HC Deb 28 January 1992 vol 202 cc795-6
1. Mr. Sayeed

To ask the Secretary of State for Education and Science what was the proportion of 16 and 17-year-olds in full-time education or training in (a) 1979 and (b) the most recent year for which figures are available.

The Minister of State, Department of Education and Science (Mr. Tim Eggar)

There has been a dramatic improvement in staying-on rates since 1979. In 1989–90, 75 per cent. of 16-year-olds participated in full-time education or youth training schemes, compared to 46 per cent. in 1979–80. Corresponding figures for 17-year-olds were 58 and 29 per cent. respectively. If part-time provision is included, the figures rise to 86 per cent. of 16-year-olds in 1989–90.

Mr. Sayeed

Does my hon. Friend agree that assessing ability only in terms of academic achievement sells young people short? Is not one reason for the remarkable increase in the number of young people in training—from 6,000 in 1979 to 260,000 today—the fact that we have returned to the common-sense recognition that vocational training is of considerable value and more closely reflects the abilities of many young people? Will my hon. Friend explain how national vocational qualifications help vocational training?

Mr. Eggar

I completely agree with my hon. Friend. It is terribly important that this country takes vocational training seriously. We need to motivate young people, whatever their aptitude or ability, to acquire further qualifications if we are to have a competitive and well-motivated work force in the 1990s and the next century. National vocational qualifications are a critical element in motivating youngsters and ensuring that their achievements are recognised rapidly.

Mr. Skinner

Has the Minister considered whether it would make more sense if young men and women from working-class families who leave school at 16 or 17 and are thrown into slave labour schemes where they earn a little over £20 a week, but who want to stay on at school, could stay on and be paid a sum equivalent to what they would get on training schemes? As a result, they would be better educated and would not be thrown on the scrap heap.

Mr. Eggar

I should have thought that the hon. Gentleman would apologise to the House for the last Labour Government's appalling record. In 1979, only 46 per cent. of youngsters stayed on in full-time educational training. That figure has now risen to some 86 per cent., which shows the Government's achievement. The hon. Gentleman should recognise that.

Mr. Anthony Coombs

Does my hon. Friend agree that the welcome improvement in staying-on rates may be related to the quality of education in schools? Is not it significant that the 10 authorities with the worst staying-on rates are all Labour controlled and that many of them also figure among the 20 authorities whose students have the worst GCSE results?

Mr. Eggar

I very much agree with my hon. Friend. It is extraordinary that the Labour party consistently complains about resources and other matters yet is not prepared to point the finger where is should be pointed —at the performance of Labour-controlled local education authorities, as evidenced in staying-on rates and examination results. The Labour party should worry more about the quality of education offered by the education authorities that it controls, rather than going through its political rhetoric.