THE past two decades have seen a widening gap between the numbers of "haves" and "have-nots" in education after the age of 16.
This is the bleak view of MPs on the Commons education and employment select committee.
Although more people have taken part in post-16 learning, those from lower socio-economic groups are still under-represented across all levels of education.
The report, Access for All - A Survey of Post-16 Participation, exposes the dilemma the Government must resolve if the huge expansion in further education it hopes for is to happen.
The report says: "Participation in learning after 16 is profoundly influenced by achievement before 16, so any attempt to improve participation rates in post-compulsory learning will depend heavily on improving achievement in primary and secondary school." Or as the MPs also put it, "if at first you succeed, you continue to succeed".
Many schools, colleges and universities have worked hard to change the culture of young people, persuading them that it was worthwhile to stay on past the compulsory age, says the report. Further and higher education institutions should enter into agreements with schools - with extra funding from the Government - to enable such schemes to be extended.
The MPs also tell the Government it must find out if schools with sixth forms succeed in getting more young people to stay on than schools without them.
They are highly critical of the information and guidance services for young people when they make their post-16 choices, which they say are insufficient, selective or partial. They note that the Learning to Succeed White Paper recommends a properly integrated system of advice, and want an end to the "peddling of different and confusing messages".
The MPs examine funding, a key issue affecting both schools and colleges.
They are concerned that, despite plans to harmonise funding between schools and FE colleges, differences in funding will persist. They say it is "essential that the funding of comparable learning is carried out on an equitable basis".
But if a level playing-field is to be introduced, they do not say which side might lose out.
Finally, they suggest popular figures such as David Beckham, Geri Halliwell, and Mike Myers (aka Austin Powers) should be used as "popular cultural icons" to promote the learning message.
FE Focus, I.