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EACEA National Policies Platform


6. Education and Training

6.1 General context

Last update: 27 January 2021
On this page
  1. Main trends in young people's participation in education and training
  2. Organisation of the education and training system
  3. Main concepts.


Main trends in young people's participation in education and training


The definitive source for estimates of the proportion of young people who are in education, employment or training in Wales is released by the Welsh government.  The statistics from July 2020  are that for 16- to 18-year-olds from April 2019 to March 2020:

  • On the Annual Population Survey (APS) basis, for the year ending 2020 Quarter 1, 9.2% of 16 to 18 year olds were estimated to be NEET, compared with 8.2% at the year ending 2019 Quarter 1
  • 33.6 per cent were in full or part-time employment (33.3 per cent in 2015).
  • In 2019 12.2% (6,300) of males aged 16 to 18 were NEET, compared to 11.5% (6,100) in 2018; and 10.0% (4,900) of females aged 16 to 18 were NEET, an increase from 9.6% (4,700) in 2018. 

For 19- to 24-year- olds:

  • On the Annual Population Survey basis, for the year ending 2020 Quarter 1, 15.4% of 19 to 24 year olds were estimated to be NEET, compared with 16.2% for the year ending 2019 Quarter 1.
  • 15.2% (18,900) of males aged 19 to 24 were NEET, a decrease from 16.5% (20,900) in the previous year.
  • 16.3% (18,500) of females aged 19 to 24 were NEET, an increase from 15.4% (17,700) in the previous year.

Overall, the proportion of 16 to 18 year olds who are NEET had been gradually decreasing between 2011 and 2017, but increased slightly in the last two years. The size of this increase varies depending on the source used. The proportion of young people that are NEET generally increases with age. The rates range from 4.5% for young people aged 16 to 16.5% for those aged 21.


Careers Wales publish annual data which shows the number of Year 11 (aged 16) leavers from schools in Wales known to be NEET as at October following the end of the academic year. The latest statistics published show in 2019, there were 905 school leavers from Year 11, 12 and 13 known to be NEET in Wales, representing 1.7% of the total cohort. As in previous years, the Year 13 cohort continued to have a higher percentage of NEET (2.5% (269) individuals) compared to the Year 11 (1.8% - 537 individuals) and Year 12 cohorts (0.8% - 99 individuals)



For the UK as a whole, increasing numbers of students are gaining international experience during their higher education.

Around half of the outward mobilities which take place in the UK do so within the Erasmus+ programme. Figures from the Publications Office of the European Union state that 16,868 UK students participated in the Erasmus+ programme in 2018 (report published January 2020). In 2017/18, 17,048 higher education students participated in the Erasmus+ programme in the UK. This is an increase from 14,803 in 2014/15, reflecting a steady upward trend consistently since 2010. Additionally, in 2018 51,427 participants in 741 UK projects benefited from mobility in higher education, vocational education and training, school education, adult learning and youth for a total grant amount of €121.03 million.

Under the Withdrawal Agreement negotiated with the EU, the UK will continue to participate fully in the current (2014-2020) Erasmus+ as part of the Brexit transition period. According to the European Commission website, the possible participation of the UK in future programmes after 2020 will depend on the outcome of the overall negotiations on the future relationship between the two parties.


The Social Mobility Commission, an advisory non-departmental public body, publishes an annual State of the Nation report. Key points from the 2018-19 report include:

  • Social mobility in Great Britain depends greatly on where you live.
  • Children from working class backgrounds still suffer significant disadvantage compared to their peers from higher-income backgrounds, starting from birth and through every stage of life.
  • Twice the number of disadvantaged 16 to 18-year-olds are in further education than in school sixth forms, meaning further education institutions are a key tool for improving social mobility.
  • Apprenticeships could be a powerful vehicle for social mobility, however the reality is not as clear cut. Those from lower socio-economic backgrounds are clustered in lower returning and lower level apprenticeships. 
  • Once at university, disadvantaged students are much more likely to drop out, due to the costs of studying and cultural barriers.

Organisation of the education and training system

Full-time education is compulsory to age 16.

In terms of ISCED (International Standard Classification of Education) categorisation, lower secondary (ISCED 2) refers to 11–14 year-olds and upper secondary (ISCED 3) refers to 14–18/19 year-olds. The National Curriculum for Wales applies up to the age of 16, but there is flexibility in the final key stage (Key Stage 4) from the age of 14.

There is no separate vocational pathway. Students study a number of general subjects and under the ‘Learning Pathways’ approach (under the Learning and Skills (Wales) Measure 2009), all pupils aged 14-19 have an entitlement to choose other subject options from those provided directly by their own schools under the statutory ‘local curriculum’ offer. The minimum number of courses to be offered in the local curriculum is for pupils in Key Stage 4 (aged 14-16) is 25, of which at least three must be vocational and for pupils in post-compulsory education, aged 16-18/19, the minimum number of courses is 30, of which at least five must be vocational. Students aged 15/16 also work towards external qualifications, most commonly the General Certificate of Secondary Education (GCSE). Some secondary schools cater for pupils up to the age of 16 only, others for pupils up to the age of 18/19.

Students electing to follow a programme of post-compulsory, full-time general, academic education usually take A Levels, which may be offered in a school sixth form or in a sixth-form college.

Vocational programmes are usually offered in further education (FE) colleges. In practice, however, it is possible to combine elements of both general and vocational routes in both schools and FE colleges. This depends on the limitations of an institution’s provision. Further education colleges usually offer a range of full-time general academic programmes, similar to those available in schools, as well as a wider range of vocational programmes. 

Young people may also undertake a traineeship or an apprenticeship

The traineeship programme, introduced in 2014, is intended for young people aged 16-17 who are not in education, employment or training; 18-year-olds who have left school may also apply. The programme enables them to gain the skills needed to get a job or to progress to further learning at a higher level, such as an apprenticeship or further education.

Apprenticeships are work-based training programmes provided by employers who work with approved training providers, who manage the apprentice’s training and assessment programme.

The Apprenticeship Awards Cymru are Wales’ most prestigious awards that celebrate the outstanding achievements of employers, individuals and work based learning practitioners who have excelled in contributing to the development of the Welsh Government’s Apprenticeship Programmes across Wales. There are numerous categories for both apprenticeships and traineeships. 


Funded by the Welsh Government with support from the European Social Fund, the Apprenticeship Awards Cymru is jointly organised by the Welsh Government and the National Training Federation for Wales (NTfW).

Outside of higher education, there is a large and diverse range of vocational programmes designed to prepare adult learners over the age of 19 for careers and jobs, providing specific skills and ongoing development for work and supporting career progression.

Adult community learning extends beyond the youth age group, but also includes it. It provides both non-formal learning and formal learning.

Further information

An overview of the education system is provided by the Eurydice education system description for Wales in the article ‘Organisation of the Education System and of its Structure’. More detail on different aspects is included in the articles:

Secondary and Post-Secondary Non-Tertiary Education

Organisation of Vocational Upper Secondary Education

Higher Education

Adult Education and Training (dealing with policies, programmes and qualifications targeted at adult learners over the age of 19 outside of higher education)

UK Refernet -the UK portal for the ReferNet network which offers comparable information on VET across Europe.

Main concepts

Not in Education, Employment or Training (NEET)

The term early leaving from education or training (ELET) is not commonly used.  Instead, the term ‘not in education, employment or training’ (NEET) is used. The definitions underlying the term used by the Office for National Statistics (ONS), and reflecting those recommended by the International Labour Office (ILO) are:

Young people - those aged 16 to 24

Education and training – people are considered to be in education or training if any of the following apply:

  • they are enrolled on an education course and are still attending or waiting for term to (re)start
  • they are doing an apprenticeship
  • they are on a government supported employment or training programme
  • they are working or studying towards a qualification

they have had job-related training or education in the last four weeks.


‘In employment’ includes all people in some form of paid work, including those working part-time. People not in employment are classed as either unemployed or economically inactive. Unemployed people are those who have been looking for work in the past four weeks and who are available to start work within the next two weeks. Economically inactive people are those who have not been looking for work and/or who are not available to start work. Examples of economically inactive people include those not looking for work because they are students and those who are looking after dependants at home. Anybody who is not in any of the forms of education or training listed above and who is not in employment is considered to be NEET. Consequently, a person identified as NEET will always be either unemployed or economically inactive.