Despite a general view that local authorities should no longer be in charge of schools, governments are quite happy to burden them with extra responsibilities regarding young people. The announcement of a scorecard of the level of NEETs, the 16-18 year olds not taking advantage of the political desire to see all teenagers up to the age of eighteen in some form of work or training, places yet another duty on local authorities. So far, I haven’t heard of any extra funding to support initiatives to help reduce the size of the NEET group: perhaps government thinks the cash is already there.
While the scorecard may tell us where the NEETs are located, I doubt it will change much else. A much better approach would be to find out what works and help spread good practice around. Does shifting dis-affected fourteen year-olds into UTCs and Studio Schools reduce the NEET problem at sixteen or make it worse. Should we not be looking at the curriculum and recognising that NEETs don’t just become NEETs at sixteen, but realistically drop out much earlier from school. Perhaps the next Sutton Trust review of academy chains can look into their NEET scores and see whether, like local authorities, there is a range of outcomes?
An early area for focus by scrutiny committees across local authorities might be whether there are differential rates of drop out after one year post sixteen between schools and the further education sector locally? This might raise the issue of pastoral care between the two sectors and indeed, whether sixth form colleges operate to different standards than general further education colleges. It is sometimes said that the more open and relaxed attitude of the further education sector serve some young people better than remaining at school. Is this the case or is it just a matter of passing the buck?
Local authorities act as corporate parents for young people in care. How well do they do this in relation to the FE sector? Indeed, how well do FE colleges interact with parents in general? Do they provide the same level of feedback as schools on issues of progress and matters such as careers guidance and can this affect a young person’s chance of becoming a NEET?
The move to a society where learning continues to eighteen has been introduced piecemeal in England without clear sets of responsibilities. If the NEET scorecard sheds light on one part of the policy change to educate all to eighteen that may not be working as well as hoped such exposure will be helpful as a first step. But, it will not be sufficient.
The issue of NEETs is as much a concern for rural areas as it is for our large towns and cities. Indeed, the job opportunities in many rural areas, especially for casual work, can be far less than in towns. It is just as easy for these teenagers to disappear off the official radar in a village as on a housing estate.
There may be fewer NEETs than a generation ago, but they remain an issue; scoring their numbers is a start, but not enough.