Methodology

Level 2 and 3 attainment age 16 to 25

Published

Introduction

This document provides background information on the ‘Level 2 and 3 attainment age 16 to 25’ National Statistics release. It explains the concepts and methods used to calculate the attainment figures and provides an overview of the data sources and other relevant information.

Coverage

The data in this publication covers young people who were age 19 between 2004 and 2021 in England.

Age is based on age during the academic year, so if the learner is ‘19 in 2021’ they will have turned 19 between 1st September 2020 and 31st August 2021.

The publication contains data on Level 2, Level 2 English and maths and Level 3 attainment by age 19 for each cohort. For those in the state sector at academic age 15, the attainment figures are presented by gender, disadvantaged status, free school meal (FSM) eligibility, special education needs (SEN) status, Income Deprivation Affecting Children Index (IDACI) quartile and ethnicity. 

The national data includes students in England of the relevant age who are recorded as achieving Level 2 or Level 3.  Some Level 2s achieved through Level 3 qualifications are discounted to mitigate double counting caused by inward migration (for further information see section on numerator adjustments below). The denominators for these measures are the total school population (including independent schools, Alternative Provision (APs) and Pupil Referral Units (PRUs)) for the cohort concerned in the year it turned 15 (academic age 14, i.e. generally year 10). These figures are not comparable with the state sector figures.

The mainstream state sector figures are based on young people who were included in the main spring pupil level census in the year in which they turned 16 (academic age 15). As well as pupils in maintained mainstream schools, academies and maintained special schools, this will also include the small number of pupils attending non-maintained special schools as these are covered by the School Census.

For all local authority data, assignment to local authority is based on the school attended in the academic year the young person turned 16.  As with the school performance tables, the LA of the school is based on the administrative LA rather than its postcode (this only differs in a very small number of cases).

Underlying data

Underlying data is also published alongside this release in a Zip file and an accompanying metadata document explaining what is covered is also provided in the same file.

Qualification levels

Achievements in the following qualifications are counted at Level 2+:

  • 1 short GCSE at grade A* to C/ 9-4 equals 10%
  • 1 full GCSE at grade A* to C/ 9-4 equals 20%
  • 1 Double Award GCSE (including VGCSEs) at grade A* to C/ 9-4 equals 40%
  • 1 “part” intermediate GNVQ equals 40% 
  • 1 “full” intermediate GNVQ equals 80%
  • 1 AS level (including VCE) at grade A to E equals 50%
  • 1 A/A2 level (including VCE) at grade A to E equals 100% 
  • 1 NVQ pass at Level 2 or 3 equals 100% (this does not include qualifications accredited into the Qualifications and Curriculum Framework (QCF) using the term ”NVQ” in the title)
  • 1 pass with at least 325 guided learning hours (GLH) in a vocationally related qualification (VRQ) including QCF qualifications. A pass at Level 2 or Level 3 (with minimum 595 GLH) equals 100%
  • 1 International Baccalaureate pass equals 100%
  • 1 Apprenticeship pass equals 100%
  • 1 Advanced Extension Award equals 5%
  • 1 IGCSE in an EBacc subject counts 20%
  • 1 Pre-U Principal Subject counts 80%
  • 1 Pre-U Short Course Subject counts 40%

Achievements in the following qualifications are counted at Level 3: 

  • 1 AS level (including Applied and VCE equivalents) at grade A to E equals 25%
  • 1 A/A2 level (including Applied and VCE equivalents) at grade A to E equals 50%
  • 1 NVQ pass at Level 3 100% (this does not include qualifications accredited into the Qualifications and Curriculum Framework (QCF) using the term “NVQ” in the title)
  • 1 pass with at least 595 guided learning hours in a vocationally related qualification (VRQ) including QCF qualifications at Level 3 equals 100%
  • 1 International Baccalaureate pass equals 100%
  • 1 Advanced Apprenticeship pass equals 100%
  • 1 Pre-U Principal Subject counts 50% (counted as A levels in L3 qualification type data)
  • 1 Pre-U Short Course Subject counts 25% (counted as AS levels in L3 qualification type data)
  • 1 Advanced Extension Award equals 5%
  • From 2020/21 the Core aspect of a T Level equals 50%
  • From 2020/21 the Occupational Specialism of a T level equals 50%

Achievements in the following qualifications are counted as Level 2 English up to 2012/13:

  • For GCSE A*-C / 9-4: Full GCSE or IGCSE in English at grades A*-C / 9-4 or AS/A level passes
  • For other Level 2: passes in Level 2 or 3 Key Skills in Communication; Level 2 Basic Skills in Adult Literacy; Level 2 Functional Skills in English. 

Achievements in the following qualifications are counted as Level 2 maths up to 2012/13:

  • For GCSE A*-C / 9-4: Full GCSE or IGCSE in Maths at grades A*-C / 9-4 or AS/A level and IB passes.
  • For other Level 2: passes in Level 2 or 3 Key Skills in Application of number; Level 2 Basic Skills in Adult Numeracy; Level 2 Functional Skills in Maths; Free Standing Maths at level 2 or 3. 

Achievements in the following qualifications are counted as Level 1 English up to 2012/13:

  • GCSE D-G / 3-1: Full GCSE or IGCSE in English at grades D-G / 3-1 and passes in Level 1 Key Skills in Communication; Level 1 Basic Skills in Adult Literacy; Level 1 Functional Skills in English

Achievements in the following qualifications are counted as Level 1 maths up to 2012/13:

  • GCSE D-G / 3-1: Full GCSE or IGCSE1 in Maths at grades D-G / 3-1 and passes in Level 1 Key Skills in Application of number; Level 1 Basic Skills in Adult Numeracy; Level 1 Functional Skills in Maths; Free Standing Maths at level 1.

The qualifications counted for English and maths from 2013/14 are aligned with those meeting the requirements for maths and English condition of funding.

Combinations of academic qualifications at different levels are allowed where their parts add up to 100 per cent for that level. For example a candidate with 3 full GCSEs at grades A* to C / 9-4 (20% each) and 1 AS level (50%) would be deemed to have attained a Level 2 (60% + 50% = 110%).

GCSEs and GNVQs are subject to discounting, as are AS and A/A2 levels. For example, say a learner gains an AS level (25% L3) in 2009 and then an A level (50% L3) in the same subject in 2010, then discounting means the person has 25% of a full Level 3 in 2009 and then 50% in 2010 as the AS level is replaced by the full A level.

In our statistics on qualification type, people are assigned to qualification types in the following order:

  • Level 2: 5 GCSEs; Apprenticeship; Vocational qualification outside of apprenticeship; Level 3 Qualifications; Combinations of qualifications (including prior to 2011 GNVQs or a combination of GNVQs and GCSEs).
  • Level 3: A-Levels (including Applied A levels/AVCEs/Pre-U Principal Subject); AS Levels; Advanced Apprenticeship; Vocational qualification outside of apprenticeship; International Baccalaureate. 

Since the 2012 publication we have combined the previously published separate columns for NVQs and VRQs in the qualification type data and the impact can be seen in the Technical Notes of the Level 2 and 3 attainment by young people aged 19 in 2014 publication. The level and width assigned to qualifications are taken from Ofqual’s Register of Regulated Qualifications.

Time series comparability

The data in the publication is comparable for the whole time series.

However, behavioural changes at a school and pupil level further to reforms introduced during the course of this time series will likely have had some impact on attainment and this should be borne in mind when making time-series comparisons. These include:

  • the decoupling of AS levels from A levels as part of reforms which started in the 2015/16 academic year. This has resulted in AS results no longer counting towards an A-level (and AS levels becoming standalone qualifications), which has led to a reduction in AS level entries. In turn, this has contributed to a small fall in Level 3 attainment at 19 from 2018 onwards.
  • changes made to how vocational qualifications count in key stage 4 performance measures from the 2013/14 academic year¹. Whilst these qualifications still count as Level 2 in these statistics, they no longer count in Key stage 4 performance measures. Or, if they still do, they no longer count as equivalent to more than one GCSE. This has significantly reduced the offering and take-up of large vocational qualifications at Key stage 4. In turn, this has contributed to a fall in Level 2 attainment at 19 from 2016 onwards.

¹See Revised GCSE and equivalent results in England, 2013-2014.

GCSE reform

The government introduced reformed GCSEs in 2017 with a revised grading scale to signal the reform and to better differentiate between students of different abilities. The new GCSE qualifications are graded from 9 to 1 with 9 being the highest grade and grade 4 equivalent to grade C on the old scale. English language, English literature and maths were the first to be introduced in 2017 with other subjects following in later years. In the first year each new GCSE subject was introduced, broadly the same proportion of students  would have got grades 1, 4 and 7 and above as would have got grades G, C and A and above respectively under the old system. For further information see Ofqual’s Grading new GCSEs document.

IGCSEs

IGCSEs in EBACC subjects are included in these statistics despite in some cases being no longer approved in the school performance tables. This is for two main reasons. Firstly, the aim of these statistics is to measure overall attainment at 19 consistently over a long period of time, and secondly because IGCSEs count for the prior attainment criteria in the maths and English condition of funding. Therefore, if they were removed from the maths and English qualifications it would give an inaccurate picture of how many pupils need to continue studying these subjects, and of the impact of the funding policy changes. IGCSEs in EBacc subjects also are counted when deriving the achievement of overall level 2 measures.

Special Educational Needs (SEN)

Pupils with special educational needs have learning difficulties or disabilities that can make it harder for them to learn than most pupils of the same age.

Pupils with special educational needs comprise of those receiving SEN Support (prior to 2015 School Action or School Action Plus) or those with an Education, Health and Care Plan (EHCP) (prior to 2015 a statement of SEN). From 2017, the relevant tables use the new and the older terminology combined:

  • SEN without statements or EHC plans – This category incudes those on SEN Support. Extra or different help is given from that provided as part of the school’s usual curriculum. The class teacher and special educational needs co-ordinator (SENCO) may receive advice or support from outside specialists. The pupil does not have a statement or education, health and care plan (EHCP). Those previously classified as School Action (where extra or different help is given, from that provided as part of the school’s usual curriculum) or School Action Plus (where the class teacher and the SENCO receive advice or support from outside specialists) will be  reported in this category.
  • SEN with statements or EHC plans – a pupil has a EHC plan, previously a statement of SEN, when a formal assessment has been made. A document is in place setting out the child’s needs and the extra help they should receive.

State sector data shows the primary type of SEN at academic age 15. Primary type of need is collected for those pupils on SEN support or with a EHC plan. Pupils who had a statement of SEN or were School Action + under the old classifications had their primary need recorded. Pupils who were previously School Action were not required to have a primary type of need recorded.

Disadvantaged

The disadvantaged measure was published in this release for the first time last year.  

In order to be counted as disadvantaged the learner must have been recorded as falling into at least one of the following categories by (academic) age 15;

  • being eligible for free school meals on Census day in any termly or annual Census in the last 6 years up to the learners current year, or the learner must have been recorded as eligible for FSM in any other termly School Census. This includes the Alternative Provision (AP) and the Pupil referral Unit (PRU) Census. 
  • being part of a Post looked After Arrangement (PLAA) through adoption, a guardianship order or a child arrangement.
  • being looked after for at least one day during the year.

Free School Meals (FSM)

Free school meal eligibility is used as a proxy for deprivation, and relates to those who meet the eligibility criteria and make a claim.

Prior to 2001, the numbers eligible for a free school meal were those pupils who had, or whose parents had, satisfied the relevant authority that they were receiving Income Support (IS) or income based Jobseekers Allowance (IBJSA) or support provided under Part 6 of the Immigration and Asylum Act 1999. From 2001 onwards this definition was modified to include only pupils where parents had indicated that they wished their child to have a free meal and had confirmed benefit receipt with the LA or school.

Under changes to the tax credit system introduced in April 2003, children in families receiving the Child Tax Credit (CTC) rather than IS or IBJSA would not have been entitled to receive a free school meal. As a result, for 2004 School Census, the entitlement for free school meals was extended to 'non-working' families who have an amount of income that extinguishes their IS or IBJSA benefit, who are receiving support via CTC, but are working fewer than 16 hours per week and thus not in receipt of Working Tax Credit (WTC). The majority of these families would have received IS or IBJSA prior to 6 April (and accordingly their children a free school meal). As a result of this change to entitlement, these children continue to be eligible for free school meals.

Income Deprivation Affecting Children Index (IDACI)

IDACI was developed by the Department for Communities and Local Government (CLG), now the Ministry of Housing, Communities & Local Government (MHCLG). The index is based on Super Output Areas (SOAs) in England. Each SOA is given a rank between 1 and 32,482 where 1 is the most deprived SOA. IDACI is a subset of the Income Deprivation Domain of the Index of Multiple Deprivation. Each SOA is given a score showing the percentage of pupils aged under 16 that live in families that are income deprived, i.e. they are in receipt of certain benefits and their equivalised income is below 60 per cent of the median before housing costs. Further information about IDACI can be found on the gov.uk website.

Local Authority District (LAD) data and Opportunity Areas

This release presents full breakdowns of national figures down to both local authority (LA) and local authority district (LAD) level. Some local authorities (those with an area code starting with E06, E08 or E09) share the same boundary as the local authority district. Also presented are figures for the 12 Opportunity Areas (Fenland & East Cambridgeshire Opportunity Area is the combination of the Fenland and East Cambridgeshire local authority districts). 

Data are disaggregated to a more granular level of geography (local authority district) and by pupil groups relating to socio-economic background (FSM and disadvantage).

Code prefixEntityGeography
E06Unitary AuthorityLAD & LA
E07Non-Metropolitan District (two-tier)LAD only
E08Metropolitan BoroughLAD & LA
E09London BoroughLAD & LA
E10CountyLA only
E12English RegionRegion
E92CountryEngland

For further information on the administrative structures within England please see: https://www.ons.gov.uk/methodology/geography/ukgeographies/administrativegeography/england 

Notes about the data

  • Suppression has been applied to the Isles of Scilly.
  • The LAD data may not sum exactly to overall national figures. The national figures are rematched every year while the LAD data is not. However the differences, if any, should be negligible.
  • Some geographical boundaries changed in 2019 (see changes to local government boundaries in England). Data from 2018/19 onwards follows this new structure.

Relationship between academic year, academic age and year group, for the 19 in 2021 cohort

The 19 in 2021 cohort is the group of pupils aged 19 by the end of the 2020/21 academic year (i.e. aged 19 on 31/08/2021) as outlined in the table below.

Academic yearAcademic age (years)Year groupAge by end of academic year
2016/17141015
2017/18151116
2018/19161217
2019/20171318
2020/21181419

Data sources

Estimates reported in these statistics are derived from matched administrative data. The first publication of figures from this methodology was in February 2005. The matched data methodology was introduced on the recommendation of a National Statistics Quality Review. This is a link to the report: National Statistics Quality Review Series, Report No.38, Review of the Measurement of Attainment of Young People.

Several data sources are matched together at an individual level, using personal identifiers such as name, date of birth, gender and home postcode where available:

  • Pupil level Schools Census data containing information on the participation and personal characteristics of pupils in state schools, collected by DfE.
  • Awarding Organisation data including that collected as part of the Schools and Colleges Performance Tables exercise, and separately from awarding organisations as part of the Vocational Qualifications Database up until 2010/11.
  • Individualised Learner Record (ILR) database covering participation and qualifications obtained in Further Education (FE) and Work-based Learning (WBL), collected by the Education and Skills Funding Agency from learning providers.

Further information on these datasets is available in DfE’s Statement of Administrative Sources which can be reached via this link: Standards for official statistics published by DfE.

The number of eligible qualifications not recorded in the datasets is considered to be minimal. The level of matching between data sources is very high.

Achievement records from Awarding Body data, the Vocational Qualifications Database and ILR are used to calculate the numerators.  Results are only published at an aggregate level to protect the confidentiality of individuals. 

Uses of data

The main use of these statistics is to provide Ministers, government departments and the wider public with a comprehensive picture of trends in Level 2, Level 2 English and maths and Level 3 attainment by age 19.

Revisions to previously published figures

Each year the data is re-matched and this can alter the attainment figures slightly (either increasing or decreasing them). Previously there may have been cases where there was double-counting for the same person (i.e. two records for the same person when there should have been one), or where one record should have been identified as two people in the matched data. There can also be instances where qualifications are reported late and these may lead to revisions in previous years’ data. 

The net impact of these revisions on the overall measures for the whole population is negligible.

These updates in relation to previously published figures are then addressed through revisions to the time-series data for the latest year’s release. Therefore, when making time-series comparisons, only figures from the latest release should be used.

Numerator adjustments

The National Statistics Quality Review recommended that an adjustment is applied to the Level 2+ numerator to avoid double counting caused by migration (see section 3 of the Quality Review report for more information). Throughout the historical series people that have been recorded as having reached Level 3 but without having any Level 2 achievements were excluded from the Level 2+ numerator as they were assumed to be inward migrants i.e. people who were not in school at age 14. They are included in the Level 3 numerator. This methodology was refined slightly from the statistics published in March 2010, and the historical series updated as a result.  The migration adjustment is now only applied to those who enter the data post-16 (i.e. after year 11), and it is now applied to those reaching Level 2 through any Level 3 qualifications (not just a full Level 3) in the first year that they enter the data.  So for example someone appearing in the data for the first time after year 11 who reaches Level 2 through the achievement of two AS levels has their Level 2 discounted.

Comparison with measures published in the School and College Performance Tables

The definitions of Level 2 and Level 3 (and denominators) do not equate with those used historically in the School and College Performance Tables to measure attainment at the end of Key Stage 4 and 16-18 study. 

For these statistics, vocational qualifications are not combined with each other or academic qualifications and are only counted as full if they have Guided Learning Hours (GLH) of at least 325 hours for Level 2 and 595 hours for Level 3.

However, up until 2012/13 the school performance tables included all accredited vocational qualifications and these could be combined with each other and academic qualifications in order to reach the Level 2 or 3 threshold (i.e. the measures of 5+ A*-C or equivalent, and of 2+ A-levels or equivalent).

In 2013/14 changes were made to the performance tables and more information can be found here: Revised GCSE and equivalent results in England, 2013 to 2014. As well as with the changes to the IGCSEs included, the main changes were: 

  • Changes following Professor Alison Wolf’s Review of Vocational Education which restricted the qualifications counted; prevented any qualification counting as larger than one GCSE; and capped the number of non-GCSEs included in performance measures at two per pupil.
  • An early entry policy to only count a pupil’s first attempt at a qualification in the English Baccalaureate subjects. This brought the two attainment measures closer together.

In July 2011, the Department for Education announced the ‘Wolf’ changes planned for the 2013/14 performance tables (highlighted above). Institutions were expected to teach the higher quality qualifications from September 2012, which significantly reduced the number of Level 2 qualifications being taught to 14-16 year olds that meet the minimum of 325 guided learning hours to be counted in these statistics. Furthermore, no qualifications now count as equivalent to more than one GCSE in the performance tables, which has affected take up of larger non-GCSE qualifications. 

A comparison between the results for attainment published at the end of Key Stage 4 up until 2015/16, and the measures of Level 2 at 16 used in these statistics, for young people in state schools, is shown in the table below (Table 1). In addition to the Wolf Review changes in 2013/14, there have been other changes to the methodology for reporting attainment at Key Stage 4 – see School and college performance measures page on gov.uk for more details.

The 16 in 2013 (i.e. 19 in 2016) cohort was the first cohort whose Level 2 at 16 results were affected by this change, leading to a fall in attainment of Level 2 at 16 from 69.2 per cent in 2012 to 67.1 per cent in 2013. In the subsequent three cohorts, Level 2 at 16 went down each year as the number of young people achieving large vocational qualifications continued to fall. When looking just at Level 2 at 16 achieved through academic qualifications, attainment has increased each year from 2013 to 2016. 

Table 1: Percentage of young people qualified to Level 2 at 16, by data source

Coverage: England, young people in the state sector

 2007200820092010201120122013201420152016
Key Stage 4, 5+ A*-C / 9-4 or equivalent (GCSE attainment statistics measure) at 1659.9%64.4%69.8%76.1%80.5%83.0%83.0%65.6%66.2%66.9%
Level 2 at 1658.0%60.5%63.7%67.0%69.0%69.2%67.1%64.1%62.6%63.3% 

Publication timetable

Published annually, usually in March/April each year. The next publication will be Spring 2023.

Developments made to these statistics

Since the designation of these statistics as National Statistics in July 2012, the following developments have been made to improve them for users:

As part of the 2020 publication onwards

  • the introduction of Level 2 by qualification type breakdowns at 16, to provide more insight on reforms introduced further to Professor Alison Wolf’s review of Vocational Qualification.
  • the introduction of new statistics on level 2 and 3 beyond the age of 19 up to age 25. Age 25 data is available for those who have turned 25 in the last three years.
  • improvements in the way we present our data in the statistical commentary with the intention of making this more clear, concise, insightful and engaging. 

From the 2018 publication onwards

  • the introduction of a new disadvantaged measure.

From the 2016 publication onwards

  • the release of underlying data, to enable the figures to be more easily analysed.

Further information is available

Previous Level 2 and 3 Attainment by Age 19 publicationLevel 2 and 3 attainment by young people aged 19 in 2020
Key Stage 4 resultsKey stage 4 performance 2021
A level and other 16 to 18 resultsA level and other 16 to 18 results: 2020 to 2021
Destination of KS4 and 16 to 18 (KS5) students Destinations of KS4 and KS5 pupils: 2020
Examination results in schools in Wales, 2020/21This Statistical Release provides an analysis of external examinations taken by pupils in Year 11 (KS4; aged 15) or pupils in 6th form (aged 17 at the start of the academic year) in schools in Wales in 2020/21 and previous years. 
Attainment, leaver destinations and healthy living: summary statistics Results of the initial and follow-up surveys of leaver destinations, post-review attainment, school meals and physical education provision (Scotland, Feb 2021) 
Qualifications and destinations of Northern Ireland school leavers 2019/20This statistical bulletin presents an analysis of the GCSE and A-level qualifications and destinations of pupils leaving post-primary schools in 2019/20.

Feedback and user engagement

Feedback on methodology and presentation is welcomed and encouraged. If you have any comments on the information collected, the timing or format of our outputs or whether these statistics are meeting your requirements, please email: post16.statistics@education.gov.uk.