Memorandum submitted by the Association of Directors of Children's Services
1. Action to reduce the proportion of 16-17 year olds who are NEET has been effective over the past five years, particularly where Connexions Service providers have been working with local authorities and children's trust partners as part of a coherent local strategy for 14-19 education and training. The incidence of 18 year olds who are NEET has continued to be a cause for concern - a situation that is being exacerbated in the current recession. More needs to be done to 'bridge the gap' for children looked after (CLA) and for young people with learning difficulties and disabilities (LDD).
2. Strategies to identify young people at risk of being NEET, and targeted programmes of support have been increasingly effective in the context of a stable and growing economy. It is questionable how the current national policy framework will be sufficient in more challenging economic circumstances.
3. The transfer of responsibility for the commissioning of 16-19 education and training from Learning and Skills Councils to local authorities provides a major opportunity for children's trusts to put in place a coherent 14-19 'youth offer', drawing together high quality education and training; information, advice and guidance (IAG); positive activities; and targeted youth support.
4. The Government NEET strategy needs a significant overhaul to respond to the current challenge of recession and the increase in unemployment amongst 18-24 year olds.
Strategies for the identification of young people at risk of falling into NEET Categories
· An analysis of young people at risk of becoming NEET suggests that approximately 40% are positive about learning, but need to have a flexible and appropriate learning offer. Another 40% will be at risk because of personal and other barriers. There are 20% of the 'at risk' group who are 'undecided' about future options and, because, they do not present against the 'risk matrix' may be below the radar without careful tracking
· High quality Information, Advice and Guidance (IAG) is used to raise awareness and promote aspiration for all young people. It provides a context for early identification of young people and access to targeted support.
· The identification of young people at risk of becoming NEET has become increasingly effective. In the best practice, the Connexions service, working closely with schools and wider children's services, uses a 'risk matrix' to identify young people at risk and put in place a programme of targeted support. The 'risk matrix' includes a range of factors including: progress, attendance, behaviour, parental engagement.
· The Client Caseload Information System is a key enabler, providing good data to underpin the 'risk matrix', ensuring that there is a good understanding of the key vulnerable groups.
Services and Programmes to support those at risk of becoming NEET and to reduce numbers and address the needs of those who have become persistently NEET
· Connexions provision has ensured a positive focus on NEETs. The most effective services have integrated their work within the wider local preventative strategy led by the children's trust.
· The most important preventative factor is an appropriate and inclusive 'youth offer' which engages young people in their learning. Changes to the 14-19 curriculum are having a positive impact. Tailored packages of personalised learning and work experience (sometimes delivered through a third sector provider) are a particularly important part of the mix.
· Targeted youth support (TYS) is increasingly effective in working with those young people who have a range of personal barriers to overcome. The most effective services have related their work with young people at risk of being NEET with wider arrangements locally for early intervention and prevention with vulnerable young people and families. So far, TYS has made the greatest impact where it is linked to programmes that are targeted and differentiated for specific vulnerable groups. Arrangements for the tracking of, and engagement with, young people at points of transition are a key part of service provision. Services have developed good systems in the lead up to the September Guarantee. Transitional arrangements for 18 year olds are less effective currently.
· E2E programmes need to have greater impact. At present, there is tendency for them to be more of a 'revolving door' rather than a 'ladder for progression' into learning or employment, with young people attending several E2E courses over the 16-18 phase.
· Community-based programmes are under-developed. There is good evidence that outreach programmes through community groups are successful with 'hard to engage' young people.
· There are a number of examples of successful pilot and pathfinder programmes (for example budget holding lead professional) but these have not always been followed through into systematic service change.
· For LDD young people with most complex needs we need to make a step change, preparing them for adult life not adult care.
The effectiveness of the Government NEET Strategy
· The narrow focus on 16/17 year olds has led to a significant reduction in NEETs for that age range, but the same progress has not been achieved for 18 year-olds, and there is still a significant level of disengagement amongst young people aged 18 - 24. This has been brought into sharper focus by the recession. The Government now needs to broaden out its strategy so that there is a more coherent approach to young people under the age of 24, with better management of transitions, and more joined up working between the relevant agencies, particularly Connexions providers and Job Centre Plus.
· The future NEET strategy needs to place greater emphasis on early intervention strategies with whole families as part of wider community capacity building programmes.
· The term NEET is seen by some as a negative and stigmatising measure Government should consider whether a focus on the proportion of young people in Education, Employment or Training (EET) would be a more positive measure - perhaps with a target for local areas to achieve 100% of young people in EET!
· The opportunity should be taken to reconsider the baseline data for local areas and the associated resource allocation. A baseline derived from a more robust local economic indicator could replace the historic NEET data that have been used to set local targets and funding levels.
The likely impact of raising the participation age on strategies for addressing the needs of young people
· Raising the participation age (RAPA), along with the changes to the 14-19 curriculum, and the new commissioning arrangements for further education and training, provide the opportunity for local authorities, working with children's trust partners to 'design out' NEETs. Fundamental to future success will be ensuring that local authorities make accessible provision for the four 'learning routes' in their area.
· With high levels of participation in learning in England already, the focus of strategy should be on identifying the gaps in provision to respond to young people's needs, and using the full range of the local 'youth offer' to engage young people. The preference of a large proportion of NEETs is to secure employment (even if they are not 'job ready'). Through RAPA, it will be important to promote flexible and tailored learning programmes that equip young people with the key skills to be 'job ready' and to progress into employment with training. In that regard, the Foundation Learning Tier promises to provide the necessary flexibility to ensure a tailored package of learning and targeted support.
· The need of young people to be economically viable during their learning is even more critical in this period of recession - Education Maintenance Allowances and other discretionary learner support funds will be essential to help young people overcome financial barriers to participation.
The opportunities and future prospects in education training and employment for 16 - 18 year olds
There are three key concerns:
· There must be adequate funding to support the overall increase in learners aged 16-18, and to support programmes for LLD learners.
· The expansion in the number and range of apprenticeship frameworks available, appropriate to local need, will be critical to the future prospects of young people.
· Young people aged 18/19 need improved support at the point of transition to adult services. More effective measures need to be in place to promote employment opportunities with training for 18 year olds.