Pupil Dropouts: Year 13/Year 14

Oral Answers to Questions — Education – in the Northern Ireland Assembly at 2:45 pm on 2nd March 2015.

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Photo of Paul Givan Paul Givan DUP 2:45 pm, 2nd March 2015

2. Mr Givan asked the Minister of Education to outline the number of young people who fail to complete years 13 and 14 of full-time education. (AQO 7692/11-15)

Photo of John O'Dowd John O'Dowd Sinn Féin

The number of pupils who fail to complete years 13 and 14 is relatively small. The school leavers' survey shows that, in 2012-13, some 522 pupils left post-primary school without completing year 13, and 305 left without completing year 14. The survey also shows that the majority of those pupils — 76% of those leaving year 13 and 71 % of those leaving year 14 — went on to further education colleges, employment or training.

Many of those who fail to complete year 13 or year 14 do so because they are not content with their chosen pathway and decide to change direction. It is important, therefore, that young people are supported in making the right choices at the right time. Effective and timely careers guidance is important to support young people in making informed choices. That is why I welcomed the recent review of the joint DE/DEL careers strategy, which found that the strategy is sound and has resulted in significant improvements in the delivery of careers education over the past four years.

Photo of Paul Givan Paul Givan DUP

I thank the Minister for that response. Whilst it is a small number, I would be interested to know how many make an in-year change and then decide to change to a college. When I was 16, I went to Lisburn college, realised that the course was not for me and went back to secondary school to do A levels. Those statistics would provide an interesting insight. What further steps can be taken to try to minimise the type of change that takes place, because there is a cost to the taxpayer, and there is a lost opportunity to the young people who are involved? What more can be done to try to limit those experiences that we are having?

Photo of John O'Dowd John O'Dowd Sinn Féin

I know that the Member has asked questions previously in relation to this matter, and some statistics were provided at that stage. It is when and how the statistics are gathered and provided that will illuminate as to some of the points that you made in relation to whether young people make those choices at the start of the year or the middle of the year. I suspect that it is a mixture of both, but I will investigate to see whether we have the detail to answer the question that you have posed.

In relation to how we ensure that young people make the right choices, it is down to careers advice. It is down to ensuring that young people are fully informed of the career options that they have and the pathways that they will have to follow and where those pathways will lead them if they make certain subject choices. As I mentioned in my original answer to you, the recent review of the careers strategy has been quite positive, pointing out that we are beginning to make positive changes to careers advice and that young people are now receiving much-improved careers advice from that given in previous years, but we will continue to keep that matter under review.

Photo of Seán Rogers Seán Rogers Social Democratic and Labour Party

Minister, you rightly put the emphasis on the careers education programme. What discussions have you had with the Department for Employment and Learning to bring forward the recommendations from the careers review?

Photo of John O'Dowd John O'Dowd Sinn Féin

I have had discussions directly with the Minister, and my officials are in discussion with his officials about the matter. We are continuing to investigate how to bring forward the recommendations of the review, particularly given the constrained budgetary period for both Departments.

Photo of Danny Kinahan Danny Kinahan UUP

I thank the Minister for his answers so far, and it is good to hear that there are so few. Has the Minister thought about or even discussed with officials the idea that has been suggested in the UK of extending the school years to include 17- and 18-year-olds or adding some flexibility into the system?

Photo of John O'Dowd John O'Dowd Sinn Féin

I think the Member is referring to the compulsory age of leaving school being 17 or 18, and I think it is worth exploring. I am not proactively doing that, but people's lifestyles are changing, and the figures show that more and more young people stay in education beyond the age of 16, 17 or 18. Our career pathways are changing, our education system is changing and, indeed, the skills bases that employers require are changing. As we all know, we are also expected to work longer, so it is important that we start looking back down the track at how long our young people should stay in school. It will be a wide-ranging debate with implications for a significant number of Departments, but I think that it will have positive outcomes for young people and may well have a positive outcome for the economy, and, whether or not I have the opportunity to explore it during this term in office, I believe that it is something that our society and the Executive need to start discussing in detail.