Information, advice and guidance

Making effective use of destinations data

How well is your school or college doing in terms of the proportion of students who progress to HE (or perhaps also the proportion of students who progress to more competitive universities)? By getting to grips with destinations data, schools and colleges can understand where they are, how they compare to others and what they might be able to do to improve in the future.

This article applies predominantly to schools in England. 

What is destinations data?

According to the Department for Education, there is a distinction to be drawn between destinations data on the one hand and destinations measures on the other. Destinations data might include any information that is collected on the destinations of your students. This could be data about where students intend to end up as well as where they actually end up. Schools must collect data on what their Year 11 students intend to do the following school year so that this can be passed on to Local Authorities who must then ensure that all students have an education or training destination lined up for September. There is no requirement for school or colleges to provide Local Authorities with destinations data for Key Stage 5 students, though that’s not to say that it isn’t useful for schools and colleges to collect it. 

In contrast to destinations data, destinations measures are published by the Department for Education in their school performance tables. They are freely available online to anyone who may wish to look at them. The DfE will check (using accurate administrative datasets) that a student has stayed in their destination for at least six months for the destination to officially count in performance measures. Whilst aggregated school-level data is available for anyone to view, schools themselves can see individual data by logging in to the performance tables website. 

Destinations data is more immediate and schools and colleges can make use of it straight away. Destinations measures are more definitive because the real destinations of students have actually been verified. Unfortunately, this process of verification takes a long time and from the point a student walks out of the school gates for the last time it is typically two years before their official destination will become available to schools and two and a half years before destinations are reflected on the Government’s performance tables website. 

How can you make use of destinations data?

By keeping tabs on your destinations data, your school or college can make sure it is offering the best quality careers guidance. Schools and colleges might use data to consider the following questions: 

> Do students tend to end up in the destinations they initially hoped they would? 
> Are all students aiming for aspirational destinations, or might some of them be selling themselves short? 
> Are groups of students with particular characteristics (e.g. boys, students in receipt of free school meals, students from certain ethnic groups etc.) more or less likely to aspire to certain destinations? Why might this be? 

When schools and colleges collect their own destinations data (rather than waiting two years for the official destinations measures) they are able to intervene if any of this data causes concern for any reason. Schools and colleges which are able to keep in touch with some of their former students in different destinations can also put together a powerful alumni network of role models who can inspire younger students to progress to the same destinations themselves. 

How can you make use of destinations measures?

Whilst destinations measures are less immediate, they allow for a sober reflection on the longer term destinations of students and on the effectiveness of your careers provision. By referring to destinations measures published online, schools and colleges can monitor the overall progression rates of their students to various destinations. For example, by following the steps below you can quickly see what proportion of your students are progressing into HE (and also progressing to different university types): 

  1. Load up the Government’s Find and compare schools in England website 
  2. Search for your own school or college
  3. Click the 16 to 18 tab
  4. Click the ''Student destinations - Progression to education or employment'

At this point, you’ll find two sets of data to explore – the “Student destinations after 16 to 18” data and the “Progression to higher education or training” data. In the first set of data, you can see what percentage of students ended up in various broad destinations, such as education, employment or apprenticeships. You can see how your school compares to other schools in your local authority and to England as a whole and you can also find a separate breakdown of data for disadvantaged students. The second “Progression to higher education or training” dataset provides a more detailed breakdown of educational destinations, for example by showing the proportion of students who progress to Russell Group universities and Oxbridge, and how this compares with Local Authority and national figures. This data will include students who enter HE at age 19 following a gap year, and for this reason the data will be a year behind the 16 to 18 student destinations data. 

One revealing statistic in the progression to higher education or training section is the “progression score”. This gives an idea of how well schools are doing in helping students to progress to further study once student attainment is controlled for statistically. Some schools with lower average attainment may realise when looking at this that their lower rate of progression to HE is explained predominantly by their lower average attainment levels, in which case if they are able to increase school attainment then they may well expect to see corresponding increases in HE progression rates. On the other hand there may be some schools with high attainment who have low progression scores. Some high-attaining schools may well have good levels of HE progression, which are nonetheless not quite as high as might be expected given the very high level of attainment at the school. In this instance, the school might want to take a look at its careers provision to see if it can be improved.

In conclusion

Schools and colleges have a duty to ensure that all of their students go on to an appropriate destination which will enable them to flourish in their adulthood. Effective use of destinations data is a crucial piece of the jigsaw which will enable schools to achieve this. Further down the line, schools that get this right will be rewarded with enviable destinations measures which they can then publicise and celebrate. 

Further reading

> Department for Education - How to use destinations data


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