Region sees fall in education takeup

THE number of Suffolk teenagers entering further education after they finish compulsory schooling has plummeted by 20% in three years, latest figures reveal.

THE number of Suffolk teenagers entering further education after they finish compulsory schooling has plummeted by 20% in three years, latest figures reveal.

According to statistics from the Department of Education and Skills the county saw a fall of 800 16-17 year-olds attending further education (FE) colleges, including sixth forms, between 2000 and 2003 - the largest drop of all the Eastern counties.

They show that there were 4,100 students under further education in Suffolk during 2000 but this dropped to 3,800 in 2001, 3,600 in 2002 and 3,300 in 2003 - a total decrease of 20%.

This compares to an overall decline in the East of England of 7.6% from 41,900 16-17 year-olds in 2000 to 38,700 in 2003.

Elsewhere there was a drop in Essex from 11,300 in 2000 to 10,800 in 2003 and in Norfolk from 6,100 in 2000 to 5,500 in 2003.

The disproportionate decline in the numbers attending college in Suffolk has led to warnings that education bosses will have to move fast to stop the trend if the level of education and skill among future workforces in Suffolk is not to suffer.

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And a spokesman for Suffolk County Council admitted there was a need to encourage more teenagers to take part in post-16 education once they had finished their GCSE schooling.

He added: “As with a number of other counties, the take up of education at Post 16 in Suffolk is lower than it might be.

“It is something we recognise needs radical improvement. Last year Suffolk County Council, Suffolk Learning and Skills Council (LSC) and Suffolk Connexions launched a strategy to develop education and training for 14 to 19 year olds in the county.

“The aim of this strategy is to encourage more young people to stay in education or training after they're 16, to improve the breadth, choice and quality of education and training, and to make sure that all young people have access to high quality, impartial advice and guidance on options for their future.”

West Suffolk MP Richard Spring said the causes for such a fall had to be investigated and a solution found as soon as possible so that youngsters across the county could reach their full potential.

Mr Spring's concerns have even prompted him to write a letter to Mark Haysom, chief executive of the Learning and Skills Council, demanding to know why students are leaving the education system and what can be done to stop the exodus.

In his letter to Mr Haysom, Mr Spring asks: “I would be very interested to know if you can advance any reason for this consistent decline in further education pupils studying in Suffolk. Do the Learning and Skills Council have any specific plans to try to reverse this trend?

“As a country it is crucial that we have a skilled and educated workforce and it seems that pupils leaving school in Suffolk are not taking the opportunity to develop their education further.”

Last night the Tory MP added: “Education is vitally important to ensure that each and every one of our students in Suffolk reaches their full potential in whichever path they choose to pursue in the future.

“Therefore, we must urgently identify and address the causes of this fall and make sure our young people in Suffolk are aware of all the different opportunities available to them, full-time and part-time ranging from strictly academic to vocational and training courses.”

A spokeswoman for the Suffolk Learning and Skills Council said Suffolk had a very strong record of students continuing into FE after the age of 16 and that they were constantly working with colleges, school sixth forms and other training providers to encourage young people to stay on in education and choose the right course for them.

“LSC data shows that the number of young people aged 16-18 enrolled in full time FE courses between the period 2000 to 2003 remained relatively constant,” she said. “However, 16-18 participation in full time FE rose significantly between 2003 and 2004 and we are expecting a further increase between 2004 and 2005.

“The four FE Colleges in Suffolk do a great job in recruiting young people from across the county onto a wide and varied range of courses.”

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