Staying-on rates among 16 to 18-year-olds reveal a sharp north-south divide. Department for Education figures for 1993/94, released last week, show that all but three of 34 local authorities with more than 65 per cent of 17-year-olds in full-time education were south of Birmingham, writes Alison Utley.
The reasons for poor participation rates in the north are complex but academics believe they stem largely from cultural traditions and now defunct employment patterns.
David Reynolds, a lecturer in education at Newcastle University, said: "The working-class tradition in the north-east was always that sons followed their fathers to the pit or the shipyard and that influence is deeply engrained and probably still there despite the dismantling of the local economy."
Richard Bott, registrar at Northumbria University, agreed that staying-on rates in the north-east were "very low indeed" which raised concerns for a university which relied on students from the north for about 60 per cent of its recruitment. "There are many issues here, not least that the culture of the region is alien to higher education," he said. "The class divide is an important factor and we are working closely with schools to overcome this but it is a very long-term investment."
Another difficulty is preventing drop outs among the rising proportion of 16 to 18-year-olds re-sitting GCSEs while simultaneously taking one or two A levels. A clear divergence of the achievements of two distinct groups of students is revealed by one sixth-form college in Cleveland. The college has found that the achievement levels of students sitting two A levels are much worse than for students aiming for three A levels where the pass rate is 83 per cent. Among the former group, attitudes and attendance were poor.
The college has monitored its drop outs because in the past six months it has lost 73 pupils in the 16 to 19 age range, a large increase since 1993, when 45 dropped out. One third left for full-time jobs; 20 per cent went for youth training; and 14 per cent gained part-time employment. A further 14 per cent were unemployed.