The number of children leaving school without basic qualifications has risen sharply over the last three years, according to new analysis from the Children’s Commissioner Anne Longfield.
The analysis published today reveals that in 2018, there were 98,799 pupils in England – 18 per cent of those leaving education at 18 – who left school without reaching Level 2 attainment: five GCSEs at grades A*-C or equivalent technical qualifications.
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The report states: "Since 2015, there has been a 28 per cent increase in the number of children leaving education without substantive qualifications.
"Children in receipt of free school meals are over twice as likely as non-FSM students to leave school aged 19 without any substantive qualification, at 37 per cent vs 15 per cent. This gap is rising."
The report also found that the attainment gap between pupils with special educational needs (SEN) and their non-SEN peers had widened from 26 per cent in 2015 to 33 per cent in 2018.
The report noted this meant pupils with SEN were the worst affected by the rise in numbers leaving without basic qualifications. Almost half of all children with SEN – 45 per cent – left school without attaining Level 2 last year.
“Vulnerable children who need the highest levels of support are at increasing risk of leaving education with nothing,” the report said.
The report noted that children are spending more time in formal learning environments since the government raised the compulsory education age to 18 in 2015. However, they were more likely to leave without basic qualifications than they had been three years’ ago.
The report found attainment gaps between children living in the least and most deprived areas of England had risen from 13 per cent in 2015 to 17 per cent in 2018.
Attainment gaps also varied by regional area, with children eligible for FSM in London achieving the best outcomes. The attainment gap in London between FSM and non-FSM pupils stood at 11.9 percentage points in 2018.
The East Midlands had a far greater attainment gap of 27.8 percentage points in 2018.
The report said educational reforms of vocational courses, introduced following the Wolf Review in 2011, had “penalised” the most disadvantaged children in reducing the availability of alternative routes to academic learning.
The review called for a change to the school league tables so that some qualifications, including GNVQs, were not counted as part of school performance. Today’s report said this acted as a “disincentive” for schools to offer vocational courses, thereby limiting pupils’ options.
Anne Longfield, the Children’s Commissioner for England, said: “It is shameful that last year almost 100,000 children in England left education at 18 without proper qualifications.
“It is particularly unacceptable that children growing up in the poorest areas of the country and children with special educational needs are most likely to leave school without reaching basic levels of attainment.
“While we should celebrate the progress that is being made in raising standards for millions of children, it should never be an acceptable part of the education system for thousands of children to leave with next to nothing.
“The government must urgently investigate why the progress that has been made over recent years in closing the attainment gap has stalled and now going backwards, and commit itself to halving over the next five years the number of children failing to gain a Level 2 qualification by the age of 19.”
The Department for Education has been contacted for comment.