Moving on from initial GCSE ‘failure': Post-16 transitions for ‘lower attainers’ and why the English education system must do better

Ruth Lupton, Stephanie Thomson, Sanne Velthuis, Lorna Unwin

Research output: Book/ReportCommissioned Report


This report is an output from a two-year project, Choice and Progression in the Transition from Secondary Education, funded by The Nuffield Foundation and conducted by The University of Manchester and The University of Aberdeen, running from January 2018 to October 2020.
Original languageEnglish
PublisherNuffield Foundation
Number of pages140
Publication statusPublished - Feb 2021

Bibliographical note

We are grateful to the Nuffield Foundation for their funding and support.
The Nuffield Foundation is an independent charitable trust with a mission to advance social well-being. It funds research that informs social policy, primarily in Education, Welfare, and Justice. It also funds student programmes that provide opportunities for young people to develop skills in quantitative and scientific methods. The Nuffield Foundation is the founder and co-funder of the Nuffield Council on Bioethics and the Ada Lovelace Institute. The Foundation has funded this project, but the views expressed are those of the authors and not necessarily the Foundation. Visit
The administrative data drawn on in the report is controlled by the Department for Education (DfE) and access to it was made possible through the Secure Research Service (SRS) facility run by the Office for National Statistics (ONS). ONS has agreed that the results in this report can be published but any methodological decisions or errors are the responsibility of the authors. The statistical data is Crown Copyright and the work uses research datasets which may not exactly reproduce National Statistics aggregates.
This project was conducted during a period of substantial disruption, first in terms of access to official administrative data and, second, as a result of the COVID lockdown, restricted physical access to the secure workspaces designated for data analysis. We are grateful to the Universities of Manchester and Aberdeen for supporting the project during this difficult time, including extending funding and employment contracts and juggling other responsibilities. We especially thank our colleagues Rebecca Bromley and Alex Macdougall who were vital team members, supporting research, analysis, dissemination and project administration, and Professor Carlo Raffo, who managed the project in its final weeks. Throughout, we were very well supported by an expert advisory group at the national level and by two local expert advisory panels in Greater Manchester and North of Tyne, whose members we thank wholeheartedly for their time, energy and interest. Many other professionals in these two areas helped us to navigate the complexities of the post-16 education and training landscape and to better understand the enablers and barriers they face in designing and managing provision, despite their own increased workloads. Finally, we especially thank the young people who participated in the research. Their willingness to share their experiences has enabled a rich picture of young people’s transitions to emerge.


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