Education pathways: how do they affect young people’s job prospects?

In episode 10 of Series 3 of the DIAL Podcast, Professor Steffen Schindler from the University of Bamberg discusses findings from DIAL’s LIFETRACK project which is looking at how different education pathways impact the type of job young people go on to secure. 

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Christine Garrington  0:00  

Welcome to DIAL a podcast where we tune in to evidence on inequality over the life course. In series three of the podcast we’re discussing emerging findings from DIAL research. For this episode I caught up with Professor Steffen Schindler from the University of Bamberg, at DIAL’s final conference to talk about the LIFETRACK project, which has been looking at how the type of Secondary Education experienced by young people in seven different countries affects the type of job they go on to do.

Steffen Schindler  0:28  

This is the period when education systems start to sort their pupils or students into different paths, different tracks, different streams. And we were interested in how much the sorting that takes place in secondary education already predicts inequality in later life outcomes when the students are in the labour market when they’re grown up.

Christine Garrington  0:53  

Although you were looking at a number of different countries, you weren’t looking to compare across them but within them, weren’t you? So tell us about the thinking behind that.

Steffen Schindler  1:01  

There’s already some research out and we know that countries that are considered as having comprehensive education systems such as the UK for example. They tend to have lower levels of education inequalities than countries that track their students such as Germany for example, that have different schools where they go to. The new thing that we wanted to look at in our project was even though the level of inequality might be different between countries, we were interested does the differentiation in secondary education within a country still predict inequality in that country – is it important for the formation of inequality? So in the end, we have some sort of idea whether it contributes a lot or not so much to inequality.

Christine Garrington  1:50  

So working across seven countries must have posed some challenges – how did you go about organising all of that?

Steffen Schindler  1:57

Yeah well we had a very structured approach. So we had project meetings two times a year, and where we made a plan what we wanted to achieve till the next meeting. So basically, we started off with making a plan how we measure certain things such as social origin, or the labour market outcomes such as income or social class and we want to observe when people are grown up or in their 30s or 40s even So that we standardised across all the teams and then we made a plan for what we want to analyse. And we were very standardised in the beginning and the more the project was progressing the less standardised we were – the more freedom we gave to the project teams for their analysis.

Christine Garrington  2:44  

Yeah, that makes sense. So at first look all of the research teams in the countries that you were looking at, identify this differentiation between academic and vocational routes. Can you talk us through, through that? 

Steffen Schindler  2:58  

Basically, each education system has this distinction between academic tracks or streams that eventually lead into higher education on the one hand, and more vocational tracks that don’t lead into higher education. But the systems differ, how that looks like. So we have separate schools, for example, in Germany and Germany starts very early with that separation. We have separate schools in other countries such as Finland, for example, in Denmark, were the separations a bit later. Then we have England, which is a comprehensive system, but we also have some sort of academic stream, which is defined by taking a certain number of A Levels at the end. So the systems differ a bit – what the academic stream actually is, but each of them has one academic stream. And it turned out in our analysis that it’s always the separation between the academics and the non-academic stream, and that students that on academic stream always end up with better labour market outcomes in the end.

Christine Garrington  4:08 

Yeah, let’s talk about that a little bit. So when it came to those labour market outcomes for the young people concerned, what was the main implications of the differences?

Steffen Schindler  4:18  

Well, first of all, the people from the academic streams end up let’s say higher social classes with a better higher income, a better paid job with a more prestigious job in the end. So this is one result, which was pretty obvious. But another implication is that it’s also related to social inequality or social reproduction. Because if we consider who enters those academic tracks and who doesn’t, and then this is again, a question which is related to social origin. So the selection into the tracks is heavily based on social origin in all of the countries.

Christine Garrington  4:56  

And I’m interested to know if there were any advantages to being on the vocational path compared with being on the academic path.

Steffen Schindler  5:03  

I think the distinction is not so much between the academic and the vocational path but between being in upper secondary education or completing upper secondary education. So we have many countries which have an upper secondary stream, which is a vocational stream. And if we compare those students to students who haven’t been in upper secondary education, they might even have done vocational training, but the distinction is between upper secondary vocational training and lower secondary careers. And there we see advantages where people in the vocational stream in upper secondary education, indeed have labour market advantages. 

Christine Garrington  5:45  

So some of the studies also look back over people’s life courses to their social backgrounds. That’s really interesting. What were the key things to emerge around that?

Steffen Schindler  5:53  

What we saw in all of the countries is that differentiation in secondary education is a mediator of social reproduction, as we call it. That means that on the one hand, the selection into the academic secondary tracks is highly based on social backgrounds, family background. So this is the one part and the other part as I already said, since academic tracks lead into the better labour market outcomes, and this produces social inequality in the end.

Christine Garrington  6:25  

Yeah, indeed. And it really is a fascinating and important body of work that’s been carried out. What would you like those who are interested in reducing social inequalities to take away from all of this?

Steffen Schindler  6:38

I guess the core message of our project is that we have to look at differentiation in a broader sense. So usually, we were distinguishing educational systems based on very formal criteria, whether it’s a formally comprehensive system, or whether it’s a track school system. But what we’ve seen is that even in comprehensive systems there is some sort of internal differentiation, such as ability grouping, or other things that we call the hidden differentiation. That’s not very obvious. So another example would be the distinction between private education or state funded schools which is another dimension of differentiation. And I guess the core message would be to look at more carefully, those more hidden things, the more hidden differentiation in school systems

Christine Garrington  7:32 

Yeah and where do things need to go from here then? So more work to be done as always, presumably?

Steffen Schindler  7:37  

Yes, it is always more work. Our project was heavily based on longitudinal data where we could observe students from the day the entered the school system into adulthood and this is quite complex data. And what we saw is that when we are interested in those hidden forms of differentiation, we need better measures. So I think if we want to follow up on this path, we should think about how we could incorporate those measures in in those data so that would be a message also evolving from our projects that is more directed to our research.

Christine Garrington  8:15 

Educational differentiation in secondary education and labour-market outcomes is a special issue of Longitudinal and Life Course Studies by Steffen Schindler at the LIFETRACK project team. Thanks for listening to this episode of the podcast, which is presented and produced by me, Chris Garrington and edited by Elina Kilpi-Jakonen.