Centre for the Analysis of Social Policy

Early identification of young people at risk of poor educational and labour market outcomes: the role of educational institutions

Principal Investigator: Professor Peter Urwin

Research Team: Professor Paul Gregg (University of Bath), Dr Matthew Dickson (University of Bath), Mr David Thomson, Dr Augusto Cerqua, Dr Anna Conte.

Funder: Economic and Social Research Council

Duration: September 2016 - February 2018 

Value of Award: £171,892.13

Project rationale and aims

About the project

At its heart, this project seeks to analyse and assess the educational and labour market pathways followed by the half of young people who do not pursue university level education. The project will therefore contribute to the government's social mobility agenda, first emphasised by former PM David Cameron as a key priority for government in his Oct 2015 conference speech and subsequently reaffirmed by Theresa May. The research proposed here will be of key interest to government and the Social Mobility Commission charged by the government to address Britain's poor record on social mobility.

As well as finding out what impact truancy has on a young person's performance at school, up to the age of 16 when they get their GCSE results (and results from other equivalent qualifications); we will try to find out if this truancy continues to have an impact even when they leave school. Consider another example: we will shed new light on the extent to which disadvantaged young people, with a good set of educational choices facing them at age 15, are seen to make 'bad' choices, when compared to their more advantaged peers, facing the same choice sets. Similarly, the study will shed light on the choices made by young people from age 16+ who are from more advantaged backgrounds, who we see facing a more limited set of educational choices at 15; and how these differ to young people from disadvantaged backgrounds facing the same limited choices.

Research Aims


This study will address the following key research questions:


1. What are the key factors that emerge throughout a pupil's school history that lead to poor educational and labour market outcomes?


2. What are the impacts of different types of post-16 Institution, and course achievement, on labour market outcomes?


3. How accurately are we able to predict such outcomes, using information gained from analysis of these relationships to create a predictive tool?

The project uses a unique dataset that represents the census of all state school pupils’ Key Stage test results along with school and individual characteristics, linked with higher and further education destination and attainment information, and linked with HMRC earnings information and benefit receipt information.

Proposed outputs

As the current study develops, Prof. Urwin and Prof. Gregg will use their continuous engagement with policy colleagues across BIS, DWP and DfE to ensure the work described in this submission remains policy relevant; and that the findings are disseminated widely across policy communities. More specifically, over the lifetime of the project, the accompanying letters of support suggest access to relevant policy colleagues, who we would engage with, to feed into the research questions being tackled. We would expect to begin production of outputs around five months into the project, following initial matching of NPD-ILR-HESA data. We will receive support in the form of organisation and hosting of cross-departmental events, as outputs are developed. During the initial 5 months of the project we will discuss the work with Resolution Foundation colleagues; and then design events and outputs that would be supported by the foundation over the remaining months and beyond.

Prof Urwin is currently advising Skills Development Scotland on how Scottish educational datasets might be used to carry out the sort of analysis we have carried out for England; Dave Thomson has worked on production of post-16 value added indicators for schools and FE in Wales; and Matt Dickson is also currenlty working with the Welsh PLASC-NPD data on a project supported by the Welsh Assemby. We will use these links to ensure that our research findings have impact beyond the geographical focus of data analysis, which will be NPD cohorts of young people in England. In addition, Prof. Urwin and Prof. Gregg have presented at OECD Global Forums in recent years; colleagues at Westminster are currently working on parts of the European Qualifications Framework; and Prof Gregg has written on issues of unemployment for the OECD and EU. As the work develops we will engage with our various contacts in these international bodies to ensure that the work has impact beyond the UK.

A key aim of the research is identification of impacts from pupil background characteristics on performance, but also choices made through the post-compulsory education system. As well as alerting policy and practice communities to the results of this research, we will communicate messages to young people and their families, via a range of media.

Find out more about this project contact:

Dr Matthew Dickson

m.dickson@bath.ac.uk