The impact of the pandemic on school leavers

26 November 2021

In October 2021, 106 Communications (in partnership with Not Going to Uni) released the findings from our second Get Real School Leaver Insight series which looked at the impact of the global pandemic on some key areas of school leavers lives.

Firstly, we looked at the academic impact of having studied at home during two major lockdowns. 

Despite the headlines of grade inflation during the last 2 academic years in particular, nearly 2 in 3 of the surveyed students felt that the pandemic had reduced their actual or predicted grades.

And only 10% of GCSE year students feel that the pandemic will work in their favour when it comes to grades. Perhaps unsurprisingly Years 13 and 11 most impacted by a predicted or actual grade reduction.

Impact by ethnic background

Asian and mixed-race students are significantly more adversely impacted when it comes to predicted or actual grades with nearly two-thirds agreeing that the pandemic has reduced their actual or predicted grades.

Their black peers are more confident about their grades due to covid – they are the audience with the highest number of students who have seen an improvement in their grades as a result of the pandemic.

Are student views changing regarding university applications?

In 2020, 44% of all 18 year-olds applied for a place via UCAS and this is up by 19% from 2019 – many students were seeking the shelter of university with the potential of a seismic economic storm due to lockdowns. With the easing of restrictions we wanted to see the impact of the ongoing pandemic on these choices…

University still seen as the best option by all ethnic groups

Nearly 53% see university as the best option post-18; and if 100% of these students convert this view into an application, UCAS will see another huge hike in 2021 for 2022 start dates.

58% of Black students see it as the best option – and in 2020 this translated into 47.5% of all black A Level students securing a place at unviersity compared to only 32.6% of all white students.

What about their views on Apprenticeships? 

There is an equal split in those who are either more likely to do an apprenticeship now compared with those who don’t want to pursue that route.

The pandemic has seen a 45% increase in interest from Years 10 in apprenticeships – despite the survey numbers being relatively small this could represent a significant potential opportunity for many employers.

Specific ethnic differences…

We see the importance of delivering targeted comms to different groups when it comes to apprenticeships; when we look at ethnic differences, we see that one in five mixed-race students are more convinced than before that an apprenticeship is the right thing to do – the most enthusiastic of all the groups we looked at.

Conversely, black students are the least convinced about apprenticeships with a slight majority of black students never having wanted to do an apprenticeship despite the pandemic and more black students since the pandemic are now not looking to pursue that route.

Overall the picture is still not as positive as we would want it to be when looking at students general propensity to consider an Apprenticeship.

Covid has made students more anxious about their job chances.

An average of nearly 60% of our Years 10-13 are more anxious about their future job chances as a result of the global pandemic.

The least concerned about the jobs market and the most confident are those in Year 10 compared to those in their GCSE year who are the most concerned and the least confident .

Connecting with Year 10 in a meaningful way  can support greater career confidence and interest in apprenticeships into Year 11 and beyond – especially since the pandemic, with 45% of Year 10 students more likely to consider an apprenticeship than previously.

Men are 15% more confident than female students about their job chances

Only just over one in ten students are prepared to do any job for now while continuing to look. This is a worrying statistic given the current headlines around vacancy numbers and the stark news is that it is hitting every sector.

Anecdotally, in the graduate market we are hearing that levels of student engagement in virtual events is average at best. With many students gravitating to the more well-known brands offering a higher volume of roles, with the perception that they have a better chance of getting an offer. If we translate this to the schools market, then many employers who don’t have as strong an employer brand, offering lower numbers might see an impact here – with fewer students seemingly willing to compromise on their choice of employer or even sector.

Anxiety is greatest amongst Asian students, with black students being the most confident

Asian students are the most anxious about their job chances since the pandemic.  Is this to do with virtual selection processes? Is it to do with cultural perceptions – do Asian students feel there is more focus from employers on attracting and hiring more black talent given the Black Lives Matter campaign and focus on employer and university black action plans?

Generation covid and the impact on their skills development

There is unsubstantiated anxiety about the jobs market, i.e. there are over a million jobs out there but of our Year 10-13 students, only 13% of them will take any job whilst they look for a role in their chosen career.

So, we wanted to sense-check what students thought about the impact of the pandemic on their skills and what in the future employers will be looking for; and we found a disconnect in a couple of places here:

Teamwork – students have lacked face-to-face time in school and in their extra-curricular activities so the development of their team-working has suffered; and at the same time they recognise that employers will likely value teamwork more as a result of the pandemic.

Problem-solving – this is a key skill that apprentices need to learn and develop, yet our survey participants do not think that employers prioritise this.

 Ideal working week

We wanted to understand what Year 10-13 students thought about their ideal working week…

…and we saw no marked differences in preferences from a gender perspective, with almost two-thirds preferring hybrid way of working from home and in the office, and a third preferring to work full-time in the office. Only 5% were keen to work from home full-time.

But when it comes to ethnicity, we can see that Asian and mixed-race students have the highest preference for five days a week in the office. Your messaging needs to reassure Asian and mixed-race students that they won’t be missing out by working from home.

A big stand-out result is that the vast majority of black students want hybrid working by some 11% more than their white peers and 16% more than their Asian peers. Providing black students with details on your policies around hybrid and flexible working is critical to engage with this audience. One in five black students will be nervous about the longer term, and the risk of businesses slipping back into full-time office working. Be prepared for these conversations with black students.

If you found this blog of interest then look out for the next in our Get Real School Leaver Insight series which is taking place IN PERSON on 9th December at 3pm- 5pm, Office Space in Town® Blackfriars 22 Tudor Street, London, EC4Y 0A

Book your space here

If you would like to have an informal chat about the findings of this, or any of our previous or upcoming research do get in touch with Jayne –

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