Leading article: Shame of the UK's schooling

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The Independent Online

But it is not all a bed of roses. The report shows that young people leaving secondary school without good qualifications in Britain are consigned to a lifetime of low wages and unemployment. The penalties for failing to get at least five good GCSE passes are grave indeed - these young people earn only just over two-thirds (69 per cent) as much as those who successfully complete their secondary education. The UK is ranked second-worst in the OECD on this indicator. The penalties for those failing to get through secondary education respectably are higher only in Korea.

The new figures show that the UK has slipped down the international education league table: the number of pupils leaving school with basic qualifications failed to improve this year. The OECD warned that the social divide between people with five good GCSEs and those without has widened alarmingly in Britain. Since the 1960s, the UK has fallen from 13th to 22nd place for the proportion of pupils achieving GCSE-level qualifications.

The importance of a good education could not be clearer. Acquiring a degree makes as much sense as ever but more must be done to ensure that more young people achieve good GCSEs and do not leave school at 16. We will become increasingly divided as a society unless more is done to persuade young people that education can transform their lives. This should be Tony Blair's number one education priority. It is not easy to solve but the Prime Minister would be well advised to think hard about why young people are being turned off school and whether secondary schooling is too narrow.