RECENT statistics released by the Scottish Government indicate that pupils are leaving school with more qualifications and better prospects.
Figures show that 89.5 per cent of those who left school in the 2011-12 academic year went on to what was described as a “positive destination”.
The proportion of those in employment, training or education rose from 87.2 per cent the previous year. The percentage of school leavers attaining a qualification at Higher level or above also increased from 52.5 per cent in 2010-11 to 55.8 per cent in 2011-12.
The rate of those leaving with no qualifications at Access 3/Standard Grade Foundation (SCQF level 3) or above fell. According to the statistics, 1.7 per cent of 2011-12 school leavers attained no passes at SCQF level 3 or better compared with 2.1 per cent last year.
The indication that school leavers are enjoying better prospects was welcomed by teaching unions and the government. But there was concern that the statistics for “Attainment, Leaver Destinations and Healthy Living” revealed that around one third of primary schools in some parts of the country are still not meeting national targets for the amount of PE pupils receive.
The figures showed that while the situation is improving nationally, many schools are still failing to provide the required 120 minutes a week of PE.
While 100 per cent of primaries are meeting the target in many areas of the country, in Aberdeen just 67 per cent of schools provide enough PE, down from 77 per cent last year. Falkirk has the lowest number of schools meeting the target (62 per cent). The Falkirk figure, however, still represented an increase from 55 per cent last year.
Meanwhile across Scotland as a whole, the percentage of secondary schools offering at least two periods of PE a week has fallen to 91 from 92 per cent.
Alison Johnstone, the education spokesperson for the Scottish Greens and a former athlete who represented Scotland at middle distance running, said: “To see a drop, albeit only 1 per cent, in the number of secondary schools providing at least 100 minutes of PE a week is a real worry. The Scottish Government needs to invest in proper facilities, proper coaching and ensure exercise is fundamental part of our education system rather than an optional extra.
“I’m also concerned to see the number of primary schools meeting the government’s target of PE provision has only moved up 4 per cent in the past year. To still have 12 per cent of our primary schools not providing two hours a week simply isn’t good enough.”
The overall improvement in school leavers’ prospects were described as “encouraging” by Larry Flanagan, the General Secretary of the Scotland’s largest teaching union, the EIS.
“It is welcome that policies aimed at supporting young people in Scotland seem to be having a positive impact,” Mr Flanagan said. “This also highlights the importance of investment in a properly funded college sector to provide the education and training opportunities vital to support economic recovery.”
But Neil Findlay, Labour’s spokesman for learning and skills, said the Scottish Government should guard against complacency. “The SNP must not be complacent about the improvement in these figures.
“With the implementation of Curriculum for Excellence and the prospect of strike action they need to be working hard to improve relationships with the teaching professions to ensure that high quality of education continues to be delivered to achieve even better levels of attainment in the future.”
Tory education spokeswoman Liz Smith said: “While it’s pleasing to see progress being made in the number of school leavers gaining at least one higher, more has to be done to give better life chances to children living in deprived areas.”
The minister for youth employment, Angela Constance, said: “Record levels of young people going into and remaining in positive destinations is great news for Scotland’s economy, our employers and our young people themselves.”
UK youngsters average two and half years out of work
Young people in the UK spend almost two and a half years out of work on average, longer than those in many other developed nations, a major international study shows.
Many young people will be out of the job market because they have “given up, more or less”, according to Andreas Schleicher, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development’s (OECD) deputy director for education and skills.
He warned that the “biggest challenge” to the UK at this time is to help those youngsters who do not have decent qualifications and struggle to find work.
Overall, UK young people aged between 15 and 29 are expected to spend 2.3 years on average either unemployed or out of the labour force entirely, OECD figures for 2011 show.
This is higher than in many other countries including the Netherlands (1.1 years), Iceland (1.2 years), Norway (1.3 years), Australia (1.7 years) and Germany (1.7 years).
Mr Schleicher said that some of these youngsters could be unemployed and looking for work, but for others “out of the labour force could mean you’ve given up, more or less”.
The OECD’s latest Education at a Glance report suggests that the people who have paid the price for the global economic crisis are individuals with low levels of education, with a wide employment gap between those with a degree and those without.
It reveals that almost a quarter of 15-29-year-olds without at least an “upper secondary education” are considered “NEET” (not in education, employment or training).
In comparison, this falls to 14.4 per cent among young people who have at least the equivalent to five good GCSEs and 8.4 per cent among youngsters who studied to degree level.