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Brighton and Hove sixth formers give university the cold shoulder
Brighton and Hove sixth formers are less likely to go on to study at university than their contemporaries across the UK, new figures reveal.
The Department for Education (DfE) post-18 statistics, released for the first time this week, reveal the same trend for colleges in East Sussex, with those in West Sussex doing only slightly better.
The findings are in contrast to A-level attainment in the area, with Brighton and Hove students achieving just marginally below the national average, and East and West Sussex students scoring higher grades.
Dr Stuart Newton, a former school headmaster, said: “It appears that young people from our area are achieving grades comparable with those across the country and are therefore eligible for entry to university.
“Perhaps the figures published by the DfE tell us more about the employment situation in different parts of the country than the educational aspirations of young people.
“Presumably they indicate that, in our area of the south-east, there is a much higher percentage of young people who chose to go on to employment.
“Perhaps we ought to add the caveat that in the south-east there were probably more jobs available than elsewhere in the country.”
'All about choice'
The sentiment has been echoed by politicians, with Simon Kirby , the MP for Brighton Kemptown, suggesting it might not be a bad thing.
He said: “I think it is great that school leavers can go and get enjoyable, interesting and worthwhile jobs without having to go to university.
“At the end of the day it is about choice and I think the figures show that local students have the choice and are taking advantage of it.”
But business leaders disagree and have called the figures “extremely worrying”.
They say the trend is leading to a specialist skills black hole in the county.
Wendy Bell, general manager of Sussex Enterprise, the county’s chamber of commerce, said: “The figures echo what we are hearing from businesses around Sussex.
“Engineering firms are telling us that there’s a shortage of graduates with the necessary degrees to work in the industry.
“It’s only one example but I think it shows the impact it can have.
“In the long term this could cause real problems with businesses thinking twice about investing in the area.”
The Department for Education published the Key Stage 5 leavers’ figures for the first time this week.
A spokeswoman added that the statistics, which are for 2009/10, are still to be evaluated and remain subject to further testing.
Of the 1,830 sixth form leavers in Brighton and Hove, 670 went on to study at university – just 36% of the total.
In East Sussex, 1,000 students of a total of 2,830 went to university (35%) with 1,840 of the 4,480 sixth formers (41%) in West Sussex going on to further study.
Nationally of the 313,340 A-level students, 162,780 went on to university – a rate of 52%.
Mr Newton said: “It’s worth remembering that, for the students in 2009/10, the tuition fees had not increased, hence we cannot use that as an explanation.”
The number of sixth formers going on to university differs greatly from college to college across the county.
The Weald School in Billingshurst and Hazelwick School in Crawley have the greatest conversion percentage, with 63% and 56% of students respectively heading to university.
In contrast, at both Sussex Coast College, Hastings, and Beacon College in Crowborough, just 29% go to study for a degree.
Ms Bell said: “We need to encourage youngsters that careers in industries like engineering are exciting, well-paid and enjoyable. On the one hand it is nice that school leavers can get jobs but there has to be that balance and we need more university-educated young people in the county.”
Mr Kirby said: “With most of these tables, Brighton and Hove is often the odd one out. In many ways I think that can be a good thing and I’m proud to say that I represent such a diverse and different city.
“But if this means that our children are missing out then we need to look at the problem and do something about it.”