British school-leavers are among the worst qualified for jobs in industry

Young people in Britain are less well qualified for the world of work than their counterparts in other industrialised countries, according to an international study published yesterday.

Experts argued that the UK had fallen behind at secondary level because it allowed pupils to leave education at the age of 16. David Blunkett, the Secretary of State for Education, said earlier this year that he wanted young people to stay in some form of education or training until the age of 19.

Thirty-seven per cent of people between the ages of 25 and 34 in the UK do not have a good GCSE-level qualification, says a report by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). That compares with an average for all industrialised countries of 28 per cent. The Czech Republic, Germany, Japan, Korea, Norway, Switzerland and the United States all do much better than Britain.

The Education at a Glance 2000 report says that those who do not have the equivalent of five good GCSEs are at a severe disadvantage in the job market. In the UK the rate of unemployment among those without a GCSE-level qualification is higher than in most other industrialised countries.

Andreas Schleicher, deputy head of the OECD's statistics and indicators division, said: "You let people leave school at 16 whereas most other countries no longer do so. Some require people to stay in education until they are 18 or 19."

The report also found that, for the first time, the proportion of young people getting a university degree has overtaken that for the United States. Only Norway has a better graduation rate than the UK. A decade ago, the UK graduation rate was under 20 per cent and in the United States it was 30 per cent. Now the respective figures are 35 and 33 per cent. The average is 23 per cent.

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