Long-term destinations data could transform schools – and lives

A new report shows the long-term data Ark are already using to guide students could be further enriched - with huge potential benefits, writes Sarah Taunton

A new report shows the long-term data Ark are already using to guide students could be further enriched - with huge potential benefits, writes Sarah Taunton

27 Feb 2022, 5:00

The government’s sustained outcomes data, which tracks young people for up to a year after leaving school, paints an incomplete picture of our students’ destinations. The government’s Longitudinal Educational Outcomes (LEO) data, on the other hand, tracks young people’s long-term economic outcomes – for over a decade after they leave. Unfortunately, this data is not currently provided at the school or college level, and this is a missed opportunity to inform a rich, data-led approach to improving young people’s longer-term outcomes.

This week, the Edge Foundation, in partnership with the National Foundation for Educational Research (NFER), publishes a report that explores how LEO data could be used to produce shorter and longer term destination measures. Doing so would not only support schools with their careers guidance but also inform future policy making.

At Ark we already place a strong emphasis on using destinations data to inform how we support our students to access university, employment or apprenticeships. We collate internal data (such as each student’s intended and final destinations) and external data (the current sole source of which is the short-term sustained outcomes data). These combined sources provide an invaluable measure of whether the trust is successfully improving destinations quality over time.

And that quality is really strong, but in terms of students sustaining that destination for six months or more, like so many other trusts, we’re still not where we want to be. The data we have informs careers provision lower down in our schools so that by the time they reach sixth form, students make well-informed choices about best-fit destinations. We also recently appointed Sarah Cullen as our new head of destinations to develop a granular strategy that delivers on this tailored approach to careers provision.

A key aspect of her role involves analysing currently available destinations retention data to understand why students drop out of university or apprenticeships. Looking at factors such as geography, teaching style and contact time, cultural influences and caring responsibilities at home, Ark can determine why some institutions turn out not to be a good fit for our alumni. In turn, this informs our destinations strategy for existing students.

This data could help us tackle issues much sooner

What we’ve learned from the process is to look out for surprises amid this raft of information. Teachers, parents, and students often make assumptions about destinations, but these aren’t always backed up by the data. Identifying patterns that don’t marry up with these assumptions means we can work backwards to find the real story and then decide what needs to be added to (or subtracted from) our careers provision.

For example, some Muslim students are unable to access university because taking out loans with interest is forbidden by Sharia law. While the data doesn’t point to this fact directly, it provides links or hints, allowing Ark to spot the problem and devise solutions. After identifying a barrier, the data can also help decide whether to work around it or remove it completely.

Along with our current raft of measures, access to longer-term destination measures has the potential to transform our strategy. LEO data could help us tackle the issues we see manifesting much sooner, with more targeted interventions, and it could potentially inform parent-teacher communication strategies from primary school upwards, too. It could help us build partnerships with selected universities to support higher education readiness and transition.

More than that, richer data about alumni outcomes over a decade after they leave us could provide us at network level with a transition measure for schools that join the trust. It could  allow us to identify how long it takes them to move from, say, special measures, to having long-term positive outcomes for their community.

After all, our efforts are about so much more than preparing young people for the exams they sit with us. To set them up for successful lives and careers, we need better data than their school qualifications and a year’s sustained outcomes.

Access to the LEO database via NFER is already improving our practice. Easier access and  better data could be transformative for the school system.

Edge’s report on how longer-term destination measures could inform your destinations is available here. To request your institution’s data, contact

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