The work of more than nine out of 10 further education students is not reflected in the Government's exam league tables, according to the most comprehensive official figures on the sector.
Figures emerge in Further Education Funding Council's trawl for details on the performance of 3 million students. Critics will seize on the details to highlight further the inadequacy of the league table comparisons with schools.
Information published by the FEFC includes 3,000 national statistics on stay-on rates, courses attended, exam successes and student destinations in 441 further education and sixth-form colleges.
More detailed information will be published on individual colleges next month as the FEFC gears up to impose six performance indicators on colleges. These will be used by the media to rank colleges.
While the national data are still incomplete - around one in 10 colleges failed to submit information on time - it gives new evidence of performance in some areas and confirms some suspected trends.
New information includes evidence that only six out of 10 students are working for qualifications which count towards the national targets for education and training.
More anecdotal evidence on student success and drop-out rates are confirmed by the figures. For example, 84 per cent of full-time students and 86 per cent of part-time students completed the course or were continuing to study.
But when the 15 per cent or more students who dropped out are added on, FEFC data - based on individual student record (ISR) computerised figures - shows that a third of students achieve no qualifications.
This will often be for good reasons such as their leaving to take a job with training. But this is impossible to evaluate at present as the current ISR figures report destinations for only 29 per cent of students.
David Melville, chief executive of the FEFC, said the ISR was "a powerful tool" which would allow data to be collected at every level.
The council knows it must handle the publication of data sensitively since the whole ISR exercise has been fraught. Many colleges attacked the process as "rushed".