Evaluation of Increased Flexibility for 14 to 16 Year Olds Programme: Outcomes for the First Cohort

A report by Golden, S., O’Donnell, L., Benton, T. and Rudd, P. (National Foundation for Educational Research)

In response to The Green Paper: 14-19: extending opportunities, raising standards (2002), the Increased Flexibility for 14-16 year olds Programme (IFP) was introduced in 2002 by the UK Department for Education and Skills (DfES) to ‘create enhanced vocational and work-related learning opportunities for 14-16 year olds of all abilities who can benefit most’. The £120 million programme, which entailed FE colleges and training providers working in partnership with 2000 schools to offer GCSEs in vocational subjects, NVQs, GNVQs and other vocational qualifications to some 40,000 Key Stage 4 (KS4) students, was subsequently extended to three further cohorts of young people. This report examines whether the programme achieved its aims for the first cohort, assessing the impact of the new work-related learning opportunities on young people’s attainment, attitudes, attendance and post-16 progression. It seeks to identify which implementation strategies and delivery models worked best.

The evaluation was based on multi-level model analysis of baseline and follow-up surveys of a representative sample of around 11,500 students, their associated 450 schools and 130 partner-providers of vocational courses. A further follow-up survey was undertaken with a sample of IFP participants during the autumn after their leaving Year 11. Data on attainment, attendance and post-16 destinations was obtained from schools and the National Pupil Database and compared with non-participating students. Case studies were made of nine partnerships, involving interviews with ‘Lead Partners’, tutors, teachers and students. Telephone interviews of 100 parents of IFP participants, 26 employers supportive of the programme, and nine staff in Higher Education Institutions also took place.

The key findings were:

The majority of students completed their qualifications and obtained higher points than non-participating students. While IFP students obtained more qualifications, the grades they achieved did not appear to be as high- in their eight highest grades and attainment differed according to qualification taken. Lower-attaining students at KS3 appeared to benefit more in terms of eventual KS4 attainment through IFP than participating students with higher KS3 attainment. Reasons for differing outcomes were unclear, but suggested to be affected by attitudes and delivery methods. Students enrolled in IFP were proportionately more likely to be male, have special educational needs and be in receipt of free school meals and thus their overall lower grade performance was not unexpected, given that these factors are associated with lower attainment.

Attitudes, attendance and delivery methods
Having a positive attitude towards school and its utility correlated with higher attainment at KS4, and this was associated with students having talked to an informed person about their progress. IFP students’ attitudes improved between Years 10 and 11, and 59% said that participation in IFP had made them more aware of the importance of qualifications and learning, another factor in improving outcomes.  Students who were late or truanted did worse than peers who were not late and IFP participants tended to have worse attendance than non-IFP students, which may in part explain the lower grade achievement of some.

Where teaching of IFP qualifications was shared between schools and external providers (20% of partnerships), higher outcomes were evident. Students in larger partnerships (working with more than five schools) achieved less well than those in smaller partnerships. Better student outcomes were experience where employers and Education Business Partnerships had been involved in steering groups, and where employers provided visiting speakers.

Post-16 destinations
One aim of IFP was that 75% of students would progress to further education or training. The evaluation revealed that 90% of IFP students fulfilled this aim with 12% continuing to work-based learning and 25% to sixth form. 42% of respondents reported that IFP had been a factor influencing their decision but only 8% felt that IFP had been the most influential factor in changing their career choice: they felt they would have been employed, rather than in further education and training, if they had not participated in IFP.

The report concludes that IFP participants had developed confidence in their employability skills, including interpersonal, communication and problem solving skills, and their attitude towards school and the authors thus suggest that, on the whole, the IFP made a valuable contribution to the education of the first cohort of participants.

Evaluation of Increased Flexibility for 14 to 16 Year Olds Programme: Outcomes for the First Cohort – full report