NEETs – Ofsted’s plans to engage young people in education and skills

Ofsted’s Director for Further Education and Skills, Lorna Fitzjohn, today said more needed to be done to tackle the issue of NEETs (not in education, employment or training).

Figures show nearly 1.8 million young people aged 16-24 are not in full time education, training or work. Some are on a gap year, or caring for a relative and the numbers of young people whose whereabouts is unknown is growing.

Here, academic experts comment on their findings into NEETs.

Dr Thomas Spielhofer, a NEETs expert​, is a Senior Researcher at the Tavistock Institute and formerly of the National Foundation for Educational Research:

“​I welcome the Ofsted report on the 16 to 19 study programmes, as it provides important evidence on the latest plans to engage young people who are, or at risk of being, NEET.

However, the findings repeat much found in previous programmes, and it is frustrating to see lessons have not been learned from the past and risk repeating the same cycle of failure.

Tracking young people is key to measuring progress yet government cuts over the last few years, including significant cuts to local authority budgets, means a lot of progress made in this area has been lost, and the collection of information is patchy.

There is evidence many young people simply fall between the cracks and their whereabouts are not known. Indeed, official statistics from 2010 and 2013 show the level of young people aged 16-18 whose destinations are ‘unknown’ has risen but not uniformly across all areas.

For example, in the West Midlands region, the proportion of young people aged 16-18 with an unknown destination rose from 4.7 per cent in 2010 to 15 per cent in 2013, while, for example, in Yorkshire and Humberside it increased from 3.9 per cent to 7.2 per cent over the same period.

Attempts at tying education and training for young people who are, or at risk of being, NEET to permanent and meaningful employment have also been made previously – and have often failed.

Many of the young people accessing such provision have low skills, and also personal and emotional problems. Helping them to move into a secure job is extremely challenging.

Putting pressure on providers to achieve this, can often lead to so called ‘cherry picking’ , that is targeting only those youngsters who would be likely to move onto education, training or employment anyway, while excluding those with more serious needs or issues.

Achieving such a link is also exacerbated by the recent economic difficulties in many regions which have meant that employment opportunities for low skilled young people are very limited. Previous programmes, such as Entry to Employment, suffered from the same problem and were often accused simply of ‘warehousing’ young people who would otherwise have been NEET.

Resolving the NEET issue is extremely complex and has not been helped by the ever-changing policy and qualification landscape in the UK over the last few years. At the same time, it is important not to give up and to work with providers, local authorities, careers advisors, and most of all young people themselves to ensure that such provision offers the best possible opportunities to help young people gain meaningful qualifications and achieve their potential wherever they live.”

​Professor Sue Maguire, Centre for Education and Industry, University of Warwick:

” OFSTED’s focus on the alarmingly high numbers of young people in the NEET group is a welcome addition to the groundswell of informed opinion calling for urgent action to address this problem. It is right to say that we have large numbers of 16-18-year olds whose destinations are ‘unknown’, due to cuts in local services which have reduced the robustness of tracking and guidance services – at a time when youth unemployment rates/NEET rates are officially reported to be falling. Effective mapping and tracking systems which put the needs of young people first, with the measuring the performance of schools and colleges being a subsidiary requirement, are therefore essential for the targeting of policy interventions on the NEET group.

We also need to ask whether the term NEET is appropriate any more. Originally, it was coined to define 16 and 17 year olds who were outside the unemployment count, but now encompasses swathes of 16-24 year olds, including a third of a million young women, who are defined as inactive. As such, it masks rising and unacceptable levels of inactivity among young people. We need to re-appraise who we define as being NEET, and re-think our policy responses accordingly.

Crucially, we need to jettison our stereotypes about NEETs and develop a better understanding of their needs and the factors which led to their disengagement and exclusion. Policy interventions tend to be focused on the most marginalised and vulnerable groups. Many young people who are NEET have average levels of attainment, live at home supported by their family and can become ‘invisible’. Research has shown that individualised support and guidance can be powerful instruments in combatting their disengagement.

Young people need early intervention to prevent their risk of moving into long-term social exclusion. We cannot be complacent and need coordinated urgent action at national and local level.”​


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