The sustained improvements in secondaries and colleges were confirmed at the launch of the annual report of the Advisory Scottish Council for Education and Training Targets. John Ward, the council's chairman, addressing a Scottish Chambers of Commerce conference in Edinburgh, congratulated teachers for their efforts and suggested education targets could be met by 2000.
In contrast, the progress in the level of workforce training was described as "funereal". Most Scots appear to opt out of training and lifelong education.
Figures for 1996 show a rise over the previous year of 8 per cent in the number of young people reaching target two, the achievement of five Standard grades 1-3 or their vocational equivalent by the age of 19. Professor Ward said 78 per cent of young people had now reached that standard and the target of 85 per cent was likely to be met.
A further breakdown reveals a rise in Standard grade performance at grades 1-3 from 57 per cent to 63 per cent. Schools and colleges were also showing well at level 3, where the target is to have 70 per cent of 21-year-olds with the equivalent of three Highers at A to C passes. More than half of young Scots (54 per cent) broke through the target this year, a rise of 4 per cent over 1995. On the school side, the numbers achieving the level rose from 32 per cent to 35 per cent. Stephanie Young, the council's director, said: "If progress continues at the same rate, the target looks achievable."
But Professor Ward's comforting message for secondary teachers was modified by Scotland's international comparison. He pointed out pupils in S1 and S2 fared badly in mathematics and science. Professor Ward was speaking prior to this week's latest batch of statistics on the comparative performance in maths and science of nine-year-olds.
Scotland, he said, was also lagging in key areas of skills training and would fail to meet its labour market targets within the next three years. Only 13.5 per cent of large employers had Investors in People approval, a figure that fell to 4.5 per cent of medium-sized organisations and 0.2 per cent of small companies.
Professor Ward said: "This is about a competitive education base. Let's stop kidding ourselves. We don't have one. The second thing we need is competitive skills in the workplace. We don't have that. Bring that all together with decent management, and if the Investors in People results are anything to go by, we don't have that. If you were to put those things together, you would have a reasonable prospect of being a world-class competitor, and patently we have not succeeded."