Able 16 and 17-year-olds in West Lothian are spurning Highers and further qualifications in favour of weekly wages up to Pounds 200.
Over 9 per cent of the council's S4 cohort in 1996-97, or 183 pupils, who had Credit levels at Standard grade, left school before sitting their Highers. Bill Coyle, head of East Renfrewshire's exam analysis unit which investigates West Lothian's results, described it as "unusual in Scottish terms". In his own council, virtually all Credit pupils stay on to S6.
Eric Gillies, assistant head at Whitburn Academy, said: "We're happy young people are getting jobs. We'd just like to see them being heads of departments rather than shop-floor workers," With shiftwork, school-leavers could earn around Pounds 200 a week in electronics firms. Spin-offs from the thriving economy meant shops and others were looking for staff. "It is a counter attraction to staying on at school and for us it's a matter of raising expectations," Mr Gillies said.
A poll of S5 pupils doing Highers in the council's eleven secondaries revealed 400 of the 1,500 pupils had a part-time job but Mr Gillies believes the figure could be higher. Pupils are working between six and 26 hours a week, almost a full-time job.
The council is currently piloting a scheme to encourage fifth year pupils to cut back their part-time jobs in return for a study allowance. Pupils are paid in proportion to the number of Highers they are taking.