More than 178,000 drop out of post-16 courses


A “bums on seats” approach to post-16 education is leading to thousands of students dropping out before completing their courses, it has been claimed.

A “bums on seats” approach to post-16 education is leading to thousands of students dropping out before completing their courses, it has been claimed.

Latest figures show that 178,100 16 to 18-year-olds failed to complete their post-16 qualifications started in 2012/13.

At the same time, there were 150,000 individual AS level exam entries (13 per cent) and 10,000 A level entries (1.3 per cent) that failed to achieve a pass grade (an A to E), although so-called non-achievement rates have been falling in recent years.

An analysis by the Centre for Economic and Social Inclusion on behalf of the Local Government Association (LGA) says that the cost of these drop-outs and non-achievements to the tax-payer is £814 million.

The LGA is blaming the problem on what it calls a “bums on seats” approach to post-16 education, which funds schools and colleges based on student numbers, rather than the types of courses and qualifications being offered.

The analysis finds that students are most likely to drop out of Apprenticeships (one in four), further education (one in 10) or 

AS levels (one in 10). For A levels, the drop-out rate is one in 20. 

Students are also most likely to drop out of maths, psychology, biology and general studies courses. At AS level, students were more likely to fail to pass qualifications in accounting and finance, law and computer studies.

The cost of dropping out or failing to pass courses is calculated as being £316 million from AS and A level, £302 million from further education, and £196 million from Apprenticeships.

The LGA is calling for the next government to give more funding to local areas, including for further education, Apprenticeships and careers advice in a bid to ensure students are placed on appropriate courses.

SecEd reported in June last year on budgetary pressures that are hitting 16 to 19 education. While per-student funding pre-16 has been protected, there has been no protection post-16 and the move to per-student rather than per-qualification funding means specialist or expensive courses are vulnerable (for this article, see

The LGA report states: “There are human and financial costs every time a young person fails to complete a course or does not achieve a recognised grade.

It adds: “For the young person it means coping with uncertainty and a sense of failure and with hard decisions about what to do next.

“For schools, the Exchequer and the tax-payer there is the cost of providing education that does not result in a positive outcome.”

Cllr David Simmonds, chairman of the LGA’s Children and Young People Board, said: “Councils want every young person to achieve their full potential but too many are still dropping out of post-16 education and training or not achieving a passing grade.

“Our analysis lays bare the substantial financial cost of this but the human cost is even greater with youngsters left struggling with uncertainty, a sense of failure and facing tough decisions about what to do next.

“Councils are having success in helping young people that do drop-out back into learning but fear a failure to reform the centralised ‘bums on seats’ approach to funding further education could leave too many teenagers at risk of dropping out or without the skills needed to get a job.

“Local councils, colleges, schools and employers know how to best help their young people and should have devolved funding and powers to work together to give young people the best chance of building careers and taking jobs that exist locally.”

Commenting on the analysis, Martin Doel, chief executive of the Association of Colleges, emphasised that further education student retention rates have “improved markedly in recent years”. 

He continued: “The reasons why some young people don’t finish their course are complex. Sometimes they get a job and therefore leave education. They might also change course which the data doesn’t necessarily take account of. 

“Funding for 16 to 18-year-olds has faced significant reductions too, particularly the abolition of the Education Maintenance Allowance in 2011 which supported young people through their education. In addition there are outdated policies resulting in poor careers advice and growing transport costs.

“This report shines a light on failing careers advice in this country. We would like to see the establishment of careers hubs in every local area supported by schools, colleges, universities, local councils, employers and Jobcentre Plus to ensure that everyone has access to the high-quality impartial advice they deserve.”


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