Tens of thousands of teenagers are leaving education without gaining basic qualifications, a report has warned.
Almost one in five 19-year-olds in England failed to achieve the equivalent of five GCSEs at grade C or higher, according to a new report published by Anne Longfield, the children’s commissioner for England.
Poorer youngsters were among the most likely to finish their education without reaching this standard, it says.
Ms Longfield said the figures were “shameful” and that it should never be acceptable for teenagers to leave with “next to nothing”.
Under current rules, children in England must stay in some form of education or training until they are 18.
The Children’s Commissioner’s report, based on an analysis of official statistics – which look at attainment at age 19, concludes that in 2018, 98,779 pupils (18%) finished their education without gaining the equivalent of at least five GCSEs at grade A*-C (Level 2 qualifications).
This is up from 14% in 2015, it says.
“These are children who will have spent 15 years in compulsory education, often having more than £100,000 of public money spent on their education and yet leave the education system without basic benchmark qualifications,” the briefing document says.
“These children have multiple options closed to them. Many will not be able to begin an apprenticeship, start technical courses or enter some workplaces because they cannot meet the basic entry requirements.”
The analysis also concludes that children on free school meals (FSM) – a key measure of poverty – are twice as likely as their richer classmates to be without this level of qualifications at age 19.
In total, 37% (around 28,225 youngsters) of FSM teenagers did not get to this level of attainment, compared to 15% of their wealthier peers.
“It is shameful that last year almost 100,000 children in England left education at 18 without proper qualifications,” Ms Longfield said.
“It is particularly unacceptable that children growing up in the poorest areas of the country and children with special educational needs are most likely to leave school without reaching basic levels of attainment.
“While we should celebrate the progress that is being made in raising standards for millions of children, it should never be an acceptable part of the education system for thousands of children to leave with next to nothing.”
She called on the Government to investigate the issue and commit to halving the numbers failing to get Level 2 qualifications by age 19 within the next five years.
Shadow education secretary Angela Rayner, said: “It is shocking that the number of children leaving education without a qualification has risen by nearly a quarter in the last three years.
“It is clear that this sudden rise has happened since the Tories came to power and imposed brutal cuts on education and support for families and children.
“The figures are particularly stark for children from the most disadvantaged backgrounds and with special educational needs and disabilities, yet more evidence that those who most need our support are those losing out.”
Paul Whiteman, general secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers (NAHT), said: “The number of children leaving school without basic qualifications fell continuously between 2005 and 2015, but has risen sharply in recent years as the full impact of real-terms cuts to school funding has become clear.
“Children from disadvantaged backgrounds are the victims of a decade of austerity. They have disproportionately suffered from cuts not just to education, but to all the wider services that should be there to help them.
“Successive governments have failed to invest in those who need it the most, and now we see the result.”