Memorandum submitted by the Association of Colleges

 

Summary

Flexible solutions are needed to meet the different needs of young people who are not in education, employment or training (NEET).

Education and training for those who are NEET is often more costly, requiring small group sizes and additional one-to-one support. Colleges often have to subsidise this work.

Funding should follow students with a NEET 'premium' to cover these additional costs.

Improved choices for 14-15 year-olds should include the right to attend College full time where this is in the best interests of the young person.

Independent careers information, advice and guidance (IAG) is vital, so that young people choose the right route for them, with Ofsted and local authorities checking that it is impartial.

Colleges could do more to help reduce the number of young people who are NEET if they were given earlier access to those young people identified as being at risk of disengagement in school, starting in Years 8 and 9.

The 30 Education Maintenance Allowance and transport support should be continued and better targeted.

The funding system should encourage imaginative partnerships with the voluntary and charitable sector.

Where local circumstances dictate, Colleges should be able to offer complete Diplomas.

Existing vocational options should be retained for those requiring smaller, more flexible and more practical programmes.

Colleges and Sector Skills Councils should jointly be able to lead on apprenticeships, where employer reluctance is reducing access during the recession

Institution based measures of performance which mitigate against collaboration and impartial IAG, should be replaced with consortia wide measures which will encourage a more collective approach.

Colleges provide pastoral support and enrichment for students which are particularly needed for students who are NEET and this should be adequately funded.

 

 

1. The Association of Colleges represents and promotes the interests of Further Education and Sixth Form Colleges and provides members with professional support services. Our 356 Colleges in England educate 60% of 16-18 year-olds in education.

 

2. Colleges provide a range of courses for young people, including A-levels, vocational courses, Diplomas and Apprenticeships. The 356 Colleges include 93 sixth form, 4 art and design, 16 land based and 36 tertiary colleges. Colleges also provide education and training to 82,000 14-16 year olds, usually for part of the week.

 

3. Colleges play a particularly important role in educating young people from disadvantaged backgrounds and those that have not achieved their potential in schools. 13% of 16-18 year olds in Colleges are from a deprived background compared with 8% in school sixth forms.

 

Strategies for the identification of young people at risk of falling into the "NEET" category

 

4. The proportion of 16-18 year-olds who are NEET has risen recently, despite a significant increase in the proportion of young people in education. The latest Labour Force Survey suggests that 13.4% of this age group are NEET. While the proportion of 16 year-olds who are NEET had fallen to a low of 6.3% in the first quarter of 2008, it reached 8.8% in the third quarter of 2009. Among 17 year-olds, the proportion is now 14.6% and among 18 year-olds it is 16.7%, though the latter figure is lower than earlier in 2009.[1]

 

5. Overall, while there has been a shift from work-related training to education, improved participation rates have not been fully reflected in the NEET data. Indeed, the Government's target of reducing to 7.6% of the age group being in this category seems increasingly elusive. Meanwhile, the latest OECD data places the UK 7th out of 33 countries for the proportion of 15 -19 year-olds not in education or training, nearly twice the EU average. Among 17 year-olds, only Mexico and Turkey have lower participation rates. [2]

 

6. There are real differences within the NEET group. As the Government's "Raising the Participation Age" strategy[3] puts it, they "are not a homogeneous group and must be treated as individuals." As the chart shows, the strategy breaks the NEET group into those who are 'open to learning', many of whom already have five good GCSEs or other level 2 qualifications, and some of who may simply be on gap years; the 'undecided' who don't face significant personal barriers, have some GCSEs but are dissatisfied with existing learning opportunities; and the 'sustained' group, many of whom have had a negative school experience and lack qualifications.

 

7. The Government publishes quarterly NEET bulletins providing some welcome extra information but we need to know more about why young people become NEET. The reasons often includes a family history of leaving school early, boredom and disengagement that has led to truancy and exclusion from school, homelessness and care needs, teenage pregnancy, drug dependency and often combinations of these problems.

 

 

 

 

8. Understanding these reasons better can ensure more tailored and personalised learning programmes - and should ensure that problems are addressed early on in secondary school. Our experience suggests that unless these problems are addressed in Year 8 or 9, alienation from education and learning will grow and it is much harder to re-engage such young people.

 

Services and Programmes to support those most at risk and to address the needs of those who have become persistently NEET

 

9. One potential solution to alienation would be to allow young people the right to attend College full-time from 14 - where they can access wider vocational choices and learning in a more applied way with better specialist facilities. Colleges currently educate 83,000 14 and 15 year-olds for at least part of the week. These young people typically prepare for vocational or applied qualifications while at College, studying at school for the rest of the week. Colleges also provide full-time education and training to around 4,500 full-time 14 and 15 year olds.

 

City of Bath College enrols full time 14 and 15 year olds through a programme called 'New Start'. Each year the local authority purchases a number of places from the College and as well as the essential  and basic skills courses and personal development programmes, the young people choose a full time vocational pathway such as Refrigeration Engineering, Catering, Construction or Hairdressing The students are treated as genuine full time college students but with additional pastoral support. The scheme is major success and on completion 90% of these young people continue with the College to a Level 2 course. They do not become NEET.

10. In addition, there are also around 9000 young people joining the DCSF's Young Apprenticeships programme each year.[4] Widening access to these and similar vocational programmes could provide otherwise disaffected young people with the motivation to continue learning, which is vital if the higher participation age is to prove successful. Currently, complicated negotiations must take place between schools and Colleges to transfer funding from the school to the College when this happens. AoC believes that the DCSF should ensure that money follows the student so that they can access College and other courses where they may offer better opportunities than school.

 

11. Colleges should be given financial support and encouragement to provide dedicated support for young people who are NEET. However, this provision is costly and the College currently has to subsidise this. AoC is concerned that this may not be sustainable for many Colleges particularly in the current financial climate.

 

12. Information, Advice and Guidance must be wholly impartial. Despite evidence that young people have greater choice in Colleges, schools often encourage young people to remain in their sixth form even when this is inappropriate. Young people too often start but don't complete A-level courses: twice as many 18 year olds are NEET as 16 year-olds. This is not only unhelpful to them but also expensive. The Connexions service does good work with young people who are NEET, but independent advice is needed much sooner. It is vital that schools ensure - as the law now requires following the Apprenticeships, Skills, Children and Learning Act 2009 - that every young person has wholly independent information, advice and guidance from an early stage in secondary school so that they can see the full range of options available to them.[5] Ofsted should not only monitor this work, they should check with local Colleges and other sixth forms whether they think that impartial advice is being provided by schools.

 

13. Education Maintenance Allowances (EMA) have supported many young people staying in education with 68% of EMA recipients studying in a College. While EMAs may no longer be seen as necessary when it is a legal requirement to stay on, they will nevertheless be needed to support young people who would otherwise face family pressure to take a low paid, low skilled job. AoC has proposed that the 30 EMA, given to students from the poorest backgrounds is retained, but that the 10 and 20 EMA funding be ring-fenced for local authorities to support transport for 16-18 year olds. The Government is currently reviewing the financial support available to 16-19 year olds.[6]

 

14. The Government has strengthened free transport rights for 16-18 year olds along with raising the participation age. In many areas, particularly rural ones, a lack of public transport is a huge barrier to participation. There is also a postcode lottery, forcing some Colleges to lay on their own bus services. It is important that every young person has access to free or low cost transport when going to school, College or a training programme, and that its cost remains the same from 11-19.

 

15. A more balanced funding system would ensure proper resources for those who are NEET. At present, funding is skewed towards schools in two ways. First, revenue funding is greater for each sixth form student in schools than it is in Colleges by an average of 10%. Second, significant capital is provided to build school sixth forms that essentially duplicate existing A-level provision, without similar resources being provided for level 2 and vocational courses for 16-19 year-olds that could appeal to young people for whom A-levels are not the best option. At the same time, there should be a premium attached to each disadvantaged young person so that providers are fully funded for the extra costs involved in supporting their education.

 

The effectiveness of the Government's NEET strategy

 

16. Despite improvements in participation in education the proportion of young people who are NEET is rising. We support the Government's target to reduce NEETs to 7.6% but we are concerned that the programmes that the Government is willing to fund are too narrow to address the needs particularly of the 'sustained' NEET group.

 

17. We welcome the Government's September guarantee that all young people aged 16 or 17 can have a place in education or training, which they can start either in September or January. However, Colleges take a risk in meeting the guarantees without clarity from the LSC about their funding. Colleges that meet or exceed their September recruitment targets must be funded for this growth, and also need additional ring-fenced funding to allow them to recruit more young people in order to meet the January guarantee.

 

18. Colleges are keen to work with employers, private and voluntary sector organisations. The funding system should support and encourage partnerships with organisations like Centrepoint and Skills Force to develop programmes targeted at vulnerable groups of young people, including the young homeless, those in care and those with special needs.

 

St Helens College in Merseyside works in partnership with the Prince's Trust, offering a twelve week programme which includes a community project, a work placement and team building alongside basic skills training. Success rates of 75%, against a benchmark of 70%, have been achieved with students progressing into employment and further training

 

 

 

The likely impact of raising the participation age

 

19. AoC welcomed the Government's decision to raise the participation age (RPA) from 16 to 18 from 2015 so that every young person should be receiving education or training, whether they are in work or otherwise.

 

20. An important part of the RPA policy is to deliver a range of options to young people, including A-levels, Diplomas and apprenticeships. Programmes like Entry to Employment, Key Stage 4 Engagement and other flexible and bite-size courses should also be on offer, particularly for the NEET group, and Colleges should have the funding and flexibility to provide them.

 

21. AoC has supported the introduction and development of Diplomas and the majority of FE Colleges are involved in their delivery. However, we are concerned that they do not yet meet the different needs of all learners. This is a particular issue with many in the NEET group, where the Diploma is insufficiently flexible and often not as practical as existing vocational courses. At the same time, Colleges worry that current vocational qualifications, such as the BTEC and others which can be more readily tailored to specific needs and which have the respect of employers, could be lost. In particular, those young people who have achieved no or few qualifications at school may need access to flexible, bite-size programmes.

 

22. The Government has rightly emphasised the importance of apprenticeships to provide young people with good work experience. These could appeal to many of the NEET group, if they were available locally but many of these young people will need an appropriate pre-apprenticeship course of study. Ideally, such programmes would be employer-led. However, it has proved difficult in many areas to engage employers in apprenticeships. Support for Programme-Led apprenticeships has been falling. Yet such support is vital during a recession where employed places may not be available. AoC supports the work of Group Training Associations which bring together small firms to support training and so mitigate against the impact of the recession.

 

23. We would also like to see more support from the Young People's Learning Agency, local authorities and the National Apprenticeships Service for partnerships where Colleges and Sector Skills Councils jointly take the lead but employers continue to offer the minimum 16 hours' work experience a week. This model could ensure that sufficient apprenticeships are offered in areas where there are too few employers willing to offer apprenticeships, and could also help small firms that are keen to engage with the programme.

 

24. A significant proportion of those affected by RPA will be young people in work, but not in education or training. This is a slightly larger group than those who are NEET - at 13.9% of 16-18 year-olds[7] - and includes young people in low paid jobs without training as well as those receiving on-the-job training that does not lead to an accredited qualification. Partnerships with Colleges and other training providers will be crucial in providing the part-time learning that the law will require from 2013 and 2015 as the participation age is progressively raised. It is important that the spirit of the new law is met as well as the letter, and that young people learn skills that support their future employability. Colleges are ready to play their part in meeting that challenge.

 

25. Delivering proper choices requires strong partnerships between schools, Colleges, employers and local authorities. However, the quality of 14-19 partnerships can be variable, and can focus too often on institutional rather than student interests. This is because performance is measured at the level of the institution. AoC would like to see consortia wide measures of performance, which we believe would be a powerful incentive to the provision of impartial information advice and guidance. There is merit in some geographical areas for Colleges to offer Diplomas alone. Local partnerships should have the flexibility to agree solutions that best suit students in an area. Where that means a College delivering complete Diplomas - which can be a more cost-effective option - they should have the freedom and encouragement to do so.

 

Opportunities and future prospects in education, training and employment for 16-18 year olds

 

26. AoC believes all young people should be offered every chance to achieve their potential. We welcome the Government's goal that 75% of people should gain an apprenticeship or a higher education qualification. But it is important that we provide the right courses and partnerships to ensure that the rest are not left behind.

 

27. More should be done to develop links between learning and employment. Colleges have been developing significantly better links in recent years and the Government has recognised this in its recent skills White Paper.[8] We would welcome a broader measure of success against which programmes could be judged and funded.

 

28. Colleges also have responsibilities if they are to cater for more young people. Colleges have strong pastoral services and many FE Colleges provide bespoke facilities for young people under 19 on campus. If Colleges are to take more students from 14, they will want to extend such provision and support. It is also important that there is follow-up support available once vulnerable young people leave College or training, so that they can get help if they need it and avoid falling into unemployment or becoming trapped on benefits.

 

29. Colleges also need to be given credit where they successfully work with young people who were NEET. College success rates require students to complete particular qualifications, but no credit is given where a young person has made significant progress but does not successfully complete the course. A measure of success that incentivised Colleges to work even more with the NEET group and which gave credits for advances in learning or employment as a result would encourage much more outreach work.

 

30. As the Government seeks greater efficiencies in the current economic climate, it should do more to merge youth training programmes linked to the Department for Work and Pensions with its apprenticeships, diplomas and other programmes funded by DCSF and BIS. Young people would benefit from a single independent adviser with good knowledge of all the courses available, and a skills account that they could use - or could be used on their behalf - to access the right training or education.

 

31. We want to see a significantly reduced NEET population well before the law expects every young person to stay in education or training until 18. With the right funding, flexibility and incentives, we believe it is possible to achieve this.

 

December 2009



[1] NEET statistics, Quarterly Brief (DCSF, November 2009)

[2] Education at a Glance 2009 (OECD, 2009)

[3] : http://www.dcsf.gov.uk/14-19/documents/neet_strategy_0803.pdf

[4] http://tinyurl.com/yfajfe2

[5] Quality, Choice and Aspiration - A strategy for young people's information, advice and guidance (DCSF, 2009)

[6] http://www.dcsf.gov.uk/14-19/index.cfm?go=site.home&sid=42&pid=544&lid=680&ctype=Text&ptype=Single

[7] LFS data August 2009 quoted in DCSF, Neet Statistics Quarterly Brief, Quarter 2 2009

[8] Skills for Growth: The National Skills Strategy (BIS, 2009)