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 technical and vocational skills is a key aspect of improving productivity and social mobility in Britain. 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. 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. The analysis will begin by classifying the immediate post-16 pathways of young people in the Portsmouth area, comparing to them to the national average. This analysis will be performed for the area as a whole as well as for the most disadvantaged areas within it. As previous CVER research at the national level, we will then link these initial choices with subsequent outcomes, such as progressing to a level 3 qualifications or apprenticeships, staying on in education at 18 and employment and earnings in the labour market. In an extension to this earlier analysis, we will also investigate how this pattern has changed over time. This will give a sense of whether the skills of the population are improving and give an indication of how the local system is responding to funding cuts and the shift to compulsory education/training until 18. This quantitative case study will be helpful for policy by improving understanding of the operation of vocational education in this local area – as well as developing tools that might be applied to other areas in a similar way.


Results will be published here when available.

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