This study involved analysis of data from the England and Wales Youth Cohort Study and the Scottish School Leavers Survey, using specially constructed comparable time-series data sets. These made it possible, for the first time, to analyse the effects of social change on young people, and compare trends across Britain. Changes that affected young people during the 1980s and l990s included declining job opportunities for 16-18 year olds, increasing numbers of places in further and higher education, and changing perceptions of the role of women in learning and careers. At the same time, there were political developments which sought to introduce market principles to education, and reforms of curriculum and assessment. Researchers at the University of Edinburgh have been examining this period, and the effects of social change on young people’s experiences of education and entry to the labour market.
Recognising the benefits
• There was greater support for comprehensive schooling in Wales and Scotland, whereas in England the emphasis was on markets, choice and diversity.
• Throughout Britain, young people were increasinglv positive in their perceptions of the usefulness of school, levels of attainment rose, and growing proportions stayed on in education after age 16.
Post compulsory education.
• Steadily increasing levels of participation in post-l6 education led to increasing attainment of qualifications, and entry to higher education. The proportion of young people in Scotland who gained qualifications and went on to higher education was consistently and substantially greater than elsewhere in Britain.
• Throughout Britain there was a strong downward trend in the proportions of young people entering the labour market at ages 16 and 18, as more remained in education. By the end of the 1990s, the proportion of young people unemployed was lower than in the early 1980s. Nevertheless, among those who entered full-time jobs or government-supported training, occupations remained remarkably stable over the period.
• There were differences between the north and south of England. Greater levels of participation in education and attainment were linked to higher average socio-economic status in the south. However, these north/south differences did not apply to levels of entry to higher education. In Scotland, on the other hand, although the socio-economic situation was similar to the north of England and Wales, there was substantially greater attainment of post-compulsory qualifications and entry to higher education than in the south of England.
Gender and social class
• Differences between the sexes were greater when it came to the labour market, especially the types of occupations entered, than in people’s pattern of education and gaining of qualifications.
• Class inequalities during compulsory education, though similar for England and Scotland, showed more evidence of narrowing north of the border. This may reflect the stronger Scottish emphasis on comprehensive education, although no direct link was found between trends in inequality and the development of educational quasi-markets.
• Between the ages of 16 and 18, however, in contrast to compulsory education, class inequalities were wider in Scotland, and at 18 and entrance to higher education, were wider there than in England. Nevertheless, despite greater inequalities, working class Scots outperformed their English peers.
• In England, but not in Scotland, ‘overall’ class inequalities in terms of attainment tended to narrow over the period, mainly due to reduction in inequalities at A-level.