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Stark destination gap: disadvantaged pupils twice as likely to be out of work or education as their wealthier peers

New Teach First analysis of DfE data reveals a significant destinations gap between disadvantaged pupils and their wealthier peers five years after they finish their GCSEs. 

  • 1 in 3 (33%) poorer young people are not in sustained work or education 5 years after GCSEs, compared to 1 in 7 (14%) of their wealthier peers.
  • Disadvantaged young people (13%) are almost twice as likely to drop out of their A-Level course compared to non-disadvantaged peers (7%). 
  • Disadvantaged pupils are more likely to end up out of sustained work or education (33%) than they are to go to university (27%).

As thousands across the country await their GCSE results this week, new analysis has revealed a stark ‘destinations gap’ - with young people from disadvantaged backgrounds more than twice as likely as their wealthier peers to not be in sustained work or education [1] five years after completing their exams.

Analysis of recently-published Department for Education (DfE) data, conducted by education charity Teach First, shows that 1 in 3 (33%) young people from disadvantaged backgrounds are not in any form of sustained education, apprenticeship or employment destination five years after they finish their GCSEs, compared to just 1 in 7 (14%) of their non-disadvantaged peers.

By contrast, comparable data for the same academic year (2019/20) reveals that only 1 in 4 (27%) disadvantaged pupils go to university – meaning they are more likely to end up out of sustained work or education altogether than they are to reach higher education. Non-disadvantaged young people, however, are more than three times as likely to progress university (46%) than they are to end up out of sustained work or education altogether.

The gap of those not in sustained destinations grows significantly in the years following completion of GCSEs: 

  • One year after taking GCSEs the destinations gap is 8% (12% disadvantaged vs 4% non-disadvantaged). 
  • Three years after taking GCSEs the destinations gap is 14% (27% disadvantaged vs 13% non-disadvantaged).
  • Five years after taking GCSEs the destinations gap is 19% (33% disadvantaged vs 14% non-disadvantaged).

Teach First’s analysis of additional DfE data also reveals that this destinations gap is largely driven by higher drop-out rates for disadvantaged pupils in education after they finish their GCSEs. In 2019/20, young people from disadvantaged backgrounds were almost twice as likely to drop out of their A-Level course than their non-disadvantaged peers (13.2% compared to 6.9%).

Teach First believes that the best the way to tackle the ‘destinations gap’ would be through the introduction of pupil premium funding for 16–19-year-old pupils, which currently does not exist. Pupil premium is funding aimed at supporting the education of disadvantaged pupils eligible for free school meals and is currently available for all pupils up to the age of 16.  

The charity argues that the introduction of a 16–19-year-old pupil premium would improve both the attainment and retention of disadvantaged young people in key stage 5 and help close the ‘destinations’ gaps. 

The charity has also recently called for a series of recommendations to improve careers education which they believe could make a tangible impact on young people’s employability. This includes businesses offering work experience for pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds to provide essential careers skills and inspire them in their future pursuits. 

Russell Hobby, CEO of Teach First, said:

“The destinations gap is a priority for the future of our young people – and the prosperity of our country. It cannot be right that you’re significantly less likely to have the same employment or education opportunities simply because your family has less money.

“We urge the new Prime Minister to tackle inequality in education – to ensure every child is given a fighting chance of a bright future. It’s not just a matter of fairness – our country’s long-term prosperity depends on the skills of the next generation of young people.” 

Raza Ali, Headteacher of The Chalk Hills Academy, part of the Shared Learning Trust in Luton, said: 

“Our teaching staff have been brilliant in helping our pupils navigate through their exams. We’ve provided extra revision, in-depth careers education and found ways to teach soft skills and build resilience. While we’re doing everything we can to help our pupils succeed in their GCSEs, we need more support. 

“Schools that serve disadvantaged communities need more funding to fully recover from the pandemic and get through the current cost of living crisis. Due to inflation, we can’t afford to increase our teachers’ pay and provide all our GCSE level pupils with laptops for revision. We need to give our young people the best chance of succeeding in the future. If we don’t tackle this issue now, it’ll be our society that suffers in the future.”


  1. To be counted in a destination, young people have to be recorded as having sustained participation for a 6 month period in the destination year. This means attending for all of the first two terms of the academic year (October to March) at one or more education providers, or spending 5 of the 6 months in employment, or a combination of the two. Alternatively, a sustained apprenticeship is recorded when 6 months continuous participation is recorded at any point in the destination year.



Notes to Editor

The key insights in this article were drawn from data published by the Department for Education.
The sustained destinations statistics were published on 7 July 2022 and the primary source can be accessed here.
The statistics on higher education progression rates by pupil characteristic were published on 14 October 2021 and can be accessed here.
The statistics regarding retention in A-level courses of study were published on 26 November 2020 and the primary source can be accessed here.  
Further explanation of the methodology used is available upon request, via 

About Teach First

Teach First is an education charity which is fighting to make our education system work for every child. Backing the schools facing the toughest challenges, the charity finds and trains teachers, develops their leadership teams and plugs them into networks of diverse expertise and opportunities to create real change. 
The charity has now placed over 15,000 teachers and leaders, has over 100 head teachers in their Training Programme alumni and has supported over two million pupils.

Those on the Training Programme commit to a minimum of two years at their partner school - gaining a fully funded Postgraduate Diploma in Education and Leadership (PGCE) and earning a salary whilst they train. More than half then stay on for a third year, where they have the option to top up their qualification to a master’s. Over 60% of all the teachers who’ve completed training since 2003 are currently teaching. 

As well as recruiting new teachers into the profession, the charity provides a range of support for schools, including programmes to help develop teachers at every stage of their career. 

Teach First currently operates in all regions across England: London, West Midlands, East Midlands, Yorkshire the Humber, North West, North East, South East, South Coast, South West and the East of England.

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