United Kingdom

Without a basic qualification at age 19

Graphs on this page:

Supporting information:

Key points

  • The proportion of 19-year-olds without Level 2 qualifications (effectively the same as ‘5 or more GCSEs or vocational equivalent’), has fallen sharply in recent years, down from a third in 2004 to a fifth in 2009.  This fall at age 19 is consistent with the trend at age 16 (see the indicator on educational attainment at age 16).
  • Although a half of young adults have not obtained Level 2 qualifications at age 16, this proportion reduces to a fifth by age 21 (this data is for a cohort who were age 19 in 2007).
  • Fewer 19-year-old girls lack Level 2 qualifications than boys: around 17% for girls at age 19 compared to 25% for boys.
  • The proportion of 19-year-olds lacking Level 2 qualifications is somewhat lower in the South East than elsewhere in England.
  • The lower a person’s qualifications, the more likely they are to be unemployed and the more likely they are to be in low-paid work.  See the indicator on risks by level of qualification.

Why this indicator was originally chosen

This indicator concerns the lack of educational qualifications as a barrier to work.  As shown in the indicator on the impact of education and work, those with no qualifications are more at risk of not being in paid work and of receiving low rates of pay.  Furthermore, individuals with no or very low qualifications have seen their earnings increase less rapidly in comparison to other groups in the workforce. 1  As well as being an immediate issue, this also has long term implications for reduced earnings potential.

The indicator also reflects the changes in the labour market which have emerged as a result of technological developments. 2  A greater proportion of jobs require a broader range and higher level of skills, and a greater proportion now require at least some form of qualification.

More generally, this subject continues one of the core themes of the chapter on children – namely, that education in an important element in reducing the intergenerational transmission of disadvantage.

Definitions and data sources

The first graph shows the proportion of 19-year-olds without ‘Level 2’ qualifications, where ‘Level 2’ effectively means the same as ‘5 or more GCSEs or vocational equivalent’.

The second graph shows, for those pupils born in 1989, what proportion has achieved certain educational levels at each age from 16 (i.e. in 2005) to 21 (i.e. in 2010). The particular educational levels shown are below Level 2, Level 2 but not Level 3, and Level 3 or above, where Level 3 is effectively the same as ‘2 A-Levels or equivalent’.

The third graph shows, for the latest year, how proportion of 19-year-olds without Level 2 qualifications varies by gender.

The fourth graph shows, for the latest year, how proportion of 19-year-olds without Level 2 qualifications varies by region.  Note that, unlike the first three graphs, this graph only covers 19-year-olds who had previously attended maintained schools (e.g. it excludes 19-year-olds who had previously attended independent schools or pupil referral units).

The data source for all the graphs is a Department for Education (DfE) publications entitled Level 2 and 3 attainment by young people in England measured using matched administrative data: attainment by age 19, and the data relates to England only.  The first graph only goes back to 2004 as this is the first year that the data is available for.

Note that this type of analysis has traditionally used the Labour Force Survey (LFS) as its source.  However, DfE has concluded that LFS appears generally to overstate academic achievement and, furthermore, that the range and diversity of vocational qualifications has grown in recent years and that it is difficult for LFS to accurately capture these.  They therefore prefer to use administrative sources to analyse levels of qualifications among young adults.

Overall adequacy of the indicator: medium. The administrative data underlying the analysis is, in principle a complete count and DfE believe the results to be very reliable.

External links

Relevant 2007 Public Service Agreements

Overall aim:  Raise the educational achievement of all children and young people

Lead department

Department for Children, Schools and Families.

Official national targets

Increase the proportion of young children achieving a total points score of at least 78 across all 13 Early Years Foundation Stage Profile (EYFSP) scales – with at least 6 in each of the communications, language and literacy and language (CLL) and personal, social and emotional development (PSED) scales – by an additional 4 percentage points from 2008 results, by 2011.

Increase the proportion achieving level 4 in both English and maths at Key Stage 2 to 78% by 2011.

Increase the proportion achieving level 5 in both English and maths at Key Stage 3 to 74% by 2011.

Increase the proportion achieving 5A*-C GCSEs (and equivalent), including GCSEs in both English and maths, at Key Stage 4 to 53% by 2011.

Increase the proportion of young people achieving Level 2 at age 19 to 82% by 2011.

Increase the proportion of young people achieving Level 3 at age 19 to 54% by 2011.

Previous 2004 targets

Improve children’s communication, social and emotional development so that, by 2008, 50% of children reach a good level of development at the end of the Foundation Stage and reduce inequalities between the level of development achieved by children in the 20% most disadvantaged areas and the rest of England.

Raise standards in English and maths so that:

  • by 2006, 85% of 11 year olds achieve level 4 or above and (not with this level of performance sustained to 2008; and
  • by 2008, the number of schools in which fewer than 65% of pupils achieve level 4 or above reduced by 40%.Raise standards in English, maths, ICT and science in secondary education so that:
  • by 2007 85% of 14 year olds achieve level 5 or above in English, maths and ICT ( 80% in science) nationally with this level of performance sustained to 2008; and
  • by 2008, in all schools at least 50% of pupils achieve level 5 or above in each of English, maths and science.

By 2008, 60% of those aged 16 to achieve the equivalent of 5 GCSEs at grades A* to C; and in all schools at least 20% of pupils to achieve this standard by 2004, rising to 25% by 2006 and 30% by 2008.

Increase the proportion of 19 year olds who achieve at least Level 2 by 3 percentage points between 2004 to 2006, and a further 2 percentage points between 2006 and 2008, and increase the proportion of young people who achieve level 3.

Overall aim:  Narrow the gap in educational achievement between children from low income and disadvantaged backgrounds and their peers

Lead department

Department for Children, Schools and Families.

Official national targets

Improve the average (mean) score of the lowest 20% of the Early Years Foundation Stage Profile (EYFSP) results, so that the gap between that average score and the median score is reduced by an additional 3 percentage points from 2008 results, by 2011.

Increase the proportion of pupils progressing by 2 levels in English and maths at each of Key Stages 2, 3 and 4 by 2011:

  • KS2: English 9 percentage points, maths 11 percentage points.
  • KS3: English 16 percentage points, maths 12 percentage points.
  • KS4: English 15 percentage points, maths 13 percentage points.

Increase the proportion of children in care at Key Stage 2 achieving level 4 in English to 60% by 2011, and level 4 in mathematics to 55% by 2011.

Increase the proportion of children in care achieving 5A*-C GCSEs (and equivalent) at Key Stage 4 to 20% by 2011.

Other indicators of progress

Achievement gap between pupils eligible for Free School Meals and their peers at Key Stages 2 and 4.

Proportion of young people from low-income backgrounds progressing to higher education.

The numbers

Graph 1

Year Without Level 2
2004 33%
2005 31%
2006 29%
200726%
200824%
200921%
201018%

Graph 2

AgeWithout Level 2 With Level 2 but not Level 3 With Level 3
At age 1644% 55% 0%
At age 1736% 48% 16%
At age 1828% 30% 42%
At age 1923% 27% 50%
At age 2021% 26% 53%
At age 2119% 26% 55%

Graph 3

Year Without Level 2
Male22%
Female15%

Graph 4

Region Without Level 2
East 20%
East Midlands 23%
London 19%
North East 22%
North West 21%
South East 20%
South West 21%
West Midlands 22%
Yorkshire and the Humber 24%
1. For example, Labour market and skill trends 1997/98, Skills and Enterprise Network, DfEE, 1997, page 79. 
2. Green, F, Ashton, D, Burchell, B, Davies, B and Felstead, A, ‘Are British workers getting more skilled?’, in Atkinson, A and Hills, J (eds) Exclusion, employment and opportunity, CASE paper 4, Centre for Analysis of Social Exclusion: London School of economics, 1998, page 89.  There has been “an unambiguous increase in work skills from 1986 to 1997.  Whereas 62% of jobs required at least some qualification in 1986, by 1997, this has risen to 69%.  For ‘high level’ qualifications (anything above A-level), the proportion rose from 20% to 24%”.  This research also noted (page 98) that the numbers of people in work in Britain possessing no qualifications, dropped from 28% in 1986 to 19% in 1997.  The report also points out (page 123) that the types of skills increasingly needed include problem solving-skills, communication and social skills, and computing skills; alongside this shift, there has been a reduction in the use of manual skills – and “at both ends of the occupational spectrum there is evidence of rising skills”.