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We are the biggest quitters in Europe

More British pupils quit education without attending sixth forms or further education colleges than in any similar northern European country, with the exception of Ireland, according to a report from the EU statistical agency Eurostat.

Its figures suggest that in 1999, 20 per cent of 18 to 24-year-old Britons had left school, before or soon after they had completed basic secondary education, for instance by taking GCSEs. This compares poorly with Germany, France and Belgium, where the figure was 15 per cent, the Netherlands (16 per cent), and Austria (12 per cent). Scandinavian countries performed particularly well, with drop-out rates of 12 per cent for Denmark, 10 per cent for Finland and7 per cent for Sweden.

Only against poorer outhern European nations did the UK shine. In Spain, 29 per cent of pupils leave education after completing basic secondary schooling, in Italy the proportion is 27 per cent and in Portugal 46 per cent, the worst in the EU.

However, Greece actually performed better than Britain, with a figure of 18 per cent. Ireland matched the UK's figure.

The statistics also showed that in some EU countries, many more girls continue education than boys. Even in a country with a good record, such as Finland, 12 per cent of male students dropped out compared to 8 per cent of females. This kind of split was also signficant in Belgium, Denmark, Greece, Spain, Ireland, Italy and Portugal. However, in the UK the proportions were almost even.

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