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Education and employment

Young people’s experiences of education, training and employment provide an important context for understanding their health outcomes, both now and in the future.

In England 29.4% of 18 year olds started university in 2019

Education and health are closely linked in a number of different ways. There are links between higher levels of educational achievement and better health outcomes. There are also facets of the education system that can contribute to poor emotional health, such as examination pressures. In addition, schools are an important site for health education.


Education to age 16

Almost all young people in the UK start on a programme of study at 14-16 (sometimes referred to as Key Stage 4) that is expected to lead to qualifications. For the majority of those in England, Wales and Northern Ireland, these will be from the General Certificate of Secondary Education (GCSE) series. From 2017 the GCSE grading system changed. These are now graded 9–1, rather than A*–G, with Grade 9 the highest grade. In Scotland pupils sit ‘Standard grade’ or ‘Intermediate’ exams at the age of 15-16, as part of the Scottish Credit and Qualifications Framework (SCQF). This covers eight subjects including English and maths, a language and sciences.

Due to differences in the qualifications across the UK, the Department for Education advises that direct comparisons between countries should not be made, and cannot be taken as a measure of comparative pupil achievement or system. With this proviso in mind, Chart 10.1 presents the academic attainment of the populations of England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland at the end of Year 11/Age 16 or the equivalent educational stage, in 2018/19 – ie, the last year before the pandemic disrupted examinations.

Attainment by age 16 or equivalent educational stage across the UK, 2018/19 - pre-pandemic

Attainment at age 16 varies by gender, ethnicity and measures of poverty. Chart 10.2 shows these variations for the same pre-pandemic year of 2018/19.

Attainment at age 16 varies by gender, ethnicity and measures of poverty

The Covid-19 pandemic resulted in widespread and significant disruption to education and state examinations across the whole of the UK. Exam were cancelled for two years in a row due to the pandemic, and grades were awarded by teachers. This led to the proportion of pupils passing and scoring higher grades rising significantly for two years in a row.

In England in 2021, 77.9% of all maths entrants and 80.9% of all English entrants achieved a pass (Grade 4 or above). Nearly a third of entries received a grad 7 or above (A and A*s), an increase of about 12 percentage points. Three quarters or more of GCSE results were awarded at Grade 4 and above (76.9% in England, 73.6% in Wales, and 89.6% in Northern Ireland) (Ofqual, 2021). Similar grade inflation was seen in Scotland, where the percentage of pupils achieving A to C grades in their Highers was 89.3% in 2020 and 87.3% in 2021, both well above the 75% pass rate from 2019 (Scottish Qualifications Authority, 2021).

Being excluded from school clearly impacts on educational attainment and acts as a marker for a range of problems (Timpson, 2019). Over the years, successive governments have made strenuous attempts to keep down the numbers permanently excluded. Chart 10.3 shows the trends since 2006/7. Rates have been stable in recent years and then dropped when schools were closed during the pandemic. The most common age for exclusion is age 14, and many more boys than girls are excluded across the whole of secondary school (Department for Education, 2021).

The rate of permanent exclusions in secondary schools has reminded stable in recent years and dropped during the pandemic

All data correct as of 1st November 2021