The number of young people in Wales dropping out of school early and failing to find a job could is at an all-time high, new figures suggest.
According to a survey by the Office of National Statistics (ONS), almost 13 per cent of 16- to 18-year-olds - more than 15,700 individuals - were not in education, employment or training (Neet) as of June last year.
The figures indicate a significant rise since the last official statistics for the end of 2007, when 14,000 16- to 18-year-olds (11.5 per cent) were estimated to be Neet.
Despite a number of recent initiatives to reduce the number, it now seems even less likely that the Assembly government will achieve its ambitious target of getting 93 per cent of young people in employment, education or training by 2010.
The latest statistics also include the results of a Careers Wales survey, which shows that more than 7 per cent of Year 11 school leavers were Neet in 2008. Cardiff had the highest proportion, with more than 10 per cent, and Powys had the lowest, with just 3 per cent.
The Conservatives said the figures highlight a "lost generation of wasted talent" and attacked ministers for failing to tackle the problem before the recession hit.
Shadow education minister Paul Davies said: "With the Welsh economy in an increasingly fragile state, improving these figures is made harder as the Assembly government seeks to cut further education funding, with fewer job opportunities, and with more people seeking work and training."
The government's Neet strategy, launched last March to "re-engage" disaffected youths, called for schools and colleges to get better at identifying and working with pupils who are at risk of dropping out, and to share that information with other agencies.
The government releases its own Neet statistics every July, based on population estimates and enrolment counts for work-based learning, further and higher education and schools. Although they are always 19 months old, these figures are considered to give the most accurate picture and are used to measure progress against the government's 2010 target.
While the ONS's annual population survey is considered less robust, it gives a more up-to-date estimate and also provides analysis of Neet rates by characteristics not available in the government figures.
It shows that there is a clear gender gap - with more males than females classed as Neet - and a clear geographical divide - with considerably more Neets in South Wales than any other area of the country.
Wales continues to have the highest number of Neets anywhere in the UK, despite millions of pounds being ploughed into a number of recent initiatives.
An Assembly government spokeswoman said the increase highlights the importance of its Neets strategy, and that a wide range of measures have been put in place to achieve its long-term objectives.
"Through a range of funding programmes such as the pound;49 million Reach the Heights initiative and the pound;35.6 million Skillbuild programme, we are continuing to invest in education and training to help ensure a brighter future for the young people of Wales," she said.