Progression to higher education and training: methodology

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See all notes (2)
  1. Updated to reflect the latest statistics release October 2023

  2. Updated to reflect the latest statistics release October 2021

Progression to higher education or training destinations for 2019/20 cohort

Progression to higher education or training shows the percentage of students that sustain an education course or apprenticeship at level 4 or higher in the two years following their 16 to 18 study. The most recent data reports on students who completed 16 to 18 study in the 2019/20 academic year and identifies their education and/or apprenticeship destinations in the two years following their last attendance at a 16 to 18 institution. The measure is designed to complement the existing destination measures (Destinations after KS4 and 16-18 study) which provide more information on the destinations that are not featured here such as employment and further study at level 3 or below. It differs from the original measures in that it uses a two-year destination window (rather than one) and calculates value-added scores which take prior attainment at GCSE and main qualification type into account for state-funded mainstream institutions. 

Who is included in the cohort 

This measure is restricted to students that studied level 3 qualifications as there is less expectation for students studying qualifications at lower levels to progress to level 4 or higher. It thus includes students that studied academic qualifications such as A levels, applied general qualifications, technical levels, or qualifications that have not been approved by the Department for Education but are notionally level 3. State-funded mainstream schools and colleges are included. 

Changes included for 2019/20 cohort

There haven't been any major changes incorporated into the progression measure methodology since the publication of the 2018/19 cohort data in October 2022.

Time lag  

Creation of the progression destination measure requires the defined cohort to complete two years of activity in their destination period. At the end of the destination years, the relevant administrative data is matched to the national pupil database (NPD) to enable destinations to be identified and reported. This means that there is a time lag between the cohort completing 16 to 18 study and the reporting of their destinations. This time lag has been reduced as far as possible.

Progression criteria 

A student will be deemed to have successfully progressed to a level 4 or higher destination if they sustain a level 4 or higher course in an HE or FE institution, a level 4+ apprenticeship, or a mixture of the two for at least six consecutive months within the two year period following their allocation to a school or college at 16 to 18. This measure will use a two-year destination window rather than the standard destination measure’s one-year window to allow for gap years and similar breaks in study. This means that the cohort will be drawn from those level 3 students that were deemed to be at the end of 16 to 18 study in 2019/20. 

How the new measure works 

The entire level 3 cohort is first grouped according to their qualification type and their prior attainment at KS4. The prior attainment for each student follows the same methodology as is used for the level 3 value-added measure (average GCSE score for students of academic qualifications; average GCSE and vocational equivalents score for students of other qualification types) but students are then placed into deciles. Qualification type for each student is decided using the same methodology as the standard destination measure (using the size of qualifications entered), however students of academic and applied general qualifications are grouped together as they have the same expectation for progression to higher education or training. As in the standard destination measure, a student that completes e.g. an AS level but spends the majority of their time studying level 2 qualifications will be counted as a level 2 student and not included in this measure. 

Within each combination of qualification type and prior attainment decile the number of students that progress to a level 4 or higher destination is divided by the size of the group to obtain the national average for that type of student. Each student then scores +1 if they progress to level 4+, 0 otherwise, and the national expectation for that student is subtracted. For example, an A level student in the 9th decile might have an 85% probability of progressing to level 4+ according to the national average. If that student does progress then they score 1 - 0.85 = +0.15. If they do not progress then they score 0 - 0.85 = -0.85. These individual scores are then averaged for the school or college and the result multiplied by 100 to convert it into percentage points. Thus a value-added score of +12 represents a 12 percentage point increase on progression to level 4+ when compared to the national expectation for that school or college’s intake of students. 

Level 4+ education or training must be sustained for six consecutive months at any point within the two-year destination window to count as a positive destination.  

In all cases, the destination (and location, for top third/Russell group/Oxbridge breakdowns) will be determined by the activity in their last period of six consecutive months within the two-year destination window. For example, a student that starts a degree at a top third university but switches to a level 4 or higher apprenticeship in their second year will receive an apprenticeship destination.  

Students that do not sustain six consecutive months in a single level 4 or higher destination but do have six consecutive months of activity across a mixture of level 4 or higher destinations will be counted as having progressed to level 4 or higher, with their destination chosen according to what they were doing in their last month of sustained activity. 

For each state-funded mainstream school or college with a cohort at 16-18, we will report the level 3 cohort size, the percentage that progressed to a level 4+ destination, the national comparator percentage, the resulting value-added score, and provide a banding that puts the score in context. We will additionally report these items separately for the different qualification groups. We will also show breakdowns of the destination type (apprenticeship, level 4 or 5 course, degree) and destination provider (top third, Russell group, Oxbridge) for the level 3 cohort. 

Value-added scores are calculated for a school based on a specific cohort of pupils, but a school may have been just as effective and performed differently with a different set of pupils. To account for this natural uncertainty, 95% confidence intervals (CI) around the scores are used as a proxy for the range of scores within which each school’s underlying performance measure can be confidently said to lie.  Confidence intervals are wider for small cohorts, and narrower for large cohorts, as large cohorts are more likely to have contributions from unusual students average out.

Data sources 

Higher education and apprenticeship destinations at level 4+ are derived from 3 sources as for the standard tables. 

  • Individualised learner record (ILR)
  • Higher education statistics agency (HESA) student record
  • HESA alternative provider student record

Apprenticeships and study in further education colleges is reported in the ILR. Study in Higher Education Institutions (HEIs) and alternative providers (HEAPs) is recorded by HESA.  

When deciding which higher education institutions are classed as top-third, we previously used provider tariff groupings produced by HESA. However, HESA no longer produce these groupings. The Department is considering different options for the groupings but in the short term has decided to continue to use the 2019/20 groupings.

Course type and level 

Most qualifications have a difficulty level. Information on qualification levels can be found on Vocational qualifications in England are regulated by Ofqual as part of the Regulated Qualifications Framework (RQF). There are two parallel frameworks for higher education qualifications of UK degree-awarding bodies: The Framework for Higher Education Qualifications of Degree-Awarding Bodies in England, Wales and Northern Ireland (FHEQ) and The Framework for Qualifications of Higher Education Institutions in Scotland (FQHEIS).  

Higher learning aims at levels 4 to 7 are included in the higher education breakdown of our standard tables. Levels 7 and 8 are generally postgraduate study. No students of this age were recorded in level 8 study and the very small number entering level 7 aims have been included with level 6. 

A small number of students have participation in more than one higher level course aim or setting over the two years. If study was sustained in both years, a course aim entered in year 2 is taken. If aims at more than one level are entered, the higher level aim is reported.  

Level 6 (degree level study) 

Undergraduate Bachelors or Honours degrees are level 6 qualifications, as are ordinary (non-honours) degrees, graduate certificates and diplomas, and level 6 certificates, diplomas, and awards. Degree apprenticeships combine employment with study towards a relevant degree at a sponsoring HEI. 

Study towards integrated undergraduate/postgraduate Masters degrees has been included as a first degree. There are a very small number of students working towards level 7 qualifications at this age that are included. 

First degrees are as defined by HESA and information on specific course aims  

Level 4/5 (higher level study below degree level) 

Levels 4 and 5 are equivalent to a Higher Education Certificate or Diploma or a Foundation Degree and includes study towards these and other higher level technical qualifications and higher apprenticeships.  

Interim evidence on level 4 and 5 qualifications in England was published in 2018. 

16 to 18 qualification type and prior attainment 

Students who entered A level, academic, applied general or tech level qualifications of at least the size of one AS level are included in all applicable groups. Information on 16 to 18 qualifications can be found on 

Key stage 4 (prior) attainment (achievement at age 16) is based on the pupils’ GCSE results for academic qualification students, and GCSE plus equivalent results across all approved qualifications for students of other qualification types. Average point scores (as used in the key stage 4 reporting year) are used to determine which prior attainment decile each student is placed in. Deciles have been used rather than grades to avoid having too few students in the upper and lower grade groups. The lower boundary for each decile is shown in the table below. 

Prior Attainment Decile Lower boundary average points per entry score 
10 7.40
No prior attainment Pupil was not present in KS4 data and so was excluded from the progression measure 

Prior attainment for these students is mainly from 2017/18, although some students will have completed year 11 in 2016/17 (and a very small number in other years). 

Students with missing prior attainment at KS4 information (e.g. those who arrived from abroad) are excluded from the cohort.

Data quality and coverage 

The coverage of progression to higher education is much higher than in our standard tables because activity over two years is considered. This may give a fuller picture of participation in HE and higher apprenticeships shortly after the transition from 16 to 18.  

As with our standard tables, higher education undertaken outside of the UK, or in further education colleges outside of England is not included. 

Characteristics information

Data sources and timing  

Information on gender was captured at the latest year available (for example in year 13) from NPD, which includes data from census (schools), ILR (colleges) and awarding body data (independent schools).  

Information on ethnicity was captured at the latest year available (for example in year 13) for students in schools from the census. The ILR does not collect information on ethnicity. Data on ethnicity in colleges was based on the student’s school census record in year 11, where available.  

Free school meal eligibility and disadvantage status were captured from NPD data as at year 11, for all students.  


Major ethnic group Minor ethnic groups included 
White White British, White Irish, Traveller of Irish Heritage, Gypsy/Roma, any other white background  
Mixed White and Black Caribbean, White and Black African, White and Asian, any other mixed background  
Asian or Asian BritishChinese, Indian, Pakistani, Bangladeshi, any other Asian background  
Black or Black BritishBlack Caribbean, Black African, any other black background  
Other ethnic group ‘Other’ ethnic group. Any other ethnic group not included above  
Unclassified Refused or Information not yet obtained  

Special Educational Needs   

The Special Educational Needs and Disability (SEND) provisions in the Children and Families Act 2014 were introduced on 1 September 2014. From September 2014, children or young people who are newly referred to a local authority for assessment are considered under the new Education, Health and Care (EHC) plan assessment process.  

The legal test of when a child or young person requires an EHC plan remains the same as that for a statement under the Education Act 1996. Transferring children and young people with statements to EHC plans will be phased and in 2016/17, the transfer was completed for KS4 data. In addition, the previous ‘School Action’ and ‘School Action Plus’ categories were replaced by ‘SEN support’. There are no legacy categories recorded in the KS4 data, but some remain in the 16-18 data.  

See the SEND code of practice: 0 to 25 for more detailed information on the reforms.  

Pupils with special educational needs are currently classified as follows:  

SEN category description 
SEN Support 

From 2015, the School Action and School Action Plus categories have combined to form one category of 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. 

Statement of special educational needs (statement) or Education, Health and Care (EHC) Plan 

A pupil has a statement or EHC plan when a formal assessment has been made.  

A document is in place that sets out the child’s need and the extra help they should receive. 

16-18 Pupils with SEN and Learners with LLDD   

Destinations after 16-18 study are shown for students with SEN in schools and learners with learning difficulties and disabilities (LLDD) in colleges. College data is self-identified and records a learning difficulty and /or disability in the individualised learner record (ILR) whilst schools identify students with SEN in the school census. 

SEN indicators were taken from the 2019/20 school census at 16-18 and LLDD indicators were taken from 2019/20 ILR. Learners were included if they had an indicator at any point during the year. As SEN is only applicable for students in schools and LLDD is only applicable for colleges, information is presented in separate tables for schools and colleges.  

Disadvantaged pupils  

We show destinations for disadvantaged pupils and all other pupils.  

Disadvantaged pupils are defined as those who were eligible for the pupil premium when in year 11. In 2019/20, this included pupils who had:  

  • been eligible for free school meals at any point in the previous six years
  • been looked after by their local authority for at least 1 day
  • left care through adoption, a special guardianship order, or a child arrangements order (previously known as a residence order).

This information comes from the school census and local authority records. 

For the 16-18 cohort, their disadvantage status in year 11 is used. Pupil premium funding was introduced in 2011; however, there have been some minor changes to the rules for eligibility each year, affecting a small number of pupils.  

16-18 students who had not attended a state-funded school in England in year 11 (for example because they were in independent schools, in other parts of the UK, or overseas) are not known to be disadvantaged and are included in all other pupils. 

Geographic information

Geographic information is presented at regional, local authority (LA), parliamentary constituency and local authority district (LAD) level for areas within England. 

Information on UK geographies can be found from the Office for National Statistics

Where pupils and institutions are recorded 

Pupils and students are reported in the area in which their school or college is located and not by home address (residency). In some cases, pupils will live in a different local authority area to the one they are reported in, including some pupils attending schools in England who live in Wales or Scotland. 

Information on cross-border movements is published in the schools, pupils and characteristics statistical series. 

At LA level, schools or colleges are recorded in their administrative local authority that may not reflect their postcode location. This differs from LAD level where schools and colleges are recorded in line with their postcodes. 

Other Reporting Information

School Sixth Form Consortia/Feeders  

Schools can engage in consortium arrangements for sixth form provision. Some schools report at school level and some report at consortia level.

Aggregate consortia results are reported under the heading Sixth form centre/ consortia. The exception is Harris Federation Post-16 sixth form consortium where only the aggregated results are reported at institution level and not individual feeder schools.  

When aggregating up to Local Authority and national level from institutions, consortia are not included to avoid double counting.  

Selective institutions 

This publication includes data by selective school status and the groupings are defined as follows: 

  • Selective schools
  • Non-selective schools in highly selective local authority areas
  • Non-selective schools in other local authority areas (including areas with low levels of selection)

A local authority area is deemed highly selective if 25% or more of secondary pupils attend selective schools. See Annex for details of selective LA areas. 

How data is shown and disclosure control

 Disclosure control for confidentiality reasons 

The Code of Practice for Statistics requires us to take reasonable steps to ensure that our published or disseminated statistics protect confidentiality. Where appropriate we apply disclosure control to protect confidentiality. Symbols used in the publication 

The following symbols have been used in this publication:  

( 0 ) zero  

( c ) small number suppressed to preserve confidentiality or for accountability reasons  

( z ) not applicable  

(x) not available

( low ) positive % less than 0.05 (or 0.5 where rounding to 0 decimal places) 

Small cohorts  

At institutional level, where cohorts are less than 6, all data are suppressed. This is to ensure that schools are not held to account for small cohorts of pupils rather than for confidentiality reasons.  

This does not apply to levels of data other than institutional level. 

Similar publications

Widening Participation in higher education  

The following measures looking at widening participation are published:  

Estimated proportions of pupils with and without free school meals (FSM) who progressed to higher education  

Estimated proportions of pupils from independent and state schools progressing to higher education and progressing to the most selective higher education institutions (HEIs)  

Further information can be found in the Widening Participation Measures publication. 


There are some key differences between these measures and destination measures 

Scope: The destination measures consider those progressing to all destinations including higher education (HE), further education colleges and school sixth forms, and those going into employment, whilst the widening participation measure only considers those who progress to HE. 

Timing: In addition, the destination measures only include those who are in sustained participation during the first two terms after KS4 16-18 study, whilst the widening participation measure is looking at HE participation by the time the students reach academic age 19, which is potentially a year after completing the qualifications. 


  • Widening participation free school meals measure: The widening measure covers pupils aged 15 in state-                 funded schools, by free school meal status at age 15, who entered HE by age 19. The 16-18 destination                   measure looks at students in the October to March after 16-18 study.
  • Widening participation most selective HEI measure: From last year the destinations measure cohort                         includes all qualifications at level 3, level 2, level 1, entry level and other students. Whilst the widening                     participation measure includes those who studied at least one A Level or equivalent qualification at                             academic age 17.


Adult further education: outcome-based success measures  

FE Outcomes based success measures cover the destinations, and progression of all adult (19+) FE and skills learners that achieved an eligible further education (FE) learning aim, all age Apprenticeship learners, and learners that completed a traineeship. Some earnings data are also produced for Adult FE & Skills and Apprenticeship learners. 

The standard sustained positive destination measure shows the proportion of all adult learners who progress to a sustained destination into learning or employment (or both) following completion of their FE learning.  

More information can be found in the FE Outcomes based success measures publication.  


The timing of the ‘sustained’ destination definition is the same as for key stage 4 and 16-18 destinations. A similar range of administrative data sources are used to determine whether education or employment has been undertaken in the following year including HMRC / DWP data from LEO using Pay-As-You-Earn (PAYE) records and sole trader returns within self-assessed employment data. Some specific destination breakdowns shown may differ and are more appropriate to the learners included. 

The main difference is coverage of learners by age and course type. FE outcome-based success measures cover adult learners (19+), along with all age Apprenticeships who have achieved an eligible funded course within the academic year. All age Traineeships that completed their learning aim are also included. This is broken down by the highest level of study aim, from entry level to level 4+.  


Participation in Education, Training and Employment statistical publication   

This statistical publication provides estimates of participation in education and training, and those who are not in education, employment or training (NEET) for 16, 17 and 18 year olds in England. All 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 (31st August).  

Further information can be found in the Participation in Education, Training and Employment statistical first release. 


Differences between the destination measures and the Participation statistical publication can be expected for two main reasons:   

  • Timing: the destination measures are based on a sustained destination over 6 months (October-March), whereas the Participation statistical publication just requires participation at a point in time, or snapshot, around the end of the calendar year.
  • As the destination measures’ requirement is for sustained participation, with all other things being equal, this will result in lower numbers of students being counted as being in an education or employment/training destination as they need to be participating for at least 6 months.
  • Coverage: The Participation statistical publication covers a different cohort of students.

It estimates participation for the entire population of academic age 16 year olds in England, rather than those who had completed key stage 4 the previous year. Some pupils complete key stage 4 earlier or later than academic age 15 and not all 16-year olds had previously been in schools in England. 

Since the 2016/17 cohort the 16-18 destinations measures have included students of qualifications at all levels (level 3, level 2, level 1, entry level and other students).

The Participation statistical publication describes the activity for all young people in England of academic ages 16, 17 and 18 separately by age, irrespective of what they were doing in the previous year. 


Annex 1: History of change and timeline

Publication DateCohortDetail
October 2019 2015/16  

‘Progression to higher education or training’ measure published for the first time following on from experimental statistics published in 2018. 

Underlying data now in machine-readable format. 

November 20202016/17Top third Higher Education Institution (HEI) selectivity: alongside the number of students progressing to a sustained degree destination, the progression measure tracks how many of these students went on to study at a top-third HEI. This used to represent the top 33% of HEIs when ranked by the average A level UCAS points of their intakes. A new “Higher tariff” methodology is used, such that rather than representing the top 33% of HEIs, it now selects just enough HEIs to represent 33% of the students. This usually results in fewer institutions being included in the top third because HEIs with higher average entry points tend to have larger intakes. This can be seen in an apparent drop in top-third destinations compared to last year's progression measure. 



Annex 2: Local authority areas with selective schools

Highly selective local authorities

Local authority codeLocal authority name

Local authorities with some selection 

Local authority codeLocal authority name
314Kingston upon Thames
815North Yorkshire
861Stoke on Trent
894Telford and Wrekin

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