§ 2. Mr. Jacques Arnold
To ask the Secretary of State for Education what steps he is taking to encourage more 16-year-olds to attend colleges of further education.
§ The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Further and Higher Education (Mr. Tim Boswell)
The Government are committed to raising levels of participation and achievement. The proportion of 16-year-olds in education and training has now reached 87 per cent., which is an increase of 20 points since 1979. Our public expenditure plans already provide for 25 per cent. more students in further education over the next three years.
§ Mr. Arnold
My hon. Friend will be aware of the £6 million investment that has been approved by the Government for the brand new campus of the North-West Kent college at Lower Higham road in Chalk near Gravesend. May I rest assured that my hon. Friend will give maximum encouragement to my constituents aged 16 and older to take advantage of the excellent courses to be found in that college in electronics, engineering, catering and many other interesting subjects?
§ Mr. Boswell
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his comments. I am aware of Kent LEA's current provisional capital resources for the county, which are now being considered, taking account of competing claims, as I am sure that my hon. Friend will understand. An announcement on these matters will be made shortly.
§ Mr. Hardy
Although the House would welcome provision to encourage more 16-year-olds to stay on in education, does the Minister accept that the findings of the Audit Commission, which were published recently, justify the concern felt about a number of students already in further education, not least because of the high drop-out rate? Does he accept that something needs to be done 124 urgently to provide the motivation for young people who can see little point in pursuing further education when there is no prospect before them other than unemployment?
§ Mr. Boswell
I, too, have studied the recent Audit Commission report and welcome its examination of the subject. We clearly need to secure the best possible value for the existing and enhanced provision that we are making for further education. We need to have higher standards and less drop-out. The figures that the Audit Commission exposed revealed a number of qualifying factors on the drop-out rate, including those who move to other courses in the same institution or to other sorts of study or directly into employment. We need to ensure the best possible counselling for our young people before they go into further education courses, a reasonable range of courses, proper advice while they are on those courses and, above all, proper vocational paths, which we are securing through national vocational qualifications and general national vocational qualifications.