'Secondary schools fail 40% of their pupils'

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The Independent Online

Secondary schools in the UK are still failing 40 per cent of their pupils, says a study published today.

The report by the National Commission on Education says that almost 39 per cent of youngsters in Britain leave full-time education without a worthwhile qualification; in France and Germany that figure is only 20 per cent.

It also says those youngsters, who leave school without A* to C grade GCSE passes, could benefit from top-class vocational education.

Ten years ago, the commission produced a devastating critique of Britain's education performance after a review of schools' performance, following an inquiry led by the former head of the Government's statistical service Sir Claus Moser.

The follow-up report, chaired by Sir John Cassels, the director of the commission, says: "Time appears to have been wasted in clinging to a singularly narrow British conception of what constitutes a good education.

"Action is badly needed to reverse both the disaffection of young teenagers, as evidenced by truancy, exclusion and under-performance, and the stubbornly high incidence of young people who do poorly in their GCSE's and drop out of education at 16 or soon after."

But the report also says that "compared with 10 years ago ... education and training in the UK are serving more people better". It adds that there have been significant improvements in literacy and numeracy, between 1996 and 2002, for 11-year-olds.

One of the recommendations from the earlier report was that all children should receive nursery education from the age of three and today's reportsays: "By January 2002, 96 per cent of three and four-year-olds were engaged in some form of early years education." And it also shows improved GCSE passes. "Between 1996 and 2002 there was an eight per cent improvement [to 51.2 per cent] in the number of 16-year-olds gaining five or more A* to C grade passes at GCSE." But it adds that "the gap in achievement is widening".

The inquiry into 14 to 19 education being carried out by the former chief schools inspector Mike Tomlinson is also expected to order a shake-up of vocational education to put it on an equal footing with the academic curriculum. It will make its final report next summer.