Memorandum submitted by Pearson Education UK

 

 

 

1.1 Not a new problem: The proportion of young people who are neither in education, employment nor training is not new but attracted attention following the sharp increase in youth unemployment in the 1980s, becoming a target for social policy from approximately the mid 1990s. Challenging PSA targets have been set to reduce the proportion of young people who are NEET by 2% in 2010 from a 2004 baseline of 9.6%. To some extent this issue is a feature of long- term localised structural unemployment, reflecting the decline of key industries such as coal mining, steel production and manufacturing, leading particularly to a dearth of entry level job opportunities.

 

1.2 What do we mean by 'NEET'? The term 'NEET' is a residual labour market definition coined by the Social Exclusion Unit in 1999. While useful for policy reference purposes, this term can have the unintended effect of 'othering' key members of society on the grounds of non co-operation with the prescribed expectations of Government social policy. This language may imply subtly that the root of the problem is that certain young people are 'disaffected', 'disengaged' or 'hard to reach' rather than that learning or upskilling services may be 'hard to access' or experienced as unrewarding by learners.

 

1.3 The scale of the issue? The accurate measurement of the NEET population is complex. It is a snapshot view at one moment in time of the movement of people in and out of this category, and includes socially constructive activity such as gap year voluntary work, both in the UK and abroad. The group is not static but is rapidly changing. There are significant variations across and within regions. This group is also likely to be mobile and less than fully compliant with the radar of institutions such as Connexions which seek to stay in touch with them and ascertain progression.

 

2. Strategies for the identification of young people at risk of falling into the NEET category:

 

2.1 Identifying young people likely to become NEET: We may identify young people at risk of becoming NEET by recognising the profile of those currently not in employment, education or training. Unfortunately, this group is not homogeneous but extremely varied. We know from the grass roots experience of groups such as Rathbone and Dr Barnardo's who work with many such young people, that those who are NEET are disproportionately likely to be white working class young men nationwide, but reflect ethnic minority groups in London. They are more likely to be male, low achieving, persistent absentees or excludees, (here we must take account of the the inconsistency between schools as to justifications for exclusion), those with learning difficulties, teenage parents, young people leaving local authority care ( for whom unstable housing is a key problem), victims of bullying, young offenders, young people who are homebound or unwell. They are disproportionately likely to experience mental health problems, and to have role models and significant others with low levels of educational achievement, skills, training and employment experience. They will include carers looking after sick relatives. There are contradictions however; although many come from 3rd or 4th generation workless families, others come from middle class, well-qualified and supportive households who have 'opted out' of the mainstream educational system. One size does not fit all.

 

2.2 When might early signs have become apparent? Many may 'disengage' very early or indeed never 'engage' in the first place, as Surestart has found. Certainly those who lack some sense of purpose and involvement in their education by Year 6 at the end of primary school, are clearly at risk of furher detachment. Young people themselves speak of alienation from school, an inability to cope with the authority structures they encounter every day, a feeling of not being treated with respect, of finding classroom learning highly restrictive, of feeling trapped inside an autocratic system in which they are 'done unto'. The fact that they the key element of society without direct political voice and representation is a further sign of disempowerment.

 

2.3. An unintended consequence of Government education policy? The drive for higher standards and attainment translates into a sense of overload and excessive pressure to complete tasks successfully against deadlines, leading to a sense of failure and degree of hostility towards assessment and control structures. The expectation of high academic attainment reinforces failure if unaccompanied by appropriate support, especially between key stages or school moves. This theme is picked up in the Nuffield 14-19 Review Education for all, along with Geoff Stanton's paper 'Learning Matters', which both assert that the education system has been designed essentially with the needs of the higher achieving 50% of young people in mind. The NEET cohort generally do not gain '5ACEM' or 5 A*-C grades at GCSE including English or Maths.

 

2.4; Push and pull factors: In addition to 'push' factors reflecting learners' dissatisfaction with educational institutions' demands and relationships, there are also 'pull' factors towards other lifestyles such as gang membership and child labour, with young people being recruited by into activities such as drug dealing and shadow employment in the extensive, low-wage low-skill shadow economy ignored by Leitch. It is estimated that on any one day 63,000 young people under the age of 16 are working in the shadow economy.

 

2.5 Listening to the learner voice: A key strategy for identifying vulnerable young people must therefore be to invite and listen to the voice of learners at each stage of their journey through our 'system', recording their preferences and experiences of what does and does not 'work' for them, and adapting the learning experiences planned for them accordingly. This requires curriculum planners and teachers who are both skilled and interested in the welfare of young people, along the lines of Every Child Matters, rather than 'deliverers' of programmes.

 

3. Services and programmes to support those most at risk of becoming NEET and to reduce the numbers and address the needs of those who have become persistently NEET.

 

3.1 Starting point: making potential NEETs a policy priority. Having identified those young people at risk, professional educators need to tailor learning programmes to those activities and relationships which are most likely to build engagement. This requires an integrated approach to the needs of the whole person, including their family. Concern for their welfare must go broader than their likelihood of boosting a schools '5ACEM' figure to the point where it escapes the strictures of National Challenge. Indeed, many vulnerable learners are likely to find they receive less rather than more attention from teachers due to National Challenge if they are not working at the GCSE grade D threshold, where they might be 'boosted' to achieve grade C's. Moreover many National Challenge schools have experienced a flight of committed teachers, governors and advantaged parents as supportive Ofsted reports of value added have been superceded by the 'failing school' brand, as in the case of Canterbury High School reported on by The Guardian. National Challenge and its apparently arbitrary set of goals, is therefore an example of a policy which will impact adversely on the welfare of a school's most vulnerable learners.

3.2 Effective channels of communication. As far as those who have become NEET are concerned, firstly trusting contact has to be made, which is no small challenge for young people who may be highly mobile and barely compliant. Detached youth workers would appear to have proved most effective in this area as they go to the learner, rather than insisting that learners come to their institution. They broker access to non-formal learning situations where needs such as literacy and confidence may be addressed. They have also proved able to support vulnerable individuals holistically in meeting a wide range of basic needs such as housing, medical and welfare support and liaison with the criminal justice system. Such workers speak of young people constructively as trying to make as life for themselves, rather than as a social problem, and struggling with the embarrassing inefficiencies of contractors such as Liberata unable to manage Education Maintenance Allowance payments which are critical to the survival of groups such as these . They do however need stability of funding eg via Neighbourhood Support funds, requiring greater collaboration between DCSF and DCLG in implementing an integrated Youth Strategy.

 

 

3.3 Effective provision for the 50% likely to achieve less than 5ACEM: The Wolverhampton 'Reach' programme offers an inclusive Level One curriculum for example and Learning Activity pilots are indicating new ways of providing learning support. A key element is the revised funding of September-start courses which requires a new flexibility if young people finding a course choice is not working, want to start a fresh choice.

 

Moreover the current funding for detached youth workers members mentioned above is typically short-term and therefore undermining of long term relationships with 'clients'. The proposed Ten Year Youth Strategy has earmarked 190M for the construction of new facilities without committed long term funding for such skilled youth workers, yet this work is a fundamental to ensuring that Every Child Matters. 'NEETS' are children who matter before they are 'NEETs'!

 

4. The effectiveness of the Government's NEET strategy:

 

4.1 Compulsion is not a sustainable, imaginative or sympathetic long term solution. As Dr Alison Wolf has pointed out, compulsion will perversely reduce opportunities for part-time employment and channel significant numbers of young people into school and college courses who do not really want to be there, thereby leading to problems of resistance and disruption, accompanied by truancy on such courses and consequent increases in youth offending where the UK's record is already among the worst of OECD countries. Young people may become 'de facto' NEETS, in educational institutions in body but not in spirit. Turning up with an attendance order or on the back of magistrates' court orders to parents is hardly a recipe for genuine participation and would seem an unnecessarily draconian measure. Hence those who have found 11 years of education from age 5 to 16 little more than an endurance test, are unlikely to respond to more of the same. In most cases, young people want a job and do not want to re-engage with education.

 

4.2 Current 14-19 structures and plans inhibit choice and flexibility. Moreover the narrowing of options in the Government's 14-19 strategy allows little scope for imaginative provision outside Foundation Learning programmes at Entry and Level One, especially since the accreditation of such programmes is dependent on Sector Skills Councils who have, in places, demonstrated little awareness of the educational needs of learners working at Entry Level and Level One, and little awareness of the need to make such qualifications accessible and engaging to young people in the NEET category. Furthermore the commitment required by the Foundation Diploma to just one vocational specialism flies in the face of grass roots experience of the value of a broad range of vocational options for this cohort. Meaningful practical activities apart from writing are yet to become the norm and the 'weak vocationalism' of GNVQs, Applied GCSEs and now Diplomas is yet to herald a sufficiently flexible curriculum offer. Finally the inconsistency of allowing academies to opt out of local behaviour partnerships, coupled with their disproportionate resourcing and exclusion rates shows an absence of joined-up policy thinking.

 

5. The likely impact of raising the participation age on strategies for addressing the needs of young people not in education, employment or training.

 

5.1 Raising the participation age does not provide employment-based training. As mentioned above, there is a real risk that the Government's enforced raisd participation in education will result in de facto NEETs, present but under duress, presenting challenges to the institutions accommodating them and less than meaningfully engaged. Moreover opportunities for employment with training in the present recession are very scarce, with over 50 applicants for each graduate level vacancy. Furthermore there is an acute shortage of the apprenticeship places necessary to address the NEET problem, due partly to operational difficulties such as compulsory minimum off-workstation time, due to the demands on employers, (especially SMEs) of administration and supervision, and due to the time necessary for Group Training Associations to set up and become effective. Apprenticeship-type work-based learning may also be inappropriate where learners cannot cope with the demands of a complete framework, working towards an NVQ at Level 2 from scratch. There is therefore a need for work-based learning other than apprenticeships, along with more widespread opportunities for gaining NVQs at Level 1, as a stepping stone to Level 2. In such conditions, college programme-led provision may easily assume ghetto qualities, harbouring disillusionment with schemes that do not lead to a job. Qualifications will mean little if they reflect merely a 'diploma disease' where the graduate applicant to vacancy ratio is 50:1.

 

6. The opportunities and future prospects in education, training or employment or for 16-18 year olds.

 

6.1 Bleak until further notice. There is real potential for postponing the problem beyond age 18 for those that do participate, with a consequent fuelling of the near 1M 18-24 inactivity rate that we presently see. Staying on in education may not lead to employment, hence education and training may become little more than disguised youth unemployment, 'warehousing' young people temporarily with little long term prospects of real employment. Legislation may hence shift the problem to a later stage in young people's lives, but fail to address root causes, such as the absence of locally available entry level employment, even in the low-paid low-skill industries of agriculture, construction, care, hospitality and retailing, where the experience and practice of small firms may differ markedly from those of larger employers. Feedback from the front line would indicate that most young people want a job rather than qualifications of questionable currency. Where the formal economy cannot provide this, young people and young adults lose hope for their future and lose faith in 'the system'.

 

December 2009