Orr, Kevin and Reynolds, Cheryl (2014) Advice, guidance and “the overlooked middle” in English secondary education. In: European Conference on Educational Research ECER 2014, 1-5 September 2014, Porto, Portugal. (Unpublished)

Policymakers in Europe have devoted considerable resources and attention to low achievers in education, especially those who are or who are at risk of becoming NEET (not in education, employment or training) (Tomlinson 2013:102). At the other end of the spectrum British and American governments, amonst others, have also focused on high educational achievers who are considered to be ‘gifted’ (Balchin et al 2008). In contrast, Roberts (2012: 203) argues, “‘ordinariness’ tends to remain overlooked in contemporary research and policy discourses”. This paper addresses that neglect by specifically focusing on the group of ‘ordinary’ middle attainers in the context of English 14-19 education, who Hodgson and Spours (2013) have termed “the overlooked middle”. It draws on an analysis of statistical data from the government-funded Longitudinal Study of Young People in England (LSYPE) in order to quantify and identify this group of young people. In particular the data is analysed to investigate the relationship between the advice and guidance that these middle attainers receive and the post-16 qualifications that they select.

Advice and guidance has a particularly important role in promoting social justice within the English context, where education and training are characterised by a plethora of highly differentiated courses for young people from 14 to 19. This diversity is the result of what Higham and Yeomans (2011: 217) refer to as “the hyperactivity of English policy and provision for 14- to 19-year-olds." The qualifications to which many of these courses lead are, however, of uncertain equivalence and uneven value, especially in vocational education and training (VET). Some of these qualifications have proved to be very short-lived. Data collection for the LSYPE covered a period (2004-2010) when new VET qualifications were being introduced in England with much publicity and when advice and guidance services were undergoing significant change.
This paper uses the rich LSYPE dataset to address three research questions:
• How many young people fall into the group of middle attainers and what, if anything, characterises them?
• What formal advice and guidance does this group of young people receive?
• What is the relationship between this advice and the post-16 qualifications they select?

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