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Ofsted warning on drop-out numbers

Too many young people are still dropping out of sixth-form or college, "disappearing" from the radar and not being given the right chances that will help them in the future, Ofsted has warned.

Well-intentioned Government reforms to keep teenagers in education and training until the age of 18 are not having a strong impact, and high numbers of youngsters are "not well served" by their courses, according to the watchdog.

In a damning report into study programmes for 16-19-year-olds, inspectors said that in many schools and colleges, students' needs are not being met, that too much teaching of English and maths is not up to scratch, too few young people go on to an apprenticeship, employment or further learning, and careers advice is poor.

Speaking as the study was published, Ofsted chief inspector Sir Michael Wilshaw said the principle behind new rules requiring young people to stay in education and training was "undoubtedly a good one".

But he warned: "The gap between the good intentions of Government policy in relation to this age group and the reality of what is happening on the ground is worryingly wide.

"The simple truth of what's happening at the moment is that too many of our young people, particularly those from disadvantaged backgrounds and those who want to follow vocational pathways, are not yet being well served by these programmes.

"As chief inspector, I am very concerned that: too many young people drop out of their post-16 education and training course at too early a stage.

"Too many of these young people who do drop out simply disappear from the educational radar and are not properly tracked by the local authorities."

Not enough teenagers have the chance to do meaningful work experience, and many young people do not know what they want to do at age 18 because careers guidance is "shockingly poor", Sir Michael said.

He added that many 16 to 19-year-olds are not making good enough progress in English and maths because teaching is not up to scratch, with 84% of those who do not score at least a C in these subjects in their GCSEs at age 16 still failing at age 19.

Sir Michael also said he had particular concerns that education and training is not preparing young people for the world of work.

The report found that although the new study programmes for 16-19-year-olds were meant to be tailored to individual students, there was little evidence of the "transformational step change" intended by the introduction of the system.

Many students were not moving on to higher levels of study, and most schools and colleges were not introducing proper work experience.

It concludes that there was a particular problem with English and maths, especially for those that needed to get to GCSE level in the subjects, with not enough good teaching and a shortage of decent teachers.

Most vocational training programmes, that were equivalent to A-levels, lacked good work experience that would prepare students for employment or further study, inspectors said.

The report calls for the Government to ensure that there is a reliable system for tracking young people as they move between different types of education and training and for local councils to be given powers to make sure they are given full information by schools, academies and colleges on youngsters who drop out of their studies.

Giving Ofsted's further education and skills annual lecture, Lorna Fitzjohn, the inspectorate's director for further education and skills said: "Not enough schools, academies and providers are meeting their requirement to inform the local authority in a timely manner when a young person leaves their institution before completing a learning programme."

A Department for Education spokeswoman said: "The number of young people Neet (not in education, employment, or training) is at its lowest level since consistent records began.

"And it is encouraging that this report by Ofsted shows our plan for post-16 education is already having a positive impact just two terms after coming into effect.

"The report shows positive early signs that schools and colleges are entering young people for more rigorous qualifications. In fact, the latest figures show that the numbers of those over the age of 17 taking GCSEs in English and maths are rising, giving thousands more the vital knowledge and skills demanded by employers."

Professor Sue Maguire, Centre for Education and Industry, University of Warwick said: "Ofsted's focus on the alarmingly high numbers of young people in the NEET group is a welcome addition to the groundswell of informed opinion calling for urgent action to address this problem.

"It is right to say that we have large numbers of 16-18-year olds whose destinations are 'unknown', due to cuts in local services which have reduced the robustness of tracking and guidance services - at a time when youth unemployment rates/NEET rates are officially reported to be falling.

"Effective mapping and tracking systems which put the needs of young people first, with the measuring the performance of schools and colleges being a subsidiary requirement, are therefore essential for the targeting of policy interventions on the NEET group."

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