MORE than 35,000 teenagers left school without a single GCSE pass this year despite Government initiatives to raise standards and reduce social exclusion.
However, this, at 6.1 per cent of the relevant age-group, was still an improvement on last year when 6.6 per cent failed to earn any qualifications.
The latest figures on last summer's exams suggest that the 2002 targets for 16-year-olds should be met, which would see the number with no qualifications cut to 5 per cent - or around 29,000.
Meanwhile, the target for five good GCSE passes should be more easily achieved. Ministers want half of all 16-year-olds to get at least five good GCSE passes, or their GNVQ equivalent, by 2002.
This year 47.8 per cent of the 581,000 pupils who took GCSE's achieved this, up from 46.3 per cent last year, according to new data released by the Department for Education and Employment.
Announcing the results, education minister Baroness Blackstone said: "We have successfully reduced the number of youngsters leaving school without a single exam pass. Our targets reflect the Government's twin objectives of raising standards and reducing social exclusion. We are making progress on both counts."
But Professor Alan Smithers of Liverpool University believes the targets will only hinder long-term improvement. He said: "What sense does it make to have a target that essentially says that half our pupils should pass and half fail?
"The important issue is the extent to which performance has improved over the last decade, reflecting the increased importance of qualifications, the extra effort of pupils and improved teaching methods."
The complete exam data will be published next month.