Calendar Year 2021

Participation in education, training and employment age 16 to 18

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Introduction

This release contains the Department for Education's official measures of participation and NEET (not in education, employment or training) for 16 to 18 year olds.

  • 16-17 year olds are required to remain in education and training in England following raising the participation age legislation in 2013.
  • 18 year olds in this release are in the first year post compulsory education.

Much of the narrative focuses on these two age groupings but individual ages are discussed where appropriate. Other key analyses is by gender, type of learning (e.g. full-time education/apprenticeships), institution type, highest qualification level being studied and labour market status (e.g. employed/unemployed/inactive).

Participation estimates for the 2020 and 2021 cohort's impacted by COVID-19 may not fully reflect engagement and attendance. 


Headline facts and figures - 2021

Overall ages 16-18

  • Participation in education or apprenticeships down 0.9 percentage points to 81.2%.
  • The not in education, employment and training (NEET) rate has decreased and is one of the lowest on record at 6.4%.
  • Of the remaining 12.3% of the population, 4.4% were in wider training and 8.0% in employment.

Ages 16-17 (in compulsory education or training)

  • 90.5% participating in education or apprenticeships, down 0.5 percentage points.
  • 5.0% NEET,  highest rate since 2013.
  • 2.9% in wider training and 1.5% in employment.

Age 18 (first year post compulsory education or training)

  • 62.2% participating in education or apprenticeships, down 1.5 percentage points.
  • 9.3% NEET, a decrease of 2.9 percentage points and the lowest on record. 
  • 7.3% in wider training and 21.2% in employment (highest rate since 2007).

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About this release

These are the Department for Education's definitive measures for 16 to 18 years olds:

  • participation in education and training
  • those not in education, employment and training (NEET)

These statistics show recent changes in the context of historical trends.

Information is drawn together from various post-16 data sources to give a coherent and comprehensive picture of participation and employment. Sources include administrative data from schools, further education, apprenticeships and higher education. Wider training and employment rates are estimated from the Labour Force Survey (LFS).

The estimates relate to a snapshot of activities at the end of the calendar year, and are based on academic age, defined as ‘age at the start of the academic year’ i.e. age as at 31 August. 

Includes analysis by age, gender, type of learning, institution type, labour market status and highest qualification aim.

The accompanying methodology provides information on the data sources, their coverage and quality, and explains the production process for the data.

It also includes reference to other published data on participation and not in education, employment and training (NEET) rates, including estimates for the wider 16-24 age group and by local authority.

Raising the participation age policy

Raising the participation age (RPA) legislation was introduced in 2013/14, requiring 16-17 year olds in England to remain in education or training. Further detail is given in the ‘Raising the participation age (RPA) legislation 2013/14’ section of this publication and in the methodology.

Feedback

We welcome feedback on any aspect of this publication at post16.statistics@education.gov.uk

Participation: headlines

Following record high participation levels for end 2020, latest estimates for end 2021 show a fall in the age 16-18 participation rate to 81.2%. 

The fall is driven by a decrease in full-time education. However, the latest participation estimate is still one of the highest in the series and the end 2020 figures impacted by COVID-19 may not have fully reflected engagement and attendance.

Note: The measure in ‘education and apprenticeships’ includes those in full and part-time education, or on an apprenticeship. Overlaps are removed to give a definitive estimate of the proportion participating.

Age 16: 

Participation rate down 0.9 percentage points compared to last year to 93.0%, record high was 94.0% in 2019. 

Age 17:

Relatively stable, down 0.2 percentage points from the highest participation rate of 88.2% last year.

Age 18:

Participation rate down 1.5 percentage points compared to last year to 62.2%, record high was 64.0% in 2015. Latest estimates may reflect changes in Higher Education deferral rates due to the COVID-19 pandemic. 

16-17 year olds are required to remain in education and training in England following raising the participation age legislation in 2013.

In addition to the 73.6% in full-time education and 4.7% in apprenticeships, a further 3.0% in part-time education contribute to the headline 81.2% in education and apprenticeships.

Looking at wider training for overall 16-18

  • 3.4% in employer funded training (EFT) (3.5% if including those also in part-time education)
  • 1.0% in other education and training (OET) (3.8% if including those also in part-time education)

Therefore the total percentage of 16-18 year olds in any education and training was 85.6% at end 2021. 

Education and apprenticeships are used as our headline measure as they are the best estimate for monitoring compliance to the raising the participation age legislation (see methodology for more information).

Participation: full-time education by institution type

At ages 16-17 the proportion in full-time education decreased by 0.9 percentage points to 84.2% following a record high last year of 85.1%. This years rate is the second highest since records began in 1994. 

  • There was a decrease in the proportion of 16-17 year olds studying in sixth form colleges and General FE, tertiary and specialist colleges and a slight increase in the proportion in state-funded schools.

16-17 year olds are required to remain in education and training in England following raising the participation age legislation in 2013.

At age 18 most full-time study is in higher education institutions.

  • Overall full-time education decreased by 2.1 percentage points to 51.7% but is still the second highest rate on record.
  • There was a decrease of 1.3 percentage points to 34.9% in higher education institutions, although again this is still the second highest rate on record. This decrease may reflect changes in Higher Education deferral rates due to the COVID-19 pandemic. 
  • There was also a slight decrease in state-funded schools and general FE, tertiary and specialist colleges. 

Further breakdowns (e.g by part-time education) are available through the online table tool builder from the “Download data and files” section above.

Participation: full-time education by highest qualification aim

Age 16-18

Looking at the highest qualification aim, most 16-18 year olds in full-time education are aiming for level 3 or above. This trend has been broadly stable since 2012. 

Level of study is very different for those still in compulsory education (16-17 year olds) where most study a level 3 qualification compared with those in full-time education at age 18 where most study a level 4 qualification in Higher Education institutions. 

Age 16-17

16-17 year olds are required to remain in education and training in England following raising the participation age legislation in 2013.

84.2% are in full-time education, looking at their highest qualification aim, most are studying Level 3 where the proportion increased to 67.9%, a record high.

Of those studying for a level 3 qualification:

  • 47.4% are studying for A/AS levels
  • 20.5% for other types of level 3 course

Of those studying other types of level 3 course, over half were studying for Tech levels or Applied General qualifications and 0.1% studying T levels which were introduced in 2020.

The proportion of 16-17 year olds studying level 2 fell to 11.8% (down 0.9 percentage points), the lowest since changes to the condition of funding were introduced, requiring these young people who had not achieved a level 2 in English and/or maths to continue to study these as part of their programme until age 18. This follows record proportions of 16 year olds achieving a level 2 qualification in 2020/21, including record proportions achieving level 2 in English and/or maths. These records reflect the increase as a result of calculated/teacher assessed grades during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Age 18

18 year olds are in the first year post compulsory education.

  • 51.7% are in full-time education (down 2.1 percentage points), second highest on record following a record high last year.

The proportion studying for a higher education qualification was 35.0%, down 1.3 percentage points but still the second highest on record.

Further breakdowns (e.g by part-time education) are available through the online table tool builder from the “Download data and files” section above. This includes more granular breakdowns of the other level 2 and 3 courses, such as T levels.

All education and training: long term trends from 1994

Age 16-17

Following the introduction of Raising the participation age (RPA) legislation in 2013/14, which required 16-17 year olds in England to remain in education or training, participation in full-time education rose sharply in 2013, after which it remained on an upward trend, peaking in 2020 at 85.1% of 16-17 year olds.

Since the introduction of RPA, these increases in full-time education have been largely offset by falls in apprenticeships and other training resulting in the relatively stable trend of those not in education or training (NET). In the latest year we have seen the opposite with a fall in full-time education and rise in apprenticeships. 

Age 18

By 2011 participation in full-time education had increased by 12.0 percentage points compared with 2003 to 50.5% and although this was partly offset by falls in work-based learning and part-time education, the overall result was that the proportion of 18 year olds in education and training rose from 61.0% in 2003 to 69.4% in 2011.

In 2012 there was a fall of 2.1 percentage points in the proportion of 18 year olds studying full-time in higher education institutions, the result of behavioural change due to higher tuition fees (although a 2.7 percentage point rise the year before was due to the anticipated arrival of higher fees which in turn drove a reduction in the number of people deferring entry). The fall in full-time education was offset by increases in other participation, so the proportion of 18 year olds in education or training was unchanged.

By 2015 participation in full-time education at 18 was almost back to its 2011 level, at 50.2% and at end 2020 had increased further to 53.8%, the highest age 18 rate on record. Even with the fall in full-time education in 2021, it still remains the second highest proportion on record. 

NEET: headlines

The 16-18 not in education, employment or training (NEET) rate decreased by 0.3 percentage points and is one of the lowest on record at 6.4% (the record low being 6.3% at end 2016).

  • for those of compulsory education age (16-17 year olds) the NEET rate was 5.0% at end 2021, an increase of 1.0 percentage point and the highest rate since the introduction of the Raising Participation Age (RPA) legislation in 2013. 
  • the NEET rate fell by 2.9 percentage points for those age 18 to the lowest on record at 9.3%. Decreases in participation in education were largely offset by increases in the employment rate of the not in education or training (NET) group for those post-compulsory education age.

16-17 year olds are required to remain in education and training in England following raising participation age legislation in 2013.

18 year olds in this release are in their first year post compulsory education.

Two factors affect the proportion of young people NEET:

  1. the proportion not in any education and training (NET)
  2. the employment rate for young people who are NET, estimated from the Labour Force Survey

In summary, decreases in participation in education were largely offset by the large increase in the employment rate for those NET at age 18.

This has resulted in the NEET rate decreasing for the overall 16-18 age group between end 2020 and end 2021 (but the NEET rate has increased at ages 16-17).

NEET: long term trends from 1994

The overall 16-18 not in education, employment or training (NEET) rate has remained broadly stable in recent years.

Two factors affect the proportion of young people NEET:

  1. the proportion not in any education and training (NET)
  2. the employment rate for young people who are NET, estimated from the Labour Force Survey

Considering the first factor, as we have seen the proportion of young people in education and training has been largely rising since around 2001, hence the size of the NET group has been tending to fall. The proportion of 16-18 year olds NET at the end of 2021 was 14.4%, down 10.3 percentage points since 2001.

Looking at the the second factor that influences NEET, the employment rate for the group not in education and training, the graph below shows that between the late 1990s and 2011 the general trend was for the rate to fall meaning there was a notable decline in the proportion of 16-18 year olds in employment.

Between 2011 and 2017 the employment rate of the overall 16-18 NET group rose, albeit with some fluctuations when looking at single ages. It should be noted that sample sizes in the Labour Force Survey (LFS) are small for individual age cohorts, particularly when looking at a sub-group such as those who are NET, so caution should be taken when interpreting changes in the employment rate over the short term.

Compared with 2020, there have been decreases in the NET employment rate for ages 16 and 17, particularly notable at age 16. However, due to relatively small numbers in employment at these younger ages, they can fluctuate considerably year on year so overall trends should be considered. The age 18 NET employment rate increased in 2021 to 69.5% (+11.2 percentage points), the second highest rate on record.

Gender breakdowns

Participation by gender

Females aged 16-18 have higher participation rates than males largely due to more being in full-time education. 83.3% of females were participating in education or apprenticeships at end 2021 compared with 79.3% of males.

Looking at the main study type, males are more likely to be on apprenticeships or in part-time education than females, both whilst still in compulsory education (age 16-17) and when moving into post compulsory education at age 18.

NEET by gender

NEET rates for both genders are higher at 18 than at 16-17, however rates for females are lower than their male counterparts.

Institution type of those in full-time education by gender

Age 16-17

Most young people are studying in state-funded schools or general FE colleges.


A higher proportion of females study in schools than males, and a higher proportion of males study in general FE colleges then females. 

16-17 year olds are required to remain in education and training in England following raising the participation age legislation in 2013.

Age 18

Most study is in HE institutions and there is notable variation by gender, with more females than males in HE institutions, a difference of 10.4 percentage points.


Males are slightly more likely to study in a general FE college at 18 than females.

18 year olds are in the first year post compulsory education.

Highest qualification aim of those in full-time education by gender

Age 16-17

Highest qualification aims differ by gender with 16-17 year old females more likely to be studying for A/AS levels than males, and more males studying for qualifications at level 2 or below.

As seen, the proportion of 16-17 year olds studying for a level 3 as their highest qualification aim is at a record high, 67.9%. This rise is driven by an increase in male study at level 3. 

Age 18

At age 18, as we might expect given more females are in higher education institutions than males, more females are studying for a qualification at level 4 or above.

Raising the participation age (RPA) legislation 2013/14

Legislation was introduced in 2013/14 increasing the age to which all young people in England are required to remain in education or training.

Introduced in two stages, it applied to:

  • Young people who left year 11 in summer 2013, who were required to stay in some form of education or training for at least a further year until 27th June 2014.
  • Young people who started in year 11 (or years below) in September 2013, who were required to continue until at least their 18th birthday.

The first cohort impacted by stage 1 of the Raising the participation age (RPA) legislation were academic age 16 (usually year 12) in 2013/14 (end 2013 figures in this publication) and academic age 17 in 2014/15 (end 2014 figures). Those young people impacted by stage 2 of RPS were academic age 16 in 2014/15 (end 2014 figures) and age 17 in 2015/16 (end 2015 figures).

Although participation estimates in this release do not include a measure strictly aligning to compliance with RPA, the proportion reported as being in ‘education and apprenticeships’ is the closest proxy. Education and apprenticeships (which includes all full and part-time education and apprenticeships but not re-engagement activities) is the headline participation measure in this release.  Wider training, funded privately or by employers, which is not picked up in the administrative data collections is included in the ‘Total education and training’ measure. More detail on the differences are given in the policy section of the accompanying methodology document.

Estimates of participation consistent with the duty to participate under RPA, based on data collected by local authorities, are published in Participation in Education and Training by Local Authority. It should be noted that as the local authority estimates are based on different data and methodology to those in this statistics publication, they are not directly comparable. 

Revisions

Each year we update the previous year's figures from provisional to final following the availability of revised administrative data.

These revisions have resulted in the 2020 estimate of the proportion of 16-18 year olds participating in ‘education and apprenticeships’ being revised down from 82.3% to 82.1%, and the NEET rate being revised up from 6.5% to 6.7%.

The methodology accompanying this release details the 2020 changes.

Other sources

Participation and NEET figures are also published in other statistics releases. The table below provides a summary of the four related releases. A more detailed comparison of the NEET and NET estimated from these sources is available in the NEET statistics annual brief.

TitleParticipation in education, training and employmentNEET statistics annual brief Young people NEETLocal authority NEET and participation
ProducerDepartment for EducationDepartment for EducationOffice for National StatisticsDepartment for Education
StatusNational StatisticNational StatisticNational StatisticTransparency data
Age range16-1816-2416-2416-17
Age typeAcademic age[1]Academic age[1]Actual ageAcademic age[1]
CountryEnglandEnglandUKEngland
Regional breakdownsNoYesNoYes
LA breakdownNoNoNoYes
Data typeMostly administrativeSurveySurveyManagement information
Frequency of publicationAnnuallyAnnuallyQuarterlyAnnually
Seasonally adjustedNoNoYesNo
When to use?[2]England NEET (and participation) figures, age 16-18England/regional NEET figures, age 16-24 (includes reasons NEET) UK NEET figures, age 16-24 (published quarterly so often most timely)LA/regional NEET (and participation) figures, age 16-17 (includes pupil characteristics) 

[1] Academic age is defined as ‘age at the start of the academic year’ i.e. age as at 31 August. Actual age is defined as ‘respondents age at the time surveyed’.

[2] Left to right indicates recommended order of preference in which the statistics should be used based on most users’ needs and robustness of the data.  

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Methodology

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National statistics

The United Kingdom Statistics Authority designated these statistics as National Statistics in accordance with the Statistics and Registration Service Act 2007 and signifying compliance with the Code of Practice for Statistics.

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Once designated as National Statistics it's a statutory requirement for statistics to follow and comply with the Code of Practice for Statistics to be observed.

Find out more about the standards we follow to produce these statistics through our Standards for official statistics published by DfE guidance.

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If you have a specific enquiry about Participation in education, training and employment age 16 to 18 statistics and data:

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Telephone: Sally Marshall
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