A key area of educational research is the transition from school to work. There has been considerable change to policy and practice in this area in England and Wales, over the past few years. For example, the school curriculum prior to the transition has been transformed by the introduction of the General Certificate of Secondary Education (GCSE) and the National Curriculum. The post-16 alternatives to work at 16+ now focus on the new General National Vocational Qualifications (GNVQs) alongside the long-established A levels. There have also been dramatic changes in the patterns of progression between the ages of 16 and 19. Far more young people now stay on in full-time education. It is as common now to leave education at 17+ as at 16+. Very few teenagers move straight from school to a job. The numbers on youth training schemes have steadily diminished. Indeed, the nature of youth training has itself changed. The Youth Training Scheme (YTS) has become Youth Training (YT). Training or Youth Credits (see below) and the Modern Apprenticeship have been introduced. There has also been a transformation in the management of post-16 education and training, with an emphasis on measurement of outcomes, contract compliance and inspection, in a context of deliberately created ‘quasi-markets’ supposedly driven by ‘customer choice’ (cf. Hodkinson and Sparkes, 1995). To many people working in the area, there seems to be no end to these continual changes.
This chapter looks briefly at a study which set out to examine one part of this complex situation: the transition from school to youth training of a small number of young people who were involved with one of the first Training Credits pilot schemes. Training Credits were piloted in 11 areas in England and Scotland from 1991 and in a further 9 areas in a second pilot phase from 1993. In the summer of 1995, they became national in scope. By this time, the name had been changed to Youth Credits. I retain the original name here, because that was the one used when most of the data was collected. The Training Credits scheme is based on the principle of issuing each school leaver with a voucher, or Credit. In theory, the young person with the Credit is a customer, using it to purchase training.
The use of such vouchers illustrates two key characteristics which underpin education and training policy in the UK in the 1990s—a focus on individualism