Preparing for life after school and the everyday ethics of post-16 education. Findings from a capability approach study.

This paper aims to present post-16 education as a process of capability development. In particular, it draws on findings from a recent empirical study to argue that the life of a post-16 student is made up of defining moments that are only partially understood by the current policy framework. Specifically, it argues that there is a case for rethinking education policy in light of trends in of youth development and the changing social landscape students face in life after school. The paper draws on a capability approach to evaluate the everyday ethics of post-16 life, as it is lived by students, and concludes that a policy framework based on capability development would equip students better for life after school.

The study which this paper is based on involved over 30 interviews with students at an inner-London academy sixth-form. Students discussed their everyday lives, decision-making processes, and defining moments during their post-16 education. The data were analysed in a 2-step process. Firstly, grounded theory was used to identify emergent themes. Secondly, a capability approach was used as an evaluative framework to consider the ways in which post-16 life consists of resources and opportunities for students to develop valued capabilities for life after school.

The argument this paper makes is that post-16 education is a process of identity building for students. During this process, students draw on resources and opportunities to prepare for life after school that extend beyond the classroom and include professional relationships, social networks, and intellectual interests. Moreover, the degree to which students successfully develop personal identities and aspirations for the future varies greatly. This variability is explained, in part, by a collection of ‘non-policy effects’ such as the good will of staff, supportive families, positive peer groups, and individual psychological processes. The argument made is that capability development is an ‘everyday process’ that is overlooked by policy and is achieved by schools in the absence of policy support.

The conclusion presented is that post-16 education policy is at odds with the realities of youth development. Using the capability approach as an evaluative framework for the everyday lives of students demonstrates that they are under-served by a narrow policy focus on academic and vocational interests. Instead, recommendations are made for thinking about education as a process of human development where schools should be encouraged to foster capability development in young people using agency and opportunity as central principles.