National targets to be made easier
A consultation document out this week suggests reducing the number from six to four, including one at 16, and aiming to meet them in 2002 rather than the current deadline of 2000.
But to avoid the impression that the Government's skills drive was losing momentum, ministers also announced a 10-point plan to raise participation and achievement among 16 to 19-year-olds. International studies have repeatedly highlighted the UK's poor record in the education and training of this age group.
"At the moment, about 50,000 young people leave school without a single qualification," Tessa Blackstone, education Minister of State, said on Tuesday.
The Government wants to get back the "lost generation" of 200,000 16 and 17-year-olds, of whom 80,000 were unemployed and the rest in "dead-end jobs" with no further education or training.
David Blunkett, the Education Secretary, stressed that families on social security benefits could claim as much as Pounds 40 a week in child benefit and dependency allowances if their child stayed on in full-time education after 16. "The notion that education after 16 is only for the well-off is untrue, " he said.
The 10-point plan, called "Investing in Young People", hinges especially on a new requirement on employers to give their young recruits regular paid study leave. This would enable them to acquire at least five good GCSE grades or their vocational equivalent by the age of 19. The duty is included in the Teaching and Higher Education Bill which had its second reading in the Lords this week.
The plan also includes an extra Pounds 10 million for Modern Apprenticeships in 1998-99, to provide 10,000 more places than previously planned.
One key element is the introduction of a single school-leaving date in June. This will take effect in the current academic year and means that some 17,000 16-year-olds who would otherwise have left at Easter with no qualifications will have to stay on.
The Government could get close nationally to achieving some of its current targets, such as getting 85 per cent of young people under 19 to achieve five good GCSE grades or equivalent by 2000, the document says.
But it is nowhere near reaching the targets in basic skills and information technology (in autumn 1996, only 36 per cent of 19-year-olds had GCSE or equivalent in both English and maths, against a target of 75 per cent), nor in raising achievement among the bulk of the workforce.
The document is available free from Prolog Ltd, telephone: 0845 60 222 60, fax: 0845 60 333 60. Comments are invited by March 6, 1998.