More and more school leavers in Northamptonshire are entering the workplace as opposed to going to university, official figures reveal.
The latest Department for Education stats shows that 1,232 of the young people finishing Key Stage 5 in schools and colleges in 2016, about 26% of the total, entered the labour market after completing A-levels or similar qualifications.
That compares with 1,185 a year earlier.
The National Union of Students pointed to high university tuition fees as one of the factors deterring pupils from continuing to study. Some other students may get a job to help fund their degrees.
In Northamptonshire 59% continued into higher education after Key Stage 5 but it is below the rate a year earlier, when that figure was 64%.
A spokesperson for the NUS said: “Tuition fees and loss of financial support is putting kids off. The dismantling of the maintenance grants system has led to students struggling to make ends meet and a rise in drop-out rates.”
The rate of young workers in Northamptonshire is above the average for England, where 22% of the students finishing KS5 got a job for at least six months after leaving school, a slight fall compared with the previous year.
Frances O’Grady, the TUC general secretary, said that the type of work available to school-leavers is a concern.
She said: “Young people entering the labour market now are more likely to be in insecure work and on low pay. A year on from the Taylor review nothing has happened and young workers are paying the price.”
Matthew Taylor, the chief executive of the Royal Society of Arts, published a report a year ago, commissioned by the Government, in which he called for clearer legislation on employment status to adapt employment practices to modern business models, such as the gig economy.
Ms O’Grady added: “The Government should introduce wide-ranging reforms to protect agency workers, many of them youngsters. The first priority must be to ensure all agency workers have the same rights to equal pay.”
A total of 4,740 pupils finished school in Northamptonshire in the school year 2015-16.
Most of the pupils who continued their studies opted to go to university, with 9% of them going to the 24 leading universities which make up the Russell Group.
The data shows that only 6% of KS5 pupils in Northamptonshire started apprenticeships after school.
An apprentice will typically spend one day a week studying at a college or training organisation, while spending the rest training on the job under the guidance of experienced employees.