My Big Fat Spending Review Idea: an extra school or college year for learning, working, caring and mentoring


26th October 2021

One of the joys of working in a think-and-action tank, as opposed to being a civil servant at any rate, is that your ideas can be speculative and uncosted. When I was at IPPR at the start of this decade our senior economist let us know that if all our policy proposals across every policy area were taken up, Britain would go bust.

In that spirit, here’s one for this year’s spending review, obviously too late to make it into any red boxes.

How about if, connected to our ambitions for an education recovery that closes learning gaps whilst improving wellbeing and career-readiness, we extended our post-GCSE education period from two years to three? Share on X Starting with the solution (see footnotes for some problem identification), a three-year programme could look something like this:

Year 1 Autumn Term (1 term in total)

  • Students are given a variety of experiences and advice to make sure they are choosing the right pathway for them and the right school or college to support this.[1]
  • Where needed, each student retakes key GCSEs and consolidates other aspects of learning that will enable success in their chosen pathway.
  • Each student is assigned a mentor, ideally linked to a possible career choice with differing levels of input depending on need (some may require regular contact with a professional, paid mentor. Others may need a less regular online check-in with a volunteer).
  • Each student is assigned a Y7 pupil to mentor for the next three years, given training to do this effectively. 
  • Each student begins their personal project and personal development programme, as proposed in the current (and excellent) proposals for a National Baccalaureate for England .[2]


Year 1 Spring Term to Year 3 Autumn Term (2 years in total)

  • Each young person starts their selected qualification pathway (A levels, T levels, apprenticeships, BTECs etc).
  • Two-way mentoring continues, aiming for minimum contact of once per half term.
  • Personal project and personal development programme continue.


Year 3 Spring Term and Summer Term (2 terms in total)

  • All examinations completed by end of January, with results announced by the end of March.[3]
  • Personal development projects are completed by the end of March, ready for a national Summer showcase of young people’s interests and talents.
  • Application process for all universities and most other routes begins in April.[4]
  • All students undertake a civic national caring service programme;[5] a placement of approximately 2 months full-time (or up to five months part-time) that gives them experience of caring within a caring-focussed institution – a nursery or school, care home or day centre, hospital or hospice.


As well as neglecting costings, I’ve also ignored labour market implications – although perhaps, if spaced over a three year period, more 16-19 year olds could benefit from part-time employment, a vital foundation for future employment. To be truly equity-centred, we would need to stress-test how our most marginalised young people can benefit from an extension to a compulsory education system that many currently struggle to access. It is clear that no school or college could achieve all of this alone. It needs the types of high-quality, long term civic partnerships with local employers, universities, voluntary and community organisations that many of our best 16-19 institutions already foster. 

So overall, this is a less-than half-formed idea. The CfEY would love to create a coalition of partners who can help us interrogate it further. If you’re interested, get in touch.

In terms of catch-up, Rishi Sunak’s scepticism about extending the school day is well-placed. I would also question the efficacy of extending the school year into the holidays. if we believe that our COVID-19 education recovery is a mission that requires longer term, radical solutions, a permanent addition of one more year of compulsory learning, caring, working and mentoring may well be worth considering. Share on X


[1] This might partly address the rising levels of 16-19 drop outs and course switching, including some quiet ‘encouragement to transfer’ (so not quite off-rolling) that happens in many schools and colleges at the end of Year 12.

[2] The National Baccalaureate Trust suggests that each student undertakes:

One personal project: ‘An opportunity to engage in an extended enquiry leading to a significant final product demonstrating a range of skills, knowledge and personal attributes.’

One personal development programme;  ‘A formal programme recording each learner’s engagement in a range of activities that complement their core learning. To include an element of service, creativity, physical activity and cultural activity.’

Their recommendations are for the 14-19 phase, rather than a post-16 phase.

[3] This might spread out the GCSE and A Level exam pressures for 11-18 schools and teachers over two points in a year rather than one. And thousands of 18 year-olds could revise during a shivering autumn/winter rather than a sweltering summer.

[4] Arguments for and against post-qualification admissions have rumbled for years, but this UCAS report on reimagining admissions is compelling.

[5] This was most recently proposed in the Children’s Commissioner’s ‘Big Answer’ report.