Local LSC's figures suggest Government has overstated training rates. Steve Hook reports.
GOVERNMENT figures on post-16 participation have been exposed as "misleading", according to the executive director of a local learning and skills council.
Revised figures suggest official estimates may overstate rates by 50,000.
The Cumbria LSC area enjoys England's best participation rate among 17-year-olds, at 88 per cent, according to the Department for Education and Skills.
But further research in Cumbria has found apparent discrepancies which could have ramifications for participation figures across the country, which are already far behind our foreign competitors.
Staff at Cumbria LSC's head office worked through the weekend to check the DFES figures, which were to be used as a benchmark against which increased participation was to be measured.
Chief executive Mick Farley's staff estimate the proportion of 17-year-olds in government-subsidised training, including modern apprentices, is 18 per cent, not the 22 per cent suggested by Whitehall statisticians.
The 4 per cent shortfall is 240 17-year-olds in Cumbria. But it would represent 25,000 if projected nationally and double that for the whole 16-18 cohort. This is almost equal to the national four-year target for increased participation. The LSC target is an increase from 75 to 80 per cent by 2004.
The new, local figures bring down Cumbria's overall participation rate from 88 to 84 per cent. Like those from the DFES, they are for 198899 and based on the number of people on government supported training programmes and living in the county on January 1 during that year.
"Obviously if this is to do with the methodology which has been used then it has wider implications than just Cumbria," said Mr Farley. "We would put the figure at closer to 18 per cent and that is based on work we have done looking at old training and enterprise council records. The DFES figures are somewhat out compared with what we can substantiate locally."
Mr Farley says he is also concerned that the DFES and the LSC are unable to break these figures down to show the quantity of training undertaken.
The DFES says it will now check its data. Mr Farley suspects the DFES may have "double-counted" students who were at college and in work-place training in the same year, although the department officially denies this. However, advisers for the Government privately admit that there has been some double acounting.
"The participation figures published by the DFES are sound estimates based on the best available data supplied to the department by TECs," said a DFES spokesman. "Cumbria LSC have supplied us with alternative figures for their area which are based on different sources. We are investigating these sources and will work with Cumbria LSC to understand the reasons for the differences. We will take every opportunity in conjunction with the LSC to maintain and further improve the quality of these statistics."
None of England's other 46 local LSCs was able to comment on the figures this week and, nationally, the organisation is taking them at face value until further notice.