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Local authority pupils 'less likely' to stay on

Teenagers who attend schools run by local authorities are less likely to stay in full-time education after 16 than pupils at schools with greater autonomy, research commissioned by the Government suggests.

The study, carried out by the Policy Studies Institute, an independent think-tank, looked at 586 maintained schools whose pupils turned 16 in 1990.

It found that 70 per cent of pupils from voluntary-aided schools decided to go on to sixth-forms or FE colleges, compared with just 58 per cent at LEA-maintained schools. Opted-out schools were not included, presumably because there were too few of them in 1990.

The study attempts to disentangle the complex web of influences on young people's choices at 16.

Most of the differences between schools can be explained in terms of achievement at GCSE, parents' education and employment, the local labour market and economic conditions, say the researchers. The importance of school structure became apparent when they turned their attention to the remaining "unexplained variation".

Structural status was found to affect staying-on rates more than pupil-teacher ratios, and more than being a mixed or single-sex school. The report's authors say that a good pupil-teacher ratio may not encourage pupils to stay on, because schools can be well staffed for various reasons, such as a high number of special needs pupils.

The presence of very experienced staff seemed to encourage pupils to leave at the earliest opportunity. The researchers suggest that young teachers could be more attractive role models for 16-year-olds, or that schools with declining rolls recruit fewer teachers and therefore have an older staff. Schools with a high staff turnover had lower staying-on rates.

Schools with large sixth forms, were, predictably, more likely to inspire their pupils to stay on.

There were also wide differences between education authorities - in some only 35 per cent of pupils stayed on, while in others the figure was 90 per cent. One of the oddest findings was that pupils were much less likely to opt for further education in authorities with plenty of college places. This, the authors said, could be because efforts had been made to provide places in areas known to have a problem attracting pupils to FE, or because pupils were opting for part-time courses. Also surprising was the fact that young people were less likely to stay on in areas with high unemployment.

The study also found that girls are more likely to stay on than boys, Asian and black pupils more than whites and that the gap between the staying-on rates of pupils from professional backgrounds and those from low-skilled families has widened, as has the gap between pupils living in the South-east and the North.

Staying on in full-time education after 16: Do schools make a difference? Policy Studies InstituteDFEE.

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