Research into disparities in post-16 destinations

Year of Publication: 

This working paper by Sanne Velthuis (University of Warwick & University of Manchester) and Stella Chatzitheochari (University of Warwick) analyses post-16 destinations and early socio-economic attainment by a cohort of young people born in 1989-90. The researchers used longitudinal data from the "Next Steps" study.

Among the disability gaps revealed by the data are:

  • Post-16 education: 70% of disabled young people remain in education a few months after the end of Year 11, as opposed to 80% of non-disabled peers.
  • Type of education provider: Disabled young people are more likely to go to general Further Education colleges than their non-disabled peers (39% as opposed to 24%). They are much less likely to stay in school or go to sixth forms (39% as opposed to 63%).
  • Employment: At age 25, 82% of non-disabled young people are in employment as opposed to only 64% of disabled young people. A far higher percentage of disabled young people are unemployed or economically inactive at this stage.
  • Occupation: Disabled young people are much more likely to find themselves in semi-routine and routine jobs with low occupational status than non-disabled young people
  • Types of disability: Young people with SEN statements have particularly low rates of participation in employment and are also more likely to experience unemployment compared to disabled young people without statements of need.
  • Variation by social class: at age 25 parental class has a strong influence on the employment gap – young people with parents in higher social class groups were only 8% less likely to be in employment than non-disabled peers of the same social class, whereas young people with parents in lower social class groups were 23% less likely to be in work compared to non-disabled peers from the same social class.

The report analysed data from Next Steps in order to provide an exploratory analysis of post-16 destinations and early socioeconomic outcomes of disabled young people. Our analyses highlight disability differentials in post-16 destinations, with disabled cohort members more likely to experience unemployment and less likely to continue in post-compulsory education than their non-disabled peers. There are also inequalities in education providers among those who continue in education: Disabled young people are less likely to be in providers associated with “academic” routes and more likely to continue in general Further Education colleges. Disability disparities become even more pronounced at age 25. Our examination of cohort members’ main activities at that time point revealed very pronounced gaps in employment and unemployment levels.

The report also examined variation by three broad disability groups. This analysis revealed considerable differences with respect to educational pathways as well as early socioeconomic attainment: Cohort members with a statement of need emerged as a particularly vulnerable group, which is line with existing evidence from the SEN literature. The researchers also presented some preliminary evidence on the relative educational advantage of the long-standing limiting illness (LSLI only) group compared to SEN groups, with a relatively high proportion of young people from this group moving into sixth form and then university (though still considerably lower compared to their non-disabled peers). At the same time, at age 25 a substantial proportion of young people in the “LSLI only” group appear to be economically inactive, almost as high as among young people who in wave 1 had a statement of SEN.

These findings suggest that young people with long-standing limiting conditions but without a formal identification of special educational needs are characterised by a relatively wide variability in pathways and outcomes, some of them having successful academic transitions and moving into employment, and some experiencing more problematic trajectories. Future research could examine the extent to which some of these problematic trajectories can be attributed to health problems arising from longstanding conditions and to social barriers preventing disabled young people from fulfilling their potential.

Finally, the researchers showed that disability differentials vary by social class, gender, and ethnicity. For instance, disability appears to have a higher impact for young men with regards to continuing in education after Key Stage 4 than for young women. The effect of disability also appears to take different expressions across White British and ethnic minority young people. Additionally, the findings suggest that when it comes to economic activity in early adulthood, disability may have a disproportionate effect on young people from lower social class backgrounds. This preliminary analysis reinforces previous calls about the importance of intersectional analyses in disability research.

As highlighted by the research, survey attrition and the resulting small samples of disabled young people in later waves means that researchers are not able to distinguish between different groups of disabilities when focusing on later life outcomes. A lot of interesting research questions surrounding different groups of conditions and their association with various life outcomes therefore cannot be answered using this cohort study.