Scottish Conservative leader Ruth Davidson used her return to First Minister’s Questions today to hit out at the Scottish government’s post-school positive destination statistics, urging first minister Nicola Sturgeon to accept that they are often “no such thing”.
Ms Davidson returned to Holyrood this week after six months of maternity leave, and used her first appearance at FMQs this afternoon to continue to make the case for Scotland to scrap the school leaving age and keep pupils learning until the age of 18.
Ms Davidson – who first made the call for a “skills participation age of 18” at the Scottish Conservative party conference at the weekend – said that the Institute for Public Policy Research think tank had said the SNP’s positive destination statistics, which record where pupils end up after school, “were letting young people down right across Scotland”. She added that the statistics had also been branded “a fraud” by one of the architects of Curriculum for Excellence, Keir Bloomer.
The official positive destinations statistics: ‘More school leavers in work, education and training’
Some 20 per cent of 16- to 19-year-olds in Scotland were not in education of formal training, she said.
Tes Scotland revealed in 2017 that school leavers on zero-hour contracts would be counted by the Scottish government as being in a positive destination.
The year before, speaking to Tes Scotland, Mr Bloomer – who is convener of the Royal Society of Edinburgh’s education committee – described the statistics as a “fraud” and said they included “dead-end jobs”, where young people were working for the minimum wage.
Ms Davidson said: “Under the SNP government, too many young people have no qualifications whatsoever, and many others are leaving school without the skills they need to thrive in the modern world.
“This is supposed to be Nicola Sturgeon’s stated priority – yet in reality, she is letting down young people right across Scotland.
“More than 20 per cent of 16- to 19-year-olds are without any form of education or training, a figure which has been flatlining for years. I say that is simply wrong.”
She added: “We need the skills participation age of 18, and we need to act now to deliver it.”
Ms Davidson said that this had already been successfully introduced in Belgium, Denmark and the Netherlands.
However, Ms Sturgeon showed no appetite to support the move to make learning compulsory up to the age of 18.
She said that the latest positive destination statistics showed that, three months after leaving school, 95 per cent of young people were in work, training or were studying, and that since 2014 the Scottish government had reduced the youth unemployment rate by 40 per cent.
Ms Sturgeon said: “The problem with the analysis that Ruth Davidson brings to the chamber is it is not borne out by the excellent results being achieved by young people the length and breadth of this country.”
Ms Sturgeon added that she suspected many of the 16- to 19-year-olds that Ms Davidson cited as not being in training or education were, in fact, in work.
The figures used by the Scottish Conservatives to make the case for change are the annual participation figures published in August.
They show that, in 2018, 71.3 per cent of 16- to 19-year-olds were in education (40.5 per cent were in school); 6.5 per cent had embarked on apprenticeships; and 1.9 per cent were in training – meaning just under 80 per cent were in education or formal training.
According to the Scottish government figures, however, a further 12.1 per cent of 16- to 19-year-olds were in employment, be it full-time, part-time or self-employment.
Overall, therefore, 91.8 per cent of 16-19 year-olds were deemed to be participating in education employment or training; 3.4 per cent were classified as “not participating”; and a further 4.7 per cent had an “unconfirmed status”.
The plan for a skills participation age unveiled by Ms Davidson in her speech to the Tory party conference in Aberdeen on Saturday would see every young person in Scotland legally required to attend college or university or do a structured apprenticeship or traineeship until they turned 18.
The policy would keep an extra 10,000 pupils in education or training every year, at a cost to the Scottish government of between £20 million and £60 million depending on what course they chose.
The scheme is intended to mirror a similar one in England, where young people have been required to continue doing some form of learning or training until they reach 18 since 2015.