DARLINGTON residents hold significantly fewer qualifications than the national average, but remain more qualified than elsewhere in the North-East, a meeting has heard.

Darlington Borough Council’s children and young people scrutiny committee was told while almost one-in-ten residents in the borough did not hold any qualification, almost four-in-ten residents elsewhere held qualifications of NVQ level 4 and above.

An officers’ report to the meeting on its learning and skills service, which supports some of the most disadvantaged young people and adults, highlighted Office for National Statistics figures showing just 33 per cent of Darlington residents held that higher level of qualification.

The document stated: “Darlington residents are better qualified than the North-East average, Darlington remains below the national average at almost every level.”

The meeting heard the authority’s external training arm was taking action after senior leaders and councillors were criticised by Ofsted over “a lack of ambition in growing the apprenticeship programme” and “focusing too much on teaching techniques and procedures, rather than their impact on learning”.

The service provides a range of training, including 16 to 18 study programme and diploma courses, adult education, including English and maths and apprenticeships and often provides a stepping stone to those taking their first steps back into learning.

Councillors heard while the service had held a ‘Good’ Ofsted rating since 2004, it would face a challenge in improving the grade.

Paul Richardson, head of the service, said: “It’s going to be difficult because the whole Ofsted regime is changing from September. There is a move of the focus away from raw data and performance statistics to looking at the learning. We do offer a breadth of curriculum and provide support for the most hard to reach learners.”

He told members that the 16 to 18 achievement rate had dropped between 2016/17 and 2017/18 due to a continued push on retaining the most vulnerable young people to prevent them from being not in education, employment or training, resulting in a drop in the pass rates.

Mr Richardson said the service was addressing the Ofsted recommendation to increase the number of employers the service engages with, so the volume of apprenticeships could remain steady at a time when the national trend had been one of decline.

He said: “We have engaged an employment engagement officer. The fact that we’ve held our apprenticeship and employers numbers is good news. We are starting to look at other occupational areas and are aiming for growth.