The directions taken by young people on leaving compulsory education
: a study in two Birmingham schools

  • Helen E. Monteiro

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy


The thesis addresses the relative importance of factors affecting working-class school-leavers' post-compulsory education transitions into post-sixteen education, training, employment and unemployment. It focuses on school-leavers choosing to enter the labour market, whether successfully or not and the influences affecting this choice. Methodologically, the longitudinal approach followed young people from before they left school to a period of months after. Discrepancies between young people's intended and actual destinations emphasised the diverse influences on post-sixteen transitions. These influences were investigated through a dynamic multi-method approach, drawing from quantitative and qualitative methodologies providing depth and insight while locating the research within a structural framework, allowing a comparison with local and national trends. Two crucial factors of school and gender affected young people's intended and actual post-sixteen directions. School policy, including treatment of disaffected pupils and recruitment to a large, on-site sixth form, influenced the number of pupils opting to continue their education. Girls were more likely to continue education after the end of compulsory schooling and gave different reasons to boys for doing so. Family and peer groups were influential, helping young people develop a 'horizon for action' incorporating habitus and subjective preferences that specified acceptable post-sixteen directions. These influences operated within the context of the local labour market. Perception of the latter rather than actual conditions informed post-sixteen decisions; however, labour market reality influenced the success of the school-leavers' endeavours. The research found that the economics-based rational choice model of decision-making did not apply to many working class school-leavers. The cohort made pragmatically rational decisions dependent on their 'horizon for action'. based on partial, occasionally inaccurate information. Policy recommendations consider the careers service and structure or school sixth forms as aiding successful transitions from compulsory education into education, employment or training. The maintenance allowance may be ineffectual in tackling its objective of social inclusion.
Date of Award2003
Original languageEnglish


  • young people
  • leaving compulsory education
  • Birmingham schools

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