Children’s Commissioner calls for probe into ‘shameful’ rise in school leavers with few qualifications
Ministers must investigate how to reverse a rise in the number of students leaving school without basic qualifications, England’s Children’s Commissioner has said.
Researchers found that 98,799 students who left education at 18 last year - almost one in five - had failed to achieve five GCSEs at grades between A* to C.
Their report revealed a 24% rise in the number of pupils without 'level two' attainment over the last three years - despite the numbers having fallen between 2005 and 2015.
The study also found that the figures were “driven by a sharp increase in the proportion of pupils receiving free school meals”.
It found that since 2015, the number of children receiving free meals who have left education without "proper" qualifications had increased to 28,225 – up from 28% to 37% of all education leavers in England.
The report said children were having their chances of finding apprenticeships or good jobs hampered despite more than £100,000 of public money being spent on their education over 14 years.
The Children’s Commissioner for England, Anne Longfield, said: “It is shameful that last year almost 100,000 children in England left education at 18 without proper qualifications.
"It is particularly unacceptable that children growing up in the poorest areas of the country and children with special educational needs are most likely to leave school without reaching basic levels of attainment.
“While we should celebrate the progress that is being made in raising standards for millions of children, it should never be an acceptable part of the education system for thousands of children to leave with next to nothing.
“The Government must urgently investigate why the progress that has been made over recent years in closing the attainment gap has stalled and now going backwards, and commit itself to halving over the next five years the number of children failing to gain a Level two qualification by the age of 19.”
Shadow Education Secretary, Angela Rayner, said: “It is shocking that the number of children leaving education without a qualification has risen by nearly a quarter in the last three years.
“It is clear that this sudden rise has happened since the Tories came to power and imposed brutal cuts on education and support for families and children.
“The figures are particularly stark for children from the most disadvantaged backgrounds and with special educational needs and disabilities, yet more evidence that those who most need our support are those losing out.”
A Department for Education spokesperson said: “This report does not provide the full picture, comparing against figures that include qualifications we have since removed from performance tables because they did not serve pupils well.
“We are working to dramatically improve the rigour, quality and standard of qualifications across the board, and have already done so with GCSEs.
“These reformed qualifications will help young people achieve the skills they need to get on in life.”