The first official signs of another crisis in post-16 education emerged this week.
Government figures reveal that growth in the proportion of 16 to 18-year-olds in education and training has tailed off over the past three years. Participation rates among 16-year-olds have dropped and among 17 and 18-year-olds have reached a plateau since the end of 1993.
The statistics, released this week by the Department for Education and Employment, confirm forecasts by researchers at the Institute of Education.
Their study last year predicted growing participation would be reversed for the first time in a decade in 1995, and that staying-on rates for 17 and 18-year-olds would follow suit this year.
The DfEE figures indicate that a rise in the proportion of 16-year-olds in England in full-time education reached a peak in 1993, with 72.6 per cent staying on. By the end of 1995, 70.7 per cent of this group were on full-time courses.
Across a range of education and training options, including Government-supported training, participation by 16-year-olds peaked in 1994 at 88.9 per cent but fell the following year to 86.4 per cent.
The proportion of 17-year-olds staying on also reached a high in 1993, rising to 78.8 per cent from 71.4 per cent in 1990. It dropped to 78.1 per cent in 1994 and rose slightly in 1995 to 78.7 per cent.
The picture is better for 18-year-olds, with participation rates continuing to rise from 45.7 per cent in 1990 through to 59.6 per cent in 1995. Growth in the last three years was just 0.5 per cent a year.