Worrying trends have been revealed in the recruitment of Level 1 and Entry Level students.
In their latest survey on 16-18 recruitment, the Association of Colleges (AoC) has found Level 1 learner numbers declined by 6.6 per cent and Entry Level figures by around 6.4 per cent on last year.
The data was collected from a total of 231 institutions enrolling more than 530,000 young people aged 16-18.
It shows that overall 16-18 year old learner numbers in the sample declined by 1.78 per cent between 2010/11 and 2011/12.
However, the recruitment pattern was varied, with more than 41 per cent of colleges reporting an increase in enrolment numbers and around 59 per cent a decline.
AoC chief executive Martin Doel said the survey “gives us the most detailed picture yet of recruitment among colleges from September 2011 onwards and allows us to make some valuable conclusions”.
Mr Doel also said autumn term recruitment drive of colleges “appears to have had a positive impact on enrolment” and that the decline of less than two per cent is consistent with earlier studies.
However, he added: “Worryingly, however, the trends related to Level 1 and Entry Level Students that were identified in earlier versions of this survey, echoed in the latest statistics about young people not in education or training, continue.
“The drop in the number of students leaving school with low levels of qualifications starting at college this year has been the most dramatic, even if it has improved since the previous study.
“In addition, the decline is steeper in the most deprived areas of the country.”
“If these young people are not studying at college then they are most likely to drop out of education altogether because most schools do not provide the types of courses they need, and work-based learning routes like apprenticeships are closed to them.”
The task now, Mr Doel said, is identifying the reasons behind the figures.
Mr Doel added: “Although the recruitment picture is clearer it is, sadly, less obvious as to what is driving this decline in enrolments among those students leaving school with the least qualifications.
“Our members tell us that the loss of the Connexions service and the erosion of independent advice and guidance is likely to have had a significant impact, as have, say members, local authority transport cuts and the disappearance of the Education Maintenance Allowance.
“Students’ worries about employment prospects and higher education costs may also be a stumbling block to aspiration.”
In the meantime, Mr Doel wants the government to continue to work with the AoC and its partners to understand “cause and effect” in the behaviours of the age group.
He said: “In tandem, we believe that there is a need for a more co-ordinated policy programme across Government departments, predicated on robust research.
“Underpinning policy development should be the consistent guiding principle that government and its agencies should eradicate the various barriers that, as indicated by our research, too many young people face when seeking to enrol on quality courses that lead to employment for themselves, and provide wider socio-economic benefits to their communities.”