15% of pupils in deprived areas 'disappear' at 16

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The Independent Online

One in seven young people in one of the most deprived areas of Britain disappears from the system at the age of 16, says a report published today.

"This high proportion is cause for concern," say Ofsted inspectors in the two London boroughs of Hackney and Islington. The fate of 15 per cent of young people over 16 is unknown. They are not in work, school or training or registered as unemployed, says the report from Ofsted inspectors on post-16 education and training - the first to cover more than one local education authority.

The report also says many students start A-level courses when they have no realistic prospect of success and would be better off doing apprenticeships. GCSE A-level pass rates in the two boroughs are well below the national average and "the proportion of students who start courses but fail to achieve the qualification is unacceptably high".

Inspectors state: "The fact that too many weak students have unsuccessfully attempted academic courses, combined with the low take-up of work-based training programmes, highlights the importance of good information and advice about training opportunities for young people."

In one sixth form, a student was unsuccessfully attempting an AS course in mathematics with only a grade D at GCSE in the subject.

But the report points to much good teaching, vocational A-level results which are at least satisfactory, and reasonable standards in some apprenticeships.

Malcolm Wicks, the Education minister, said an independent consultant will take charge of post-16 education in the authorities. Private firms have already taken over management of parts of the service for under-16s in both boroughs. Legislation is going through Parliament to reorganise education and training for 16- to 19-year-olds.

Ministers have strongly denied that sixth forms are threatened, but one of three options put forward by the inspectors is that school sixth-forms in Hackney and Islington should close and all pupils should go to further education colleges. Another is that sixth-forms should re-brand themselves for "niche markets", specialising in a particular subject.

City and Islington College offers 39 subjects at A-level, and one school, St Aloysius College, offers only nine. There are no science A-levels in two of the sixth forms and modern languages are available in only two. In some sixth forms, the small size of the group means pupils do not have enough opportunities to exchange views, inspectors say.

Mr Wicks said the new Learning and Skills Council to be established by the legislation would bring together funding for post-16 learning, plan coherently and raise standards.

Haringey council in London agreed yesterday to call in outside help to manage its education service, after a critical Ofsted report. The council said ministers were forcing it to contract out more services than it wished, including some not criticised by Ofsted.