FURTHER EDUCATION colleges which want to target school pupils should reach out to those, particularly boys, taking arts subjects. It does not appear to matter whether they leave school at 16 or later.
This is the group of young people who are least likely to move on to college or university, although they may be more likely to find a job, according to research by DTZ Consulting and Research, which was asked by the Scottish Executive to investigate links between those who study arts subjects at school and employability.
Arts subjects were defined as graphic communication, arts and design, crafts and design, and music and drama.
In one of the most detailed studies not only of these links, but also of the family backgrounds of the pupils involved, a stark contrast has emerged between choice of subject at school and pupils' progress beyond.
Only 8.2 per cent of those who left school in 1996, having taken two or more arts subjects, were in education in 1999. By contrast, 18 per cent of young people who took at least three science subjects or at least four languages in 1996 were in education three years later.
Even where those studying sciences or languages left school at the earliest opportunity and took three or four science or language subjects, over 80 per cent were still in education a year later compared with 70 per cent of leavers who studied at least two arts subjects.
Inevitably, there are some gender and socio-economic explanations. Young men taking two or more arts subjects at Standard grade are least likely to continue their education after leaving school; and the number of female leavers who have focused on the arts and who move on to FE or HE is notably greater than males (76 per cent against 65 per cent).
In addition, young people taking arts subjects tend to come from lower socio-economic backgrounds. Overall, there is little difference between pupils who do arts and those who do not, in terms of their father's employment.
But there are differences within arts subjects. In drama, for instance, 75 per cent of pupils are least likely to have a father who is employed, and most likely to have a father who is unemployed, sick or disabled (17 per cent). Among those taking graphic communication, on the other hand, 85 per cent are most likely to have a father in work and come from better-off homes.
Generally, students taking arts subjects are more likely to have a father in a less skilled occupation, and less likely to have a father in a professional job.
But choosing arts subjects at school, while not necessarily leading to college or university compared with other subject choices, does appear to make those youngsters who leave school at the first opportunity more employable, particularly in crafts and creative occupations.
The researchers conclude that further or higher education might therefore not be the best option for this group of students, a finding which will no doubt challenge the sector.