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Successful completion of compulsory education provides the school leavers with opportunities either to further their education or to enter into full time employment. The levels at which these students pass reflect a great deal not only on their individual performance but also that of the schools that work competitively hard for good performance on the national league tables. Whereas successful post-16 progression is important for the students, the choice of which route they should take is equally important. Through introduction of co-curricular and work related learning programmes to schools, the government has always made provision for the school leavers to be well prepared for either the world of work or progression to further or higher education after their compulsory education, regardless of their capabilities or social backgrounds (Thomas 2001:2). Cropley (1978) suggested that society in general demands that the school system should facilitate the learner with full and satisfactory personal growth and increased self actualisation, in that success of young people in education attainments also has a great bearing towards the society's future economic prosperity (Thomas 2001:21). This study will explore the opportunities available for the post-16 progression and investigate the inhibiting barriers that cause some young people to be neither in employment nor in education and training (NEET) in spite of the government's reforms to the system, as stated in the following extract from appendix 1:
"Reducing the proportion of 16- to 18-year-olds not in education, employment or training (NEET) is a priority for the Government. Being NEET between the ages of 16-18 is a major predictor of later unemployment, low income, teenage motherhood, depression and poor physical health. No single agency holds all the keys to reducing NEET; LAs, schools, the Learning and Skills Council, youth support services and employers all have key roles to play." Dcsf
Statement of Purpose
The purpose of this study is to address the research question "What are the opportunities and the challenges faced in the process of progression to the Post Compulsory Education?" A literature search will be done to explore the programmes on offer, the opportunities they provide and the challenges faced by the students in the process of progression to further education institutions. This will lead to a discovery of the level of success in terms of participation and help to identify any barriers that cause some young people to be excluded from these programmes ending up not in employment or education and training (NEET). The study will also review some of the documents produced by government backed scholarly committees assigned with the responsibility of reforming education programmes, to establish reasons why it was found necessary to widen opportunities for further education and what impact it has had on the student population in England. Such documents will include among others reports by the Nuffield Review commission (2005-2006), the Dearing report and the Tomlinson Report (2004).
This study is based on one fundamental question: "What are the opportunities and challenges in the process of progression to the Post Compulsory Education in England?" This question will be addressed by breaking it down into two research questions:
What are the post-compulsory education programmes on offer in England?
What are the inhibiting factors faced by students in the process of post-16 progression?
Significance of the study
This research is intended to increase the awareness and understanding of the significance of the post compulsory educational programmes to the post-16 students and their parents. A study of the process of progression to the post-compulsory educational programmes is intended to identify issues that pose as challenges or inhibiting factors to the young people and suggest possible ways to enable more participation, leading to reduced numbers of those not in employment of education and training (NEET). It is also hoped that such knowledge will benefit all stakeholders within the system towards improved collaborative participation and delivery of services. This study will engage students in a survey where questionnaires will be used to extract textual data from the participating respondents, which will be mainly the students. The main centre of study will be the participating colleges subject to approval by the appropriate ethical committee, and permission from the college administration. Through a special arrangement with the administration a section of parents to the participating students will be accessed to seek their opinion on the post-compulsory education programmes available for their children.
Focus of the study
The research question "What are the opportunities and challenges in the process of progression to the Post Compulsory Education in England?" is a far reaching study question and undoubtedly surpasses the scope of this study. For practicality of the study however a special focus will be made on two further colleges within Berkshire, a county with numerous further education colleges with more having been built in the recent past. The investigation will take on a general approach to the research question in the view of identifying what motivates the students and what they find to be barriers in the post-16 progression. It is with the understanding that schools play a leading role in determining the future of pupils through academic attainments as well as through the school ethos as the main source of inspiration for the learner (Thomas 2001).
In an attempt to address the research question, the study will focus on the following elements:
To establish the rationale for the post-16 programmes available to students in England.
Explore the criteria for enrolment in the post-16 programmes, and its incentives
Factors that both influence and inhibit the post-16 progression process, affecting decisions for or against participation.
Objective of the study
The main objective of this study will be to explore options and identify challenges that are faced in the process of progression to further and higher education in England, and how these have engaged learners. Recommendations from this study will be made to participating schools for effective implementation of such views as will be collected from students and some of their parents. It is hoped that the study will stimulate and contribute to the formulation of in-depth research into similar programmes in some of the countries in the developing world, where education for all is on top of the political agenda as one of the millennium development goals (MDG 2015).
A review of the literature addressing the study questions
What are the post-compulsory education programmes on offer in England?
Career guidance and counselling regarding their post-16 progression routes is made available to the students in their final year of compulsory education through Connexions direct, a bureau dedicated to the service and advice of young people (http://www.connexions-direct.com/index.cfm?pid=351). A timetable for the whole year is made available to the students to aid them in planning the events that will eventually lead to their decisions on which route they will take (see appendix2). After completing their compulsory education, young people can choose to continue in full time school or join college, do an apprenticeship or get straight into employment, preferably with training (Dcsf). For those aged between 16 and 17 there is what is known as 'September Guarantee' which is an arrangement that guarantees the choice of those interested to remain in school or continue into college:
"the 'September Guarantee' means that they will definitely be able to continue learningâ€¦Everyone between 16 and 17 due to leave education is guaranteed an offer of a place on an appropriate courseÂ - and information, advice and guidance to help weigh up their options." (http://www.direct.gov.uk/en/EducationAndLearning/14To19/OptionsAt16/DG_10013574)
Options ranging from 'A' levels to work related qualifications are available for the post-16 progression. Currently selected schools and colleges do offer the 14-19 year old diplomas (ibid.) which is one of the latest additions to the education reforms. Whichever route young people choose to take the advice given to them is "it pays to keep learning as more and more, employers are looking for people with higher level skills and qualifications" (Dcsf). The government acknowledges that qualifications are not a guarantee for jobs although it encourages young people to participate in the available opportunities as they will stand a better chance for both their social and economic prosperity in a competitive economic world.
What are the inhibiting factors faced by students in the process of post-16 progression?
Having seen the wide range of opportunities available to young people after their compulsory education with all the options and free guidance available through Connexions Direct, this question will now address ways in which the structure of the post-16 education system inhibits and limits participation in further study by some students.
Whereas schools are meant to help determine the future participation of students in post-16 education, Thomas (2001) classifies possible barriers to the system to include those ironically created by the compulsory education system. One of these categories is qualification and achievement and the second one is attitudes towards learning, page 73. Whereas students' failure to achieve a minimum grade has often been a cause for many lost opportunities to progress to post -16 education, it must be born in mind that even where success is registered, it is most important to know what impact the school has had on their perception as learners. Whether learning was enjoyable or too difficult will be seen in the way they respond to the post-16 opportunities. The attitude formed about school and learning contributes a great deal to the pupils' self-efficacy (Bandura1997) and formation of their self image.
It is therefore in the interest of the stakeholders within the education system, mainly the teachers, students and their parents that the school environment provides the learner with experiences that contribute to the image they have of themselves (ibid). Pring et al (2009) suggest that as studies in educational attainment and social mobility indicate, the role which schools play in changing lives can be limited in a sense that 'family background continues to be a major determinant' (Coffey, 2001:68, 69), and that performance in schools is largely influenced by the social class background. Regarding social class, Pring et al (2009) had this to say:
'â€¦the more disadvantaged the social class background, the lower the level of educational attainment that is likely to be achievedâ€¦ Moreover, young people from less advantaged class backgrounds are less likely to take up opportunities available to them to progress through the educational system even where they are sufficiently qualified to make the progression' Pring et al (2009:32)
It is beyond the scope of this study to discuss the relationship between social exclusion and response to post-16 educational programmes it can be stated according to earlier studies that 'social class influences school achievement and this in part impedes or enhances progression into post-compulsory education' (Thomas,2001:74)
Cohen et al, (2007) refer to methods as 'instruments of collecting and interpreting data (page 83); whilst methodology is the means which gives a descriptive approach and kind of paradigm to the study (page 47). Educational research methods include interviews, questionnaires, and observations, among others. The decision as to which instrument is most suitable for data collection in this study will depend mainly on the 'methodology' or the nature of this research. The nature of this study is both investigative and descriptive, that is it sets out to investigate and describe opportunities and barriers presented by the process of progression to the post-compulsory education system. As asserted by Best, (1970), this research is concerned with conditions or relationships governing 16 year olds as they enter post-compulsory education phase. With this background therefore this researcher will use the questionnaires to collect and interpret the views of both students and their parents ongoing post-16 educational programmes available to them in the participating colleges. The study will look at students as individuals but the data collected will be interpreted in terms of the representative community.
The survey research method
This method is most appropriate for this study as it intends to determine present educational conditions in a non-experimental way, Hartas (2010). The data will be collected in a non randomized way by use of questionnaires to be completed at will by participating students. The method will yield textual data regarding opportunities, challenges and/or barriers that are present in the transition from the compulsory to post-compulsory education.
The rationale for use of this method is dependant on the assumption that the respondent's views and opinions agree with their actions and it is hope that they will answer these questions truthfully. It is also possible that not all respondents may be able to give their honest views due to personal weaknesses such as the use of language, or due to a lack of self-efficacy. Another assumption asserted by Hartas (2010) is that the sample constitutes a homogenous group of respondents with comparable cases where they all interpret the questions in similar ways without which the responses may not be reliable.
Cohen, et al (2007) assert that surveys can take on the nature of either longitudinal, cross sectional or trend studies. Longitudinal studies are used to collect data over an extended period of time and are applicable to such studies as relate do developing phenomena. According to Ruspini, (2002:24), they enable researchers to analyse the duration of social phenomena highlighting similarities, differences and changes over time in respect of one or more variables or participants, identify long term effects and explain changes in terms of stable characteristics such as sex or a variable characteristic such as income, (Cohen, et al 2007:212). Because this study will be confined within a fixed and limited timeframe it renders this type of survey out of the question. On the other hand a 'Cross Sectional' study is one that produces a descriptive image of a population at a particular point in time, as in the case of conducting a census. In education, cross sectional studies involve indirect measures of the nature and rate of changes in the physical and intellectual development of samples of children drawn from representative age levels. According to Cohen, et al, (2007:213), the single 'snapshot' or the representative image of the cross sectional study provides the researcher with data for either retrospective or prospective enquiry.
The third type of survey, the 'Trend study', focuses on factors rather than people, where these factors are studied within a specific timeframe (Borg & Gall 1989:422). This study particular will take on a 'Trend Study' nature of an inquiry where two sets of ten students each will be interviewed from two different further education colleges to serve as a representative sample for purposes of this study.
Following is a description of the educational methods which will be used effectively in the collection of data for purposes of this research.
Using the written questionnaire, the students will be approached in a more or less personal way as it works as a substitute for the personal interviews (Cohen and Manion, 1998). In addition to addressing the study questions, these questionnaires will also be used to collect data on issues that are of concern to students in the current system of education, and solicit for any suggestions they might wish to be included in the recommendations resulting from the study. Regarding its efficiency for this nature of data collection, Borg & Gall, (1989: 426) asserts that this method is very instrumental when the researcher needs to quickly and easily get lots of information from people in a non threatening way, hence the decision for it to be used in this study.
Policy Documentary Review
Policy Documentary Review as a research method is done by studying and reviewing policies and their application. Using this method the researcher will examine some of the documents produced by various commissions assigned with the responsibility to reform education of 14-19 year olds. Documents to be reviewed in this study will include the Tomlinson report and the Nuffield commission report, which were made as recommendations to the government's department of education (DCSF) in the previous regime.
How the textual data will be analysed
How the data is going to be analysed
Rationale for the Selection of Participating Colleges
Population according to Hartas, (2010:67) is a group of individuals or organisations that share the same characteristic that is of interest to a study, in this case the students in the process of post-16 progression throughout England. Such a number will obviously be incomprehensible in a study of this size however, a 'representative sample' in this case as defined by Hartas (2010) will be the students selected from the two colleges of further education within Berkshire. The process of selecting this sample is very important as it is pertinent to the validity of this research, and it will be explored further in the chapter on methodology. Nevertheless the key factors that need to be mentioned here include what judgment will be based on namely, the sample size, representativeness of the parameters of the sample, accessibility to the sample and the sampling strategy to be used (Cohen, et al. 2007:100).
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