Scotland's chances of achieving Government education and training targets by the millennium now appear slim, despite progress over the past three years.
The annual report from the Secretary of State's Advisory Scottish Council on Education Targets, published on Wednesday shows that targets for academic and vocational qualifications held by young people and adults remain stubbornly out of reach, particularly the benchmark Higher and level III vocational awards.
Only 32 per cent of young people had three Higher passes or the SVQ equivalent by age 21 last year, slightly up from 29 per cent in 1993. The target is 70 per cent.
John Ward, the council's chairman, says: "The levelling off at level III for young people and the workforce continues, with limited progress during the year. This is an important competitive measurement, where we have a significant gap with competitor countries."
Professor Ward, director of IBM in Scotland, says there is insufficient progress at this level, with too few Investors in People awards to companies investing in staff training. The objective is that 70 per cent of private sector organisations with more than 200 employees should have the IIP badge by 2000, 35 per cent of those employing 50 or more and 15 per cent of companies with fewer than 50 staff. Last year's figures were 9 per cent, 3 per cent and 1 per cent.
The council does not accept that its targets are overambitious or unrealistic. "The message that education is good for you personally and good for the country as a whole is now well accepted," Stephanie Young, ASCETT's director, says.
But Miss Young also acknowledged that research has shown a gap between acceptance of the idea of education and actually taking a course. "This gap between the 'wanting' and the 'doing' is now the central issue for educational organisations," she says. There remained the danger of "a two-nation split - those engaged in learning and those not".
The main area of good news in the report is the performance of young people up to age 19 at level II. Some 57 per cent had achieved at least five Standard grades (1-3) or SVQ equivalent against the 85 per cent target, a steady rise from 47 per cent in 1993.
Shetland and Western Isles students have actually raced ahead of the target, with more than 90 per cent at level II, while Orkney has 84 per cent. The Western Isles is nearest to the level III target of 70 per cent, with 54 per cent holding appropriate Higher and vocational qualifications.