HL Deb 22 December 1988 vol 502 cc1453-5

Lord Gainford asked Her Majesty's Government:

How many young people are staying at school beyond the compulsory schooling age.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Energy (Baroness Hooper)

My Lords, at the beginning of the 1986–87 academic year, 282,000 young people aged 16 were in school in the United Kingdom. This represents a staying-on rate of 32 per cent.

Lord Gainford

My Lords, I thank my noble friend the Minister for that information. Has she any evidence that in staying on at school these young people have been able to gain suitable qualifications in order to make employment and careers easier for them?

Baroness Hooper

Yes, my Lords. Those staying on at school do achieve better qualifications. Most of them take one year courses at GCSE level in order to improve their qualifications. Typically, they achieve one or more passes and better grades in up to three further subjects. Furthermore, the A-level scene is also improving. The figures for England in 1986–87 show 122,000 students or nearly 17 per cent. of the 17 year-olds have achieved one or more A-level passes in school. When one considers full-time students in FE colleges, the number increases to 147,500 students. They will now be able to take AS-levels as well which should have a further impact.

Lord Hatch of Lusby

My Lords, can the noble Baroness tell the House what is the comparative figure between the number of students staying on after the age of 16 in this country and those in similarly industrialised countries in Europe; namely, France, Germany, the Netherlands and Belgium?

Baroness Hooper

My Lords, I am unable to give the noble Lord the exact figure at this moment. We realise that our staying-on rate is not as good as that of other countries. This accounts for the reforms that have been introduced into our education system.

Lord Peston

My Lords, if it will help the noble Baroness I can tell her that in countries such as Germany and Japan 80 to 90 per cent. of the age groups stay on. That shows how abysmal is our staying-on rate. Given that abysmal position, although, as she rightly says, the situation has improved slightly, can the Minister tell us whether the improvement, in the Government's view, is occurring for educational reasons or as a result of economic factors because young people, on the one hand, cannot find jobs and, on the other, have been disqualified from various social security benefits?

Baroness Hooper

My Lords, we believe that there is a dawning realisation that leaving school without any qualifications makes the finding of a job difficult. However, there is a good deal of evidence that the improvement in the staying-on rate is as a result of the restructuring of the exam system in the GCSE and AS-levels besides other kinds of programmes such as CPVE and TVEI. They provide more attractive forms of provision for 16 year-olds We certainly hope that the trend will continue in the right direction.

Lord Beloff

My Lords, is the Minister aware that while it is perfectly true that in Japan over 80 per cent. of pupils stay on at school after the age of 16, they do so because their parents pay for their education? Does the Minister believe that that is what the party opposite now advocates?

Baroness Hooper

My Lords, I hope that that may well be the case.

Lord Dormand of Easington

My Lords, is the Minister aware that one of the main reasons why young people do not stay on beyond the compulsory school leaving age, particularly in areas such as the northern region, is that their parents cannot afford to keep them there? When are the Government going to consider introducing mandatory payments in place of the present system whereby it is left to the LEAs to decide whether payments can be made to families or to the youngster concerned? Is this not long overdue in order to encourage and help younger people to stay on at school?

Baroness Hooper

My Lords, we have no evidence to show that giving young people a right to a maintenance allowance would have a significant effect on the participation rate. We believe that the experience of young people at school and the qualifications they achieve at the age of 16 are far more important in motivating them to stay on.

Lord Mellish

My Lords, can the noble Baroness give us some other figures so that we can compare like with like? The Minister has given figures for the number of youngsters staying on at school at the moment. Can she give us any idea what they were like 10 years ago?

Baroness Hooper

My Lords, the staying-on rate in 1975 for all 16 year-olds in full-time education at school or further and higher education establishments was 37 per cent. In 1987 that figure had increased to 46 per cent. with the addition of the YTS figures which provided a further 27 per cent.

Baroness Seear

My Lords, can the noble Baroness tell us what progress has been made in the work of the National Council for Vocational Qualifications? I am sure she will agree that once youngsters know what qualifications they can get by staying on at school they will be greatly encouraged to do so.

Baroness Hooper

My Lords, we believe that the coherence that the National Council for Vocational Qualifications will bring as a result of its work will help very much in the pattern of post-16 vocational courses. The work of the council is progressing satisfactorily.

Baroness Blackstone

My Lords, is the Minister aware that one reason why we have such a poor staying-on rate in this country is the content of sixth-form education? Despite what the noble Baroness has said about some improvement, making it less specialised and widening the opportunities, are the Government going to take any further steps to implement the recommendations in the Higginson Report and move us away from a very overspecialised three A-levels system?

Baroness Hooper

My Lords, substantial reforms were made to the whole education system as a result of the Education Reform Bill which passed through the House earlier this year. The Government will be keeping under review the consequences of those reforms and seeing how they reflect on A-levels. As we have said in the past, the introduction of AS-level is already having an impact and we expect it to have a continuing impact in broadening the base of studies at that stage in the school career.

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