More than £800m a year is being wasted on students who drop out of apprenticeships and A-level courses because their schools and colleges are more interested in getting “bums on seats” than on guiding them to the right subjects. Critics warn that data released today shows that a generation of young people have been set up for failure, spending wasted months out of the jobs market or more appropriate education.

Around 12 per cent of the entire budget for post-16 education in England is being wasted on the 10 per cent of students who fail to complete their studies – a figure that rises to 25 per cent among apprentices.

The analysis, which was carried out for the Local Government Association (LGA) by the Centre for Economic and Social Inclusion, found the cost to the public purse is £814m.

The report shows that 178,100 16- to 18-year-olds failed to complete post-16 qualifications they had embarked upon in 2012-13 – prompting an outcry from local government leaders, academics and teachers’ leaders.

Schools and colleges are funded according to the number of students they recruit, leading the LGA to say that too many institutions are adopting a policy of recruiting as many students as possible to sixth-form or college courses, instead of ensuring each individual can be steered towards a course suitable for them.

“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 pass grade,” said David Simmonds, chairman of the LGA’s Children and Young People Board.

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

The LGA warns that the 178,100 dropouts run the risk of becoming “Neets”  – left marginalised by not being involved in education, employment or training.

The dropout rate from AS-levels, the exams worth half an A-level which have been considered a stepping stone to the full courses, was 10 per cent. The A-level dropout rate was 5 per cent. There were 75,000 withdrawals from individual AS-levels and 22,000 from  A-levels.

The cost of dropout and non-achievement was £316m from AS- and A-levels, £302m from further education and £196m from apprenticeships.

The authors say that in recent years the cost to the Exchequer may have been even more costly as AS-level and A-level dropout rates have improved – but warned that the situation could soon become worse.

The LGA is asking all political parties to give councils more freedom to work closely with local employers to provide local solutions to offering the courses that will most help young people in their neighbourhood – instead of leaving them to try to match nationally imposed programmes to local needs.

“Councils are having success in helping young people that do dropout 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 in the future,” Mr Simmonds added.

Professor Alan Smithers, director of the Centre for Education and Employment at Buckingham University, added: “It is the fault of successive governments because we don’t have clear pathways for students at that age.

“Schools want to hold on to them – but then they discover that academic work is not for them. If they then opt for further education colleges or apprenticeships, it is a bit of a muddle.  The ladder from school to university is clear but the ladder from school to employment is anything but. This has to be a high priority for an incoming government to tackle.”

A Department for Education spokesman said: “We have invested £7.2bn to fund a place for every 16- and 17-year-old in England who wants one. We are reforming academic qualifications and vocational education to ensure young people get the knowledge and skills that they need to move into a job.”

Read more at The Independent