Our Research, Communications and Policy intern Alice Gent looks at how the pandemic has impacted post-16 education.

The news has been dominated by talk of education recovery recently. And – for social mobility watchers like us – there are reasons to be optimistic. Last week, the government took up our recommendation for additional funding to be paid for every disadvantaged pupil in the next school year, and it was confirmed that the National Tutoring Programme would be funded beyond this school year.

While the focus has been on school-age children, it can be easy to forget that older teenagers are also in need of considerable support. Support for post-16 settings has so far focused on the 16-19 tuition fund. While this is welcome – we know tutoring is one of the most effective strategies for supporting pupils who have fallen behind – the government has not offered post-16 settings the general funding that has been offered to schools to support younger disadvantaged pupils.

There’s a clear imperative to provide more support to post-16 education. Recent research by the Education Policy Institute found that poorer students in post-16 education in some areas of England are the equivalent of five A level grades behind their better-off peers. If we don’t act now, we risk serious implications for social mobility.

Aside from academic and wellbeing support, post-16 settings provide crucial guidance and support to young people on their next steps. In instances where a student may be the first in their family to attend university, teachers and careers counsellors perform vital roles, and provide crucial information which other students may have easier access to through their families and networks.

And the impacts will be felt more widely in further education colleges. Disadvantaged students are more likely to attend an FE college and study a vocational course than their wealthier peers, and they are almost twice as likely to be retaking their maths and English GCSEs, meaning they were already in need of additional support even before the pandemic. The extra funding for tuition for 16-19 year olds announced by the government is welcome, but more needs to be done, as cancelled apprenticeships and work experience are likely to leave many students without the necessary credentials to pass their course and unable to enter the workplace.

All young people are now facing an uncertain labour market, making high-quality careers advice more important than ever. Our research found that the pandemic led to 61% of employers cancelling work experience or internships last summer, and nearly a third of students felt that they would be unable to find a job after graduation. With barriers rising, those without family connections to career paths or job opportunities could find themselves further behind and locked out of employment. Equipping young people with the skills and support they need to succeed through proper careers advice is more crucial than ever – another gap in education that could be filled with more support for the 16-19 sector.

To help get those hardest hit by the pandemic to get back on track for A Levels, technical qualifications, BTECs, and GCSE resits, it is vital that they are included in targeted funding support. This is why we are calling for the extension of Pupil Premium funding to 16-19 year olds. The pupil premium in schools is an essential support for disadvantaged children. Extending the funding to post-16 education means there would be the vital additional support for young people through some of the most important years of their education.

All children and young people have faced challenges during the pandemic, from the very youngest in the early years through to those about to leave education and enter the workplace. We are pleased to see recent moves towards a more joined up way of thinking about education, including the appointment of the new Education Recovery Commissioner, Sir Kevan Collins, whose remit covers all pupils ages 2-19. But it would be wrong to assume that older children are more durable and more able to cope with the challenges that the last 12 months have thrown at them. Particularly in the critical stage of post-16 education, we need to see more support on offer, or else we could see decades of progress for young people thrown away.

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