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An investigation by the House of Lords social mobility committee has found that young people who do not go to university are “overlooked”, and let down by an over-emphasis on higher education and lack training options. 

More than half (53%) of young people do not follow the “traditional” academic route of going from school to university before starting work, and the report suggests that the Government’s focus on apprenticeships is not suitable for everyone. 

Furthermore, social mobility is being hampered by a “culture of inequality” that penalises school leavers who enter the workforce rather than higher education. “The current system for helping people move from school to work is failing most young people,” said Lady Corston, who chaired the committee. “They are simply not being adequately prepared for the world of work. This significantly disadvantages a huge number of young people and limits their opportunity for social mobility.” 

Trapped

Because young people are being denied the right support and advice, access to work experience and without being taught life skills, many are in danger of being trapped in low-skilled, low-paid work, with little chance of a rewarding career. The report notes that current careers advice is “gobbledygook” and it is unclear how young people can gain the skills they need for a successful career. “It is also unclear to the people in their lives giving them advice and support in making these crucial decisions.”

Although the routes of higher education and apprenticeships, which recent governments have focused on, can work well, they are not suitable for everyone, and “to focus on university or apprenticeships, to the exclusion of other routes, is to the detriment of many talented and able young people.”

“Non-academic routes to employment are complex, confusing and incoherent. The qualifications system is similarly confused and has been subjected to continual change.” This qualifications system is also poorly understood by employers, who cannot be expected to understand the bewildering array on offer, and who therefore have little confidence in the quality of qualifications, in turn being a major barrier to young people in finding work. 

Unequal investment

Despite making up the majority of the future workforce, young people who take some form of vocational education when they leave school receive much less attention and investment than students who take A levels and go to university. Further education places cost the Government an average £2,150 a year compared to £8,400 for university students. At the same time, the low level of funding for 16 to 19-year-olds has had a major impact on the ability of schools and colleges to provide the curriculum breadth and choice needed by young people. 

Radical Revisions

The Committee has called for the national curriculum to stop at the age of 14, rather than 16, and the ages of 14-19 recognised as a single stage to prepare young people to start their careers. By 19 pupils will have passed a recognised vocational qualification on par with A-levels. 

It also called for better careers advice which it argued should be provided by independent careers experts and not schools and colleges, as well as a new Cabinet post so that a single senior Government minister would be responsible for school leavers’ transition from education to work, rather than the current situation which sees responsibility fall between a number of departments and ministers.