Education: It's a tough old world out there: Poor career prospects are persuading more students to stay on at school, says Donald MacLeod

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'I'M NOT staying at school, I'm leaving,' said Wayne Costigan with feeling. 'My parents are behind me. They're not interested in me staying on either.'

In voicing that attitude, Wayne is signing up with a diminishing minority of British school pupils: this summer record numbers of young people in England and Wales look set to stay on at school or college, rather than leave for an uncertain future. But are they staying on because their own views of employment prospects are changing, or is it just because the recession means there are too few jobs for them to go to?

Although most 16-year-olds would not admit it, their choice of school, college or trying the jobs market is heavily influenced by their parents' attitudes.

At Stoke Park School, Coventry, Wayne and other youngsters of 16 talked about their hopes and plans as they wait for their GCSE results.

The school has a slightly higher proportion of students continuing in the sixth form or going to college than in Coventry as a whole - 65 per cent as opposed to 58 per cent in the city last year. But, like the rest of the city's schools, in 1991 it saw a rise in the numbers staying on and a fall in the numbers entering jobs, either with or without training.

The trend looks set to continue this summer; certainly the jobs market - which in turn determines what Youth Training (YT) is available - is no better.

Wayne has set his heart on joining the RAF but will not know until Christmas whether it is recruiting telecommunications trainees. In the meantime he has applied, belatedly, for a YT place in telecommunications and electronics.

Divyen Mistry is in no doubt about what he wants to do, either - in his case, three A-levels in the sixth form at Stoke Park followed by university. He wants to be a barrister, but has the impression that the law is a tough profession for Asians to break into and is thinking of pharmaceuticals as an


'I discussed it with my sisters. My parents want me to carry on into higher education and hopefully to go to university. All my cousins are going to university, so I get the pressure from my parents,' he said wryly.

Around a third of Stoke Park's pupils are from the well-established local Asian community. There is a strong tradition that youngsters should continue their education to gain qualifications, according to Witty Sandal, a careers officer based at the school.

Last year 92 per cent of Asian fifth formers (Year 11) at the school stayed on compared with 55 per cent of white students, an even more marked difference than in 1990. Greater difficulty in finding jobs may be reinforcing cultural pressures in favour of continuing education.

Darren Lavery has applied for YT places in catering and vehicle maintenance because he has not managed to get on to the college design course he wanted. At the moment he is cleaning at a magistrates' court - 'a hard and sweaty job' which he definitely does not want to be permanent.

Paul Hobbins's parents wanted him to stay on at school to do mathematics. He agrees on the need to earn better qualifications but 'after an argument' persuaded them that he should do a vocational Btec qualification in computer studies at a local further education college instead. He felt that the college was better equipped than the school for a computer course.

In Coventry, as in the rest of the country, there is still a small but worrying percentage of 16-year-olds going into jobs with no training at all. Michelle Maudlin wants to leave school and take a job, but she is looking for training in business administration. She intends to get a qualification that would allow her to move on to another firm if she chose to.

Kim Kenningale says her parents would like her to stay at school. She will stay on to do A-levels if her GCSE results are good enough, or resit them if they are not. Like the others, she has done work experience as part of the school's programme. In her case an encounter with active toddlers completely put her off her aim of being a nanny.

All the group thought that the search for jobs in Nineties Britain would remain tough or get even worse. Where they differed was in what to do about it.

Wayne said: 'The way jobs are going, there will be even fewer in years to come, no matter what qualifications you have.' Divyen, on the other hand, said: 'If you get a degree you will have good qualifications, and it shouldn't be so hard.'

(Photograph omitted)