A report by Golden, S., O’Donnell, L., Benton, T. and Rudd, P. (National Foundation for Educational Research)
This report follows from the evaluation of the first cohort who participated in the Increased Flexibility for 14 to 16 Year Olds Programme (IFP), 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’, in response to the 2002 Green Paper: 14-19: extending opportunities, raising standards. The first evaluation found that the IFP had met its objectives and that students who took NVQs and GNVQs gained more points than expected. The programme had enabled schools to establish better partnerships with institutions and external providers, leading to more frequent contact and formal mechanisms for sharing information.
The evaluation of the second cohort uses similar research methods to the first study: surveys of 14,500 students in 496 schools and 100 IFP partnerships. Details of pupils’ achievements and post-16 destinations were obtained from schools and the National Pupil Database, allowing for comparison with non-participating students. Information was available about the destinations of 3789 individuals, taken to be a representative sample. Multi-level modelling techniques enabled a range of variables to be controlled for, although some affecting factors could not be accounted for, such as student motivation.
Findings on attainment were similar to those of the first cohort. The majority of IFP students achieved their qualifications and gained more points than non-participating students, though again they scored less on their eight highest grades. As in the first cohort study, students with lower KS3 attainment gained more from their IFP participation. However, unlike the first cohort, IFP students studying for GCSEs in vocational subjects achieved worse than non-IFP students taking similar qualifications. Female students, and those of Black heritage, who undertook GCSEs in vocational subjects through IFP gained significantly more points than similar students who were male, or were White. Discontinuation of the programme was noted as a specific concern in this evaluation- 15% of GNVQ and vocational GCSE pupils appeared to have discontinued their programme involvement before the end of Year 11, leading to lower KS4 attainment. Such students were shown to be more likely to have lower attainment, eligibility for free school meals or recognition for action on the register of Special Educational Needs and the authors recommend special consideration of the needs of this group, such as identifying them early in the programme and providing additional, targeted support.
The first cohort evaluation noted that shared teaching partnerships led to improved student outcomes. Although data on this was not available for the second evaluation, the findings suggested that teaching location was not a significant factor affecting attainment, which may reflect development of the programme following the lessons of the first cohort. Similarly to the first cohort figure (90%), 87% of second cohort students progressed to further education or training, although students taking qualifications other than NVQs, GNVQs or GCSEs were shown to have a lower probability of progressing into post-16 learning than students taking these. However, the authors point out that it is not possible to be sure what these students would have opted for had it not been for their IFP participation and further research on the extent to which post-16 transitions are sustained is recommended.