Disadvantaged 16-18 year olds

The Education Endowment Foundation (EEF) is commissioning a review of the most promising approaches and programmes to improve outcomes and employment prospects for 16-18 year olds who have failed to achieve the expected C grade level in English and mathematics at GCSE. We are seeking proposals from research teams able to complete this review in Spring 2016. Deadline: 9am 1 February 2016

This review is intended to inform a potential new funding round to evaluate projects with the greatest potential to be scaled up. These approaches/programmes will include work-based approaches which combine an academic core with high-quality technical education. This would bring the EEF's rigorous evaluation approach to a critical and often neglected area of educational provision and shed important new light on what works in gaining better employment outcomes for disadvantaged young people.


Achieving a C grade or better in both English and mathematics GCSE is a crucial milestone in enabling young people to progress in further studies and/or the world of work. They are the gateway to many higher ‘Level 3’ courses such as A levels and Advanced Apprenticeships and are considered by many employers to be the baseline level of qualification in the core skills of literacy and numeracy.

Since 2014 it has been compulsory for young people who do not achieve a C grade in English and/or mathematics to continue studying those subjects post-16, with the aim of reaching the expected standard.

In 2015, 56% of the cohort of c.550,000 Year 11 pupils achieved 5 good A*-C grades including English and mathematics.This means up to 44% of pupils (240,000+) may need to re-sit at least one of those two subjects. Of those required to continue studying English and/or Mathematics, more than half will do so at further education colleges, the remainder at school sixth forms and sixth form colleges, or via other providers (eg, part-time or work-based learning).

However, the prospects for converting sub-C grades across the threshold in Years 12 and 13 are not good. The 2014 outcomes (the most recent available) for students who failed to achieve an A*-C grade in English or mathematics in 2012 are set out below:

Number of students who did not achieve A*-C grade at GCSE in Year 11 (2012)%-age (total) converting to A*-C grade GCSE in Years 12 and 13 (by 2014)
English201,68311.3% (22,754
Maths186,1607.1% (13,239

Failure to achieve this C grade threshold at GCSE presents the risk of social and economic exclusion for significant numbers of 18 year-olds.

EEF Interest

Pupils eligible for free school meals (FSM) are substantially more likely not to achieve an A*-C grade in English and mathematics GCSEs:

%-age of pupils who did not achieve A*-C grade in English and mathematics GCSEs (2014)
FSM-eligible pupils63.7%
All other pupils37.3%

Nearly two thirds of all students who are failing to reach this standard are FSM-eligible, whereas only 17% of the secondary school population as a whole are FSM-eligible.

Our mission to break the link between family income and education attainment persists as an issue throughout school, including Years 12 and 13. Although we are committed to addressing the gap at the earliest stages of education and have extended our reach to Early Years to include 3-4 year olds, there remain significant issues to address with older students.

There is a substantial gap in the evidence of what works to support students who, having failed to achieve the threshold C grade by 16, are required to continue working towards reaching the expected level in English and mathematics at the age of 18.

Review Purpose

The purpose of the review is to identify, though a review of recent, high-quality, evidence, including international examples: which interventions and approaches have existing evidence of impact on young people’s outcomes; what these outcomes are; and what gaps in evidence remain. We are interested in scalable approaches that could work in large numbers of institutions.

We are primarily interested in robust causal evidence of impact using experimental and quasi-experimental designs in order to better understand:

  • Which types of approaches and interventions within schools and colleges or workplace learning settings appear to be most successful at improving outcomes for 16-18 year-olds?
  • What is the quality of existing studies (using a similar approach to the EEF security rating of intervention studies) so that we can assess the relative strength of evidence underpinning these different approaches and interventions – ie, how much is there; how good is it; and how consistent is it?
  • What does the current evidence suggest are the key features of effective practice (eg, detailed diagnostic baseline assessments; intensive interventions; specialised English/mathematics CPD; specialist ‘resit’ staff; the role of employers)?

We would expect the review to examine the impact on:

  • Attainment outcomes (eg, improvements on standardised tests, or closely related measures such as attendance)
  • Wider career pathway outcomes, such as Post-16 engagement in education, employment or training; attainment and qualification; labour market outcomes; or quantitative assessments of changes to engagement or employability skills.

The review will explore these in relation to all students, but highlight any evidence that is particularly relevant for pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds.


The deadline for proposals is 9am on 1st February 2016. We are looking to appoint someone by 9 February to begin working straight away, submitting a draft to the EEF within 8 weeks of appointment. This is because, owing to funding timetables, we anticipate opening the new grant-funding round at the start of April so we need to frame the application criteria and guide applicants accordingly. We plan to publish the finished version of the review by mid-May.

Appointment process

If you would like to be considered to undertake the review, please send a brief outline describing your proposed approach. Please include an overview of your relevant skills and experience, and an estimated budget. Proposals should be no more than 1,000 words.

We will shortlist proposals in the first week of February and then have initial conversations with the shortlisted candidates to further assess their expertise, and to discuss their approach to the review.

We will finalise the specification with the successful team. The final report will be peer reviewed. Report length and budget are open for discussion at this stage.

If you have any questions, please contact Eleanor Stringer: eleanor.stringer@eefoundation.org.uk

Please send your short proposal to: Camilla.nevill@eefoundation.org.uk by the 1st February 2016


‘Provisional GCSE and equivalent results in England: 2014 to 2015’ (DfE, Oct 2015:https://www.gov.uk/government/statistics/provisional-gcse-and-equivalent-results-in-england-2014-to-2015)

‘Level 1 and 2 English and maths: 16 to 18 students - 2013 to 2014’ (DfE, Oct 2015:https://www.gov.uk/government/statistics/level-1-and-2-english-and-maths-16-to-18-students-2013-to-2014)