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Does Social Cooperation Affect Macroeconomic Performance? Research Project

Understanding Vocational/Technical Pathways to inform Policy at Local Level

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Principal Investigator: Sandra McNally

Sandra McNally is Director of the Education and Skills Programme at the Centre of Economic Performance. She is also Director of the Centre for Vocational Education Research and Professor of Economics at University of Surrey. Current research interests include economic evaluation of government policies; the effect of careers-related information on educational decisions; returns to education; the effects of 'ability tracking' within school systems; special educational needs; education and mental health.

Sandra has several research projects within the Economics of Education. Her current projects include an evaluation of programmes to improve reading at primary school and evaluating the impact of providing careers-related information to teenagers.

Co-Investigator: Jo Blanden

Project Summary

Improving education is a key aspect of improving productivity and social mobility in Britain. In

particular, the relatively high number of people with poor basic skills and low number of people

with high-level vocational skills are long-standing national challenges.


Recent research by McNally and colleagues at the Centre for Vocational Education Research has

made successful use of matched administrative data from DfE and HMRC which tracks individuals

from school, through their further/higher education and into the labour market (CVER discussion

paper 001). The data has been used to highlight some weaknesses of the UK post-16 system at the

national level. These can be summed up as complexity, a lack of progression, low labour market

returns for some pathways.


The Government is increasingly emphasising a local route to improving productivity through

interventions such as Opportunity Areas. To be effective these require a very good understanding

of the current picture in local areas. Our aim is to extend the data and methods we have developed

at the national level to develop useful tools and analysis for local areas, giving context for efforts to

improve local opportunities.


The area we have selected is the Portsmouth conurbation (Portsmouth, Havant, Gosport and Fareham). There are several areas within this locale which face particularly marked challenges. A recent report for Havant Borough Council highlights Havant as having the lowest share of adults qualified at NVQ level 2 or above of all South East local authorities (in 2018), with Gosport following a few places behind. The City of Portsmouth is also extremely mixed, with some very disadvantaged areas rubbing closely against wealthy neighbourhoods. Havant Borough council have drawn attention in Central Government for their particularly ambitious regeneration proposals which state as a key objective “Working in partnership with business and educators to create job, education & training opportunities”. Our work will provide valuable information about the choices and progression routes of young people, which will help to inform regional decision-making. As in previous CVER work, we made use of administrative data where we can track students throughout their school education and as they progress through further and higher education. Our aim is to extend the data and methods used here to develop useful tools of analysis for local areas, giving context for efforts to improve local opportunities. We first consider how the areas considered here (within the Portsmouth conurbation) compare to each other and to the national average in terms of performance by the end of secondary school (Key Stage 4) and how differences can be accounted for by demographics and primary school achievement. We then consider various important indicators of post-compulsory progression and attainment, again taking account of students’ prior achievement, including in the exams at the end of compulsory schooling (GCSEs). Our analysis paints a picture of an area with very divergent performance within it, as well as between the conurbation as a whole and the rest of England. In particular, the area as a whole does relatively badly in terms of progressing students with a good upper secondary education to tertiary education. In this respect, the conurbation appears to suffer disproportionately from the national absence of a well-developed infrastructure of progression from upper secondary education to apprenticeships and sub-degree tertiary education.


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Understanding Educational Progression at the Local Level  

Jo Blanden, Héctor Espinoza, Sandra McNally, and Guglielmo Ventura | March 25, 2021

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