The impact of the Wolf Reforms on education outcomes for lower attaining pupils

Simon Burgess, Dave Thomson*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle (Academic Journal)peer-review

1 Citation (Scopus)
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Between 2004 and 2012, there had been a significant rise in so-called ‘equivalent’ qualifications taken by young people in England in the final years of their compulsory schooling. These were qualifications other than GCSEs that were approved for young people under the age of 16 under Section 96 of the Learning and Skills Act 2000. This rise was checked by the Wolf review of vocational education, which led to wholesale changes in the set of qualifications that schools offered to pupils, and which primarily affected lower-attaining students. We quantify the impact of this reform on these pupils with respect to the qualifications they entered and what they achieved. We do so by comparison to previous national cohorts of pupils unaffected by the reform, including the estimation of counterfactual outcomes for the group of pupils most likely to be affected. These pupils tended to enter fewer qualifications overall after the reform than their predecessors, but with a higher fraction of GCSEs. Age-16 attainment fell, with a lower percentage achieving level 2 of the National Qualifications Framework (NQF). This finding is repeated in the post-16 outcome measures, which were stable throughout this period. There is no evidence from the attainment data that these reforms helped low-attaining pupils.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)592-621
Number of pages30
JournalBritish Educational Research Journal
Issue number3
Early online date12 Mar 2019
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jun 2019

Structured keywords

  • ECON Applied Economics
  • ECON CEPS Education


  • England
  • pre-16 qualifications
  • school accountability
  • Wolf Report


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