Evaluation of the Key Stage 4 Engagement Programme: Key Messages

A report by York Consulting (Georgina Cowen and Marianne Burgess), commissioned by the Department for Children, Schools and Families (now the Department for Education)

This report presents the results of a two-year national evaluation of the Key Stage 4 Engagement Programme (KS4EP). The programme is a response to a call from the 14-19 Education and Skills White Paper (2005) for “a strong work-focussed route designed specifically to motivate those 14-16 year old young people who are at the most risk [of disengagement] and who we know would be motivated by a different learning environment.” A core feature of the programme, replicated across all providers, was that students worked with an employer for 1-3 days a week.

Between June 2007 and July 2008, detailed fieldwork was undertaken in 15 case study areas with 47 schools visited and 250 pupils consulted in total. In addition to interviews with other stakeholders, 20 employer consultations took place, an average of one per case study visit. Researchers received 785 pupil survey responses from 621 pupils (164 pupils provided baseline reports as well). Although a comparator group was in place, researchers were “not sufficiently confident” that “the comparator group pupils and participant group pupils are similar enough,” due to the high number of variables involved. They therefore focussed the impact analysis on the case study areas, triangulating findings across stakeholder responses. The variability in data gives the qualitative results more weight than the quantitative.

The report finds that “for most pupils, the KS4EP programme has contributed to improving levels of engagement in learning and confidence; and the development of employability and vocational skills.” This is having “a positive influence on most pupils’ aspirations, preparation for a job or further learning and decisions about what they want to do after year 11.” The programme had the least influence on overall enjoyment and achievement in school-based learning. However, staff highlighted that for some pupils, the programme’s effect of them “remaining in learning over the course of the year is regarded as a significant achievement”.

Although the programme was not designed to target difficult behaviour, there were reports of “improving attitudes towards others and less disruptive incidences”. There were also “demonstrable improvements in engagement for around one third of pupils responding”. Other benefits, such as better capacity for decision-making and positive progression routes, are cited as well as analyses of the constituents of successful partnership. Most significantly though, “the positive achievements associated with higher levels of engagement, confidence, attendance and skills levels are contributing to attainment levels that represent significant outcomes” including that the programme may help to reduce levels of young people not in education, employment or training.

Evaluation of the Key Stage 4 Engagement Programme: Key Messages – full report