Destination measures: Insights for schools and colleges on former students’ career outcomes

By Jude Hillary

Thursday 24 February 2022

Technological advances, shifts in the nature of work, and other economic factors are set to transform the labour market over the coming decade. Given the vital role played by schools and colleges in shaping young people’s outcomes, this transformation is going to represent a major strategic challenge for schools and colleges.

Improving information about destination outcomes has the potential to provide greater insights to schools and colleges, as they can use this to help ensure that young people attending their institution are well prepared for the future.  

What are destination measures?

Destination measures follow a cohort of young people in schools and colleges from a point when they are in the education system to some point in time in the future. They are useful in providing insights into what young people move onto after they have left the education system.

The Department for Education (DfE) already publishes some destination measures for young people at the end of Key Stage 4 and 5. These provide key information about young people’s destinations in the year after leaving school or college.

Why do these destination measures need to be developed further?

While the current destination measures are important, they only provide short-term insights, at a time when most young people are transitioning into further and higher education. From a policymaking perspective, this paints an incomplete picture as they only provide a limited view about where most of these young people end up in the labour market.

Developing longer-term destination measures which look further into the future, perhaps five to 10 years ahead, have the potential to provide even greater insights for schools and colleges. These could help them to understand where young people who attended their institutions moved onto after leaving and how they are progressing in the labour market.

It was against this backdrop that the Edge Foundation commissioned the National Foundation for Educational Research (NFER) to conduct a study to investigate whether we could construct reliable new longer-term destination measures that could identify the value that schools and colleges add to young people’s destinations. If successful, institutions could potentially use these measures as another way of demonstrating their value over and above attainment outcomes, as well as thinking about how they can better support young people to achieve successful outcomes in the labour market.    

To do this, we have used DfE’s newly available Longitudinal Educational Outcomes (LEO) dataset, which links education data of young people to data about their future earnings and employment status. Specifically, the LEO data enables us to track whole cohorts of young people’s outcomes, from when they were still in the education system right up to age 30, which has not been previously possible.

What is the potential for developing longer-term destination measures?

Our analysis finds that the institution where a young person studies their main post-16 qualifications is associated with a small but not insignificant role in explaining their future earnings and employment outcomes, once other contextual factors are taken into account.  As well as providing insights into where young people progress to after post-16 education, this suggests that longer-term destination measures could have the potential to inform school and colleges approaches targeted support to young people to help them achieve good labour market outcomes.  

It is important to recognise that the value of what young people do in the labour market should not be judged solely from the future earnings they are able to achieve. There are a number of other factors that might be deemed important for a successful destination, such as value to society or individual well-being. Ideally, we would have also considered these when developing longer-term destination measures, but unfortunately this data is not currently available in a form which can be linked to individual schools and colleges.

What next for destination measures?

While our analysis suggests that longer-term destination measures could provide additional information to schools and colleges, there is still more to be done in understanding how useful destination measures can be for school and college leaders in practice, and in ensuring that measures are provided in a readily interpretable and constructive way.

Our research recommends that the Government works more closely with schools and colleges to develop best practice around the use of destination measures. This includes improving the destination measures information made available to schools and colleges at post-16. The Government has already made significant strides in this area. However, availability and access to longer-term institution-level destinations information could be improved. For instance, policymakers could develop a benchmarking tool that allow schools and colleges to interpret their destination measures, as part of a broader basket of measures, by comparing themselves against institutions with similar intakes.

The LEO data does not currently cover all aspects of what might be termed a ‘successful’ destination. However, datasets such as LEO are continuing to evolve and develop. By increasing the use of destination measures in schools and colleges, this may help us to develop destination information still further in future, perhaps being able to incorporate other factors that might be regarded as being important for assessing a successful destination outcome.

Our research shows that there is potential for developing longer-term destination measures which can help schools and colleges think about the value they can add to their young people to ensure they are well prepared for the future labour market. You can download the report here.

Jude Hillary is Head of the Optimal Pathways and Systems portfolios at the National Foundation for Educational Research (NFER). He is also the lead researcher on the Edge-commissioned study, “Investigating the potential use of long-term school and college destination measures”.