SIX OUT of 10 English teenagers fail to achieve the GCSE grades in English and maths demanded by many employers.
According to the latest Government figures, only 40 per cent of 16-year-olds scored at least a C in both English and maths GCSE last summer.
The news has prompted criticism of the Government's target for GCSEs. Experts say it encourages pupils to aim for five good grades in "any old" GCSEs, rather than making them focus on these two key subjects.
Girls were more likely to get the grades needed: 43 per cent achieved at least C grades in English and maths. Only 36 per cent of boys got at least a C in both. Eighty-seven per cent of 15-year-olds scored at least a G in both subjects.
The Government wants 50 per cent of 15-year-olds to get five A* to C passes by 2002. Although schools are on track to hit this target, ministes are concerned that around 40,000 pupils left school last summer without the minimum English and maths grades needed for many jobs or training.
A government official said: "About 15 per cent of kids have very little to show for 11 years of compulsory education. There are secondary schools - about 20 per cent - where less than a third get five A* to C GCSEs and they're mostly in deprived areas."
Professor Alan Smithers of Liverpool University's centre for education and employment Research, said that the Government's targets had allowed teenagers to believe that success in English and maths was not essential.
He said: "It would be a logical extension to set these targets for 16-year olds in terms of English and maths plus any three others.
"This would signal the true importance of these subjects."
Statistics of Education Issue No. 04100, May 200. Available from The Stationery Office. 0870 600 5522.