project is to go back into the schools to talk to the pupils again. We can see if their plans and aspirations have changed. We will see if the pupils who are now in year 11 have any concrete plans to get further training though vocational courses or at university, or if they want to get a job, or do something else. We can ask them about their decision making and dig deeper into the reasons for their post-16 choices.