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League tables 'isolate the most vulnerable'

LEAGUE tables and a dysfunctional qualifications system are helping to isolate thousands of the most vulnerable children in Britain, according to a new report.

Seven per cent of 16-year-olds are condemned to "status zero", dropping out of education or training, says the left-leaning Institute of Public Policy Research. One in 12 school-leavers has no qualifications at all.

These students are let down by a league-table culture which has paid no attention to low attainers, say the authors of Wasted Youth, Nick Pearce and Josh Hillman.

They are also hindered by a confusing, irrational and financially wasteful system of post-16 qualifications.

Meanwhile local authority agencies offer a "fragmented and confusing" service. The report calls for a radical overhaul of 14-19 education, although it stops short of recommending the abolition of GCSEs and A-levels.

The sharp break in the curriculum at age 16, it says, is the point at which teenagers drop away from the system.

The authors suggest a series of changes. In the medium term they want:l better whole-school discipline policies;l greater pupil participation in decision-making;l a strong role for local authorities in reducing exclusions;l greater involvement of post- compulsory education institutions in the 14-16 age group;l the use of IT to create "virtual schools".

In the long term they recommend:

* a 14-19 curriculum incorporating academic, general vocational and workplace qualifications;l an increased role for regional development agencies in tertiary education;l the development of a single allowance for 16 to 19-year-olds to replace existing benefits;l the extension of traineeships across the full-time youth labour market to ensure that all young people entering jobs get training and develop marketable skills; l the development of a unified funding system for post-16 education organised on a regional basis and better integrated local services.

The reports also says that teenage girls are just as likely to drop out of education as boys. Although boys are more likely to be excluded, it is wrong to suppose that disaffection is a male phenomenon. "Gender differences are negligible at the low end of attainment, in regular truancy and in dropping out of education, training or employment by the age of 17," it says.

Other factors are more significant. These include social and family background and previous attainment - most notably the acquisition of basic skills.

"Wasted Youth: Raising Achievement and Tackling Social Exclusion" is published by IPPR and is available from Central Books (0181 986 5488)

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