About Nesta

Nesta is an innovation foundation. For us, innovation means turning bold ideas into reality and changing lives for the better. We use our expertise, skills and funding in areas where there are big challenges facing society.

3 ways to fix the drop-out problem in education

The Local Government Association published research on achievement and retention in post-16 education yesterday. It’s not good news, and reinforces the importance of the innovative work of our portfolio companies in the area of education and employability for young people.

The report, written by the Centre for Economic and Social Inclusion, finds that 180,000 16- to 18-year-olds dropped out of AS-, A-Level or apprenticeship commitments in 2012/13. More specific to our current interest in apprenticeships, the research also found that a staggering 25 per cent of apprenticeships were not completed. Altogether, the CEEI estimate that more than £800m of Government money is wasted due to shortfalls in achievement and retention.

These numbers are worrying but avoidable. The investments we have made in this area highlight a number of improvements that would all have an impact on the achievement and retention of 16 to 18 year-olds in education.

Here are three recommendations that stand out for us:

1) Better matching – As the report suggests, there is currently too much of a focus on getting bums on seats. Whilst numbers are of course important, there’s no point if the positions are unsuitable to the young people that fill them. We need less of a focus on numbers and more of a focus on better matching. If the skills, interests and experiences of young people are properly accounted for in the process of matching them to courses or training places, retention rates will rise, as will achievement and overall employability. Last week we announced our latest investment into GetMyFirstJob, an organisation which is tackling this issue head-on. GMFJ has created an online platform that helps match young people to apprenticeships more efficiently and effectively. By providing personal guidance right from the start and allowing employers to contact the users directly, GMFJ makes it more likely that young people will find an opportunity that suits them.

2) Personalisation of learning – Research is beginning to show that a higher level of personalisation in learning leads to an improved rate of retention and attainment. There is huge potential for personalisation to be increased through the use of adaptive technology, but it is currently an under-tapped resource. Last year we invested in CogBooks, whose software is introducing adaptive learning platforms to institutions. The CogBooks platform allows students to supplement traditional teaching with real-time feedback from online tutors, improving achievement and decreasing drop-out rates.

3) Bring back coursework – Coursework enables students to demonstrate their capabilities to think and complete an extended task. It helps students develop the sorts of skills that employers highly value like team work, constant improvement and persistence. One of the criticisms of coursework is that it has involved unreliable assessment methods. However, this is a problem with marking not with coursework. DigitalAssess – one of our portfolio companies - offers a suite of tools that help students capture their work digitally, enables teachers to feedback in writing, in sounds, and in video, and enables highly accurate and reliable assessment of coursework using a novel approach called Adaptive Comparative Judgement.

These are just a few examples of what can be done to tackle problems in retention and achievement for young people in education. In today’s digital age, there are huge opportunities to supplement traditional educational techniques to increase interaction and personalisation of education and, ultimately, retention and employability of young people.

This blog was originally published on Nesta Impact Investments. Read the original blog.


Joe Ludlow

Joe Ludlow

Joe Ludlow

Director, Impact Investment

Joe lead Nesta Impact Investments, a £17.6m investment fund for innovative social ventures in the fields of ageing, young people and sustainability.  Joe is a board member of Bethnal G…

View profile