Official league tables give parents and students a distorted view of how schools, colleges and training agents perform because no one follows the same rules when compiling them, Training and Enterprise Council chiefs say.
They are calling for urgent action to bring everyone into line and argue that the image of Youth Training in particular has been damaged. The Employment Department is backing their call for fairer performance indicators.
Chris Humphries, the TEC national council's policy director, said: "We have systems which enable us to compare school with school, college with college, and TEC with TEC. But using different league tables, we cannot compare a TEC with a school or college."
School exam league tables gave no account of drop-out rates, colleges excluded all drop-outs in the first five weeks of term from their calculations. "But, for historical reasons, Government data has treated young people who simply transfer from one youth training course to another as a training leaver and not a new start." Last year 33 per cent of trainees switched schemes, doubling apparent drop-out rates even though the moves were largely made for positive reasons, he said.
When adjusted to bring results closer to school or college models, success rates rise significantly. Almost three-quarters (72 per cent) left the programme with full or part qualifications last year, a better performance than colleges made.
Mr Humphries said: "Students at 16 and 17 make mistakes in judgment and you need a system that allows them to make those mistakes and move on." More than 170,000 students register for YT schemes each year. But John Cassells, director of the National Commission on Education, said two to three times that number stay on who might be better served on training courses.
The TEC national council says a new code of practice is needed to measure all performance in the same basis. It would require no new cash or resources, says Mr Humphries, just a new way of compiling data from the information which is already available.
"The new measure should be simple, based on who starts and who finishes and what they leave with."
Everyone wanted more sophisticated performance indicators to measure factors such as the value added by a particular teacher or institution to a student's learning or training, he agreed. But that was a long way off. In the meantime, everyone was required to complete league tales based on crude performance. "That means the ground rules must be the same for all."
Half the YT cohort leave before the end of the two-year schemes, chiefly to take up full-time work which excludes them from the particular course of training.
Of those who stay the course two-thirds (67 per cent) gain jobs afterwards and about one in seven (13 per cent) progresses to full-time education, according to latest Employment Department figures.
While Mr Humphries accepts that the TECs are very unlikely to attract the top 30 per cent doing academic or vocational A-levels, the YT should be seen as an option for the majority at 16, he says.
o Cabinet ministers were meeting to discuss "learning credits" worth up to Pounds 8,000 for all 16 to 19-year-olds in full or part-time education, including schools, as The TES went to press.
They were proposed in the competitiveness White Paper last May, as a way of making schools and colleges more responsive to the market place. A further White Paper is expected later this year which will spell out how the proposed learning credits pilots will work from next September.
A feasibility study by management consultant Coopers and Lybrand was due to be discussed at the meeting yesterday of the Cabinet's home and social affairs committee.