How Do Young People Make Choices at 14 and 16?

Tamaris McCrone, Pauline Wade, Marian Morris, Sarah Blenkinsop

01 July 2006

Literature review

Research report available to download from DfE

Research brief available to download from DfE

In order to support young people's decision-making at a time of greater and more complex choices, the Department of Education and Skills (DfES) commissioned NFER to explore how young people make the educational choices required of them at ages 14 and 16. Two waves of in-depth interviews were held with 165 young people across 14 schools between February 2005 and February 2006.

Key Findings

  • Schools can make a difference to how young people make decisions. The research shows a link between schools which appeared to be effective in relation to curriculum management, student support, staff expectations and school leadership, and the young people who were making the most rational, thought-through decisions, and who remained happy with their choices six months later.
  • When students felt supported in decision-making by the school they were more influenced by school factors (such as individual talks with teachers and the careers education and guidance provision) and less reliant on external factors such as friends and family.
  • Young people made decisions in different ways. The quality of their decisions seemed to vary according to context (including the curriculum offer and support mechanisms in place to support them in decision-making), the ways in which information and advice was being mediated to them, and their own individual approach to and skills of decision-making.
  • Young people brought different mindsets to the decision-making process, and made decisions differently across and within schools. Their decisions had also often fluctuated over time, even amongst students who had at first appeared very decided about their choices. These issues suggest that any single approach to support will not work for all young people and that all individuals need varying levels and type of support at different stages in their school careers.

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