I congratulate Nic Dakin on securing this important debate, and it is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Hanson. I was part of a previous Adjournment debate on this matter and have looked forward to this broader debate, which is very welcome.
First, I welcome the huge progress made under this Government on 16-to-19 education as a whole. This year, the percentage of entries awarded the top A* or A grade is 26.3%—an increase on the 2016 results—with an overall UK pass rate of 97.9%. I am particularly pleased that the proportion of entries in STEM subjects has increased and that there are more female than male entries in chemistry for the first time since 2004. Having hosted an event in Parliament in June to promote women in engineering, alongside the Women’s Engineering Society, I am absolutely delighted that we are doing something about that at sixth-form level. Alongside industry, we roundly looked at the challenges in relation to STEM for students of both sexes, with a view to ensuring that they have a chance to have the career that they need post 16-to-19 education. This Government, and certainly my colleagues and I, do not take the challenge post-16 at all lightly.
On top of the excellent secondary schools that offer A-level courses in my constituency, we are fortunate to have the stand-alone colleges. I think the importance of that will come out in the conversation and debate today; they are themselves definitive success stories in many constituencies across the UK. Eighty-seven per cent. are rated good or outstanding by Ofsted—that includes Eastleigh College, with which I have strong links—and 55% of disadvantaged students progress to university, compared with 42% from state schools or colleges. Even better, 90% of students attending sixth-form colleges go on to study for a second year at university, if that is right for them.
Let me take this chance to thank my two local post-16 colleges for the great visits that have allowed me the opportunity to see the work that they do, and their principals: Jan Edrich at Eastleigh College and Jonathan Prest at Barton Peveril College.
Students in my constituency have a great choice. Eastleigh College is packed full of apprenticeship opportunities and is strongly linked to business. It is a leader in air conditioning and gas engineering training. All of that is very much needed. Business leaders in my constituency want work-ready post 16-to-19 students. As a Conservative and a believer in choice, I know it is vital that we give our students such opportunities, so I must ask my right hon. Friend the new Minister to take her opportunity to balance the skills agenda alongside the need for traditional colleges in order that all our students have the right opportunities. I believe that there will be continued strong lobbying from the Sixth Form Colleges Association; it is certainly beating down my door, and I am sure it is beating down hers.