New statistics from the Department for Education and Skills indicate that 136,000 16-year-olds in England were not receiving any education or training that led to a recognised qualification last year. The figure for 17-year-olds was even higher, at just under 200,000.
Perhaps surprisingly, given that girls do better than boys at GCSE, staying-on figures were similar for males and females. Participation rates have therefore changed little since the significant improvements seen almost a decade ago.
The challenge for policy-makers is to come up with new initiatives aimed at the many young people who are switched off by the thought of further education or training.
However, the DFES statistics also throw up the question, are schools still "cool"? The figures reveal that the percentages of both 16 and 17-year-olds studying in maintained schools fell last year, while the proportion of 16-year-olds studying in the FE sector, including sixth-form colleges, rose.
This decline in the popularity of schools may be significant. Even when the independent sector is included, schools now cater for a smaller percentage of the age group that is in full-time education or training than the FE sector.
Schools remain the first choice for studying traditional academic courses. They account for some 55 per cent of 16-year-olds studying for GCE AAS-levels. This figure rises to two-thirds of candidates if independent schools are included.
Sixth-form colleges account for 18 per cent of such students while FE institutions make up 13 per cent of the total. By contrast, schools and sixth-form colleges account for only 10 per cent of 16-year-olds on NVQ level 1 or 2 courses.
John Howson is a visiting professor at Oxford Brookes University and a director of Education Data Surveys. Email firstname.lastname@example.org