Sutton Trust Written evidence (EDU0057)


The effectiveness of the 11-16 curriculum in equipping young people with the skills they need to progress into post-16 education and employment in a future digital and green economy

Education is about more than just exam results, and the curriculum should equip young people with the skills they need in further study and into the workplace. Essential life skills such as motivation, confidence, communication, self-control and coping with stress are crucial to the life chances of young people. There is wide recognition of the importance of such life skills, with 88% of young people, 94% of employers and 97% of teachers saying that they are as or more important than academic qualifications.[1] More than half of teachers believe that life skills are more important than academic qualifications to young people’s success and 72% believe their school should increase their focus on teaching life skills.[2]

State schools should be funded and incentivised to develop essential life skills in their students, particularly those from disadvantaged backgrounds, both in and out of the classroom. The development of life skills should be embedded in day-to-day teaching, with dedicated time allocated within the curriculum, classroom strategies such as small-group learning, alongside access to extracurricular activities.

Work experience is another important way to develop the skills young people need for the workplace. Yet recent research by the Trust found that just 30% of year 13s have done work experience.[3] The Sutton Trust is calling for all pupils to have access to work experience between the age of 14 and 16. This should also be accompanied by additional funding for schools, to allow them to pay for the staff time needed to support students to organise good quality placements. Experience in the workplace can be extremely impactful for students, allowing them to gain important insights into the world of work and develop essential skills, with support given to help them to find relevant placements.

The impact of the 11-16 system on the motivation and confidence of pupils of all abilities

High-quality careers guidance is an important part of 11-16 education and is vital for ensuring young people feel confident about their next steps and can access jobs that suit their talents and aspirations. Careers guidance in schools is particularly important for young people from less advantaged backgrounds, who may be less likely to have access to advice from elsewhere, or have networks which provide an insight into a range of different career options.

While there have been improvements in recent years, there is still a lot of variability in careers provision, with big differences between state and private schools. Recent Sutton Trust research found that around a third (36%) of secondary school students do not feel confident in their next steps in education and training, with only just over half (56%) feeling confident.[4] More pupils in state secondary schools report not being confident in their next steps in education and training than in private schools (39% vs 29%).[5]

The previous careers strategy has lapsed. The government should develop a new strategy for careers guidance, which sets clear aims to improve provision. At the centre of this strategy should be a core ‘careers structure’ outlining a minimum underlying structure for careers provision in all schools.  This underlying architecture, with adequate funding behind it, would help tackle inconsistencies in provision. This offer should guarantee that all schools have a Careers Leader with the time, recognition, and resources to properly fulfil their role; are part of a Careers Hub; and have access to a professional career adviser for their students (qualified to at least Level 6).

There should also be greater time earmarked for careers in the curriculum, so that teachers and Careers Leaders have time in the school day to deliver guidance. Currently, classroom teachers in English state schools are less likely than senior leaders to say links to possible careers are being made within curriculum lessons, at 59% vs 80%, perhaps reflecting some ambitions for careers guidance not filtering down into classroom practice.

The evidence suggests that good careers guidance starts early. However, findings from our research indicate that students in younger year groups are much less likely to experience careers activities. Whilst it is reassuring to see that a large proportion of older students are receiving information, guidance from a young age is key, as this can play a key role in shaping decisions made later in life. This is particularly important for socioeconomically disadvantaged pupils, who are less likely to be receiving advice and guidance outside of the classroom.

It is also important that careers advice in 11-16 education takes into account the benefits of the apprenticeship route. Whilst 46% of 17- and 18-year-olds (year 13) surveyed said they have received a large amount of information on university routes during their education, only 10% said the same for apprenticeships.[6] Research by the Trust also found that a quarter of young apprentices found the application process difficult to navigate, and 14% of young people who made it into an apprenticeship received no information or outreach before starting in their role.[7] While teachers discussing apprenticeships with their students is on the rise (47% of young people reported that their teacher had discussed an apprenticeship with them in 2019, compared to 31% in 2013)[8] – there is still much more work to do to ensure that all young people are made aware of the benefits of undertaking an apprenticeship.[9]

The role technology can play in education in this phase, including in assessment, the personalisation of learning and reducing teachers’ workload

Technology will be an increasingly important part of the 11-16 education phase. It is vital that with any increasing use of technology, unequal access to technology is addressed and considered. Digital exclusion is an issue that was thrown into sharp relief by the COVID-19 pandemic. Almost a quarter (24%) of young people attending state schools with the most deprived intakes did not have access to a suitable device in lockdown 1, compared to just 2% at independent schools.3

The increasing digitisation of schoolwork and exams means it is important to ensure that all young people have access to the technology they need. Of the education recovery and ‘catch-up’ activities that were offered to students during the 2020/21 academic year, additional online classes that students could watch were the most common type of activity offered. 50% of students in the study were offered additional online classes, with 30% taking them up.11 

Provision of devices for learning for those who can’t afford it themselves should be put on a long-term footing. This could take the form of guaranteeing every pupil eligible for the Pupil Premium access to a laptop or tablet for learning if they need it. There is also a need to invest in training and development so that teachers can use technology to full effect.


How the 11-16 system could be adapted to improve the attractiveness of the teaching profession, and the recruitment, training and retention of teachers

Investing in high-quality teaching is the most effective way to improve the attainment of pupils. Yet schools serving disadvantaged communities are more likely to be staffed by teachers without qualified teacher status, with fewer years of experience and by non-specialist science and maths teachers.

In a recent survey by the Sutton Trust, 71% of senior leaders reported difficulties in recruiting teachers this year, with a quarter (26%) saying they had faced difficulties to a great extent.[10] There has been no major improvement in the challenges faced by schools in recruiting teachers since 2019, when 70% reported difficulties. In 2019, 85% of teachers in the poorest schools said recruitment issues were affecting the quality of education in their school.[11]


Local strategies

80% of teachers are willing to consider a local move to a school in special measures with recruitment challenges, provided the conditions are right.[12] Pay, promotion, and a reduced timetable are an attractive option to many, though there are also low-cost perks that schools can offer, such as lower marking loads, quality training opportunities, and mentoring. Less classroom time would allow more space for professional development.

England has a very decentralised teacher labour market, and local recruitment strategies would help to ensure that the initial allocation of training places reflects local supply needs. Currently, there are very few government levers to help resolve shortages but, in areas of the country where there are shortages and no existing training provision, the local teacher labour market may best be served by the government proactively setting up a new initial teacher training organisation, whether as part of a school, a local trust, or as a stand-alone entity.

Only one in ten teachers is likely to consider moving 100 miles for a dream job, with experienced teachers most likely to be attached to the place they live and less amenable to moving for a job. Inducing moves across regions would therefore require very high financial incentives. As a result, focusing on local recruitment and addressing regional disparities in the availability of initial teacher training are likely to be most effective strategies.


School admissions

On a wider level, addressing inequalities in state school admissions and creating a more socially mixed comprehensive school system could help with improving schools’ reputations. A fairer admissions system, where access to schools is not as closely linked to family income, would have benefits in terms of teacher recruitment and retention, as well as attainment and social cohesion.

Teachers are attracted to particular schools for a variety of reasons. More affluent schools seem attractive due to their ‘reputation’, while teachers in disadvantaged schools are most likely to leave because they are attracted by another school. Teachers overwhelmingly agree that teaching in schools serving more disadvantaged communities tends to involve harder work (92%) and requires more skills (87%), with teachers who currently work in disadvantaged schools agreeing most strongly with this. Teachers also typically prefer to teach higher attaining pupils and classes with less behavioural disruption, with those teaching in affluent schools strongly wishing to avoid schools with behavioural issues, even if it means working longer hours as a result.[13] Perceptions of a school’s reputation are critical in determining what sort of jobs teachers will seek out in the future and, while the reality may or may not be different and relate to the wider context of the community rather than the school alone, it poses problems for recruitment in schools with more disadvantaged intakes.

Too often, those from less well-off homes don’t have access to the highest performing schools and the most effective teachers, with high performing schools more often than not located in the most affluent areas, with intakes that are unrepresentative of the neighbourhoods around them. Complex admissions criteria and appeals processes effectively result in covert selection, contributing to much fewer disadvantaged pupils being admitted than live in the local area.

This social segregation has a profound impact on Britain’s teachers. As perception of school reputation matters and many teachers prefer to teach in schools with good reputations and high attaining pupils, many of which tend to be located in affluent areas, those with the most affluent intakes have their pick of teachers when recruiting. The lack of social mix in schools may contribute to the attainment gap between advantaged and disadvantaged pupils.[14]

Options for school admissions reform include the use of marginal ballots, where a substantial proportion of school places (between 50% and 90%) would be allocated as normal, and the remaining places would be reserved for a random draw among unaccepted applicants, giving an equal chance of access, regardless of any other factors.

Another option is to give priority to applicants from less-well off backgrounds, for example based on eligibility for the pupil premium. Banding tests are another possibility, where a school sets a test for all applicants and admits equal numbers of pupils from each ‘band’ across the ability spectrum. As disadvantaged pupils are often lower on this spectrum, it may increase the number of such pupils admitted. These approaches are already being practised in some schools.



The government could consider requiring teachers in receipt of substantial teacher training bursaries to teach in more disadvantaged schools or in particular areas as a condition of the bursary. This would need to be done with care, ensuring that a place at one of these schools was indeed available to eligible trainee teachers and that the school is able to provide trainees with the sort of environment where they would be able to thrive. We welcome the rollout of the levelling up premium payments for teachers of chemistry, computing, mathematics, and physics and the early-career payments for teachers in chemistry, languages, mathematics and physics. It is important to ensure that teachers are aware of these opportunities and that they are well-advertised, with the government monitoring take-up and responding accordingly.


How spending for this phase of education should be prioritised, in the context of the current fiscal climate

Pupil premium

Since 2011, the pupil premium has been the key lever for improving the attainment of disadvantaged pupils. The pupil premium should continue to be paid for all disadvantaged pupils, including those that are high-attaining, with per-pupil rates protected, as a minimum. Schools should be encouraged to spend a portion of their pupil premium money on evidence-based, effective approaches, for example on teacher wages and professional development to tackle recruitment and retention challenges. Ensuring that schools are well-funded enough to use their pupil premium on these activities is key. Recent Sutton Trust polling has shown that 41% of senior leaders report plugging gaps in their general budget with their pupil premium funding.[15] Schools must be sufficiently funded so that funding for disadvantaged pupils is spent on activities that help to tackle the attainment gap. Since the establishment of the National Funding Formula, the balance has shifted away from schools with the most disadvantaged populations.[16]


Education recovery

The pandemic has had significant and wide-ranging impacts on young people, from academic progress to mental health and well-being. The disruption caused by the pandemic has impacted those from the least well-off backgrounds most, widening existing inequalities. The government must invest further in education recovery, particularly for students from disadvantaged backgrounds who have been hit hardest. The pandemic also exposed the scale of the digital divide. With the increasing use of digital learning, the government should ensure that young people from lower-income backgrounds have access to the devices they need to learn. 



Tutoring is one of the best evidenced activities. The NTP has the potential to transform access to tuition for disadvantaged children. The NTP should be seen as a core part of the school system and be re-focused towards disadvantaged pupils. The planned cut to the government subsidy should be postponed, to give the NTP more time to embed into the system.

28 April 2023



[1] Cullinane, C., Montacute, R. (2017). Life Lessons. Sutton Trust. Available at:

[2] Ibid

[3] Holt-White, E., Montacute, R., Tibbs, L. (2022) Paving the Way. Sutton Trust. Available at:

[4] Ibid

[5] Ibid

[6] Ibid

[7] Doherty, K., Holt-White, E. (2021) Apprenticeship Outreach. Sutton Trust. Available at:

[8] Cullinane, C., Doherty, K. (2020) Degree Apprenticeships: Levelling Up? Sutton Trust. Available at:

[9] The Trust has published a guide for employers and universities on how best to deliver effective outreach on apprenticeships, which can be accessed at the following link:

[10] Sutton Trust (2023) School Funding and Pupil Premium 2023. Available at:

[11] Allen, B., McInerney, L. (2019) The Recruitment Gap. Sutton Trust. Available at:

[12] Ibid

[13] Ibid

[14] Burgess, S., Greaves, E., Vignoles, A., Cullinane, C. (2020) Fairer School Admissions. Sutton Trust. Available at:

[15] Sutton Trust (2023) School Funding and Pupil Premium 2023. Available at:

[16] Sibieta, L. (2021). School spending in England: trends over time and future outlook. London: IFS. Available at: (accessed: 28 April 2023).