Monday, 15 April 2013

Raising the Participation Age - Lancashire's Tories letting parents & young people down?

This year is the first year that the Government’s changes to the age at which young people must be in education or training. This new policy, called Raising the Participation Age (RPA) will affect everyone in year 11 and below, and will mean that after the age of 16 young people must either remain in full time education, such as in a school, college or home-based learning; or they must begin an apprenticeship; or they must enter part time education or training if they are employed, self-employed or volunteering (which is defined at 20+ hours a week).

I would expect that most children and parents have received careers guidance about their September options. That secondary schools were aware of what options are available and where every child will be going to. Getting the right sort of education is vital.

Having spoken to heads and senior college staff I became concerned about the delivery of this policy at local level, and have been attempting to get information from the County Council for several months now. In itself the most worrying aspect as they seem unable to provide straight answers. I have written to them four times asking the same unanswered questions.

I first contacted LCC in December last year asking for the numbers of students that would be entering each of the post-16 streams (education, work-based learning, apprenticeships etc.). I received an incompetent reply Lancashire County Council providing me with information about last year’s school leavers across Lancashire rather than Hyndburn. Last year’s numbers are wholly irrelevant as this year, further education is mandatory and LCC must have a revised plan for increased numbers of children and the required increase in the quantity of suitable places.

I then wrote to Lancashire County Council more plainly asking how many places there are on offer so that each pupil in Hyndburn had a place in education or training at 17. I subsequently received an answer of how many children were leaving each school with no reference to whether this was last year or this year.

The reply failed to answer this basic question; what options have pupils been given for September and what plans are in place to ensure they are offered a suitable place of their choice.

I spoke to some of the schools and they did not recognise the numbers at all that were quoted. I spoke with senior staff at the college and they were concerned that no contact had been made with them - the primary providers of 16-18 education.

This is a big issue. There are clearly going to be more young people expecting places than in previous years as it is mandatory for children to stay on in further education.

I then wrote again, asking for clarity about exactly what the numbers were, and I received a response from the council which provided a table of school leavers in July 2012 and where they went onto. Those leaving in 2012 were not subject to the RPA in which begins for students finishing school in July 2013

This is level of misinformation or obfuscation is unacceptable. It would appear that Lancashire County Council is failing to manage the Raising of the Participation Age.

Parents must be given absolute clarity about where the places are for their kids. Young people will be wanting to make a decision soon and I do not want to see them suffer due to local government incompetence.

Concerns about this policy were first raised to me by teachers and parents who were worried about the relative lack of awareness that this policy was coming into force this academic year. This is a big change, a very important change to a lot of young people.

Delivery of this policy is a legal duty of Lancashire County Council who have now to ensure young people are given the best and most suitable education of their choice.

I am concerned that insufficient planning has been done, that the Government has brought in a policy that is not properly thought through at the delivery end and that the Secretary of State has taken his eye of the ball, and that LCC is not prepared for this change.

I have written a fourth letter and on the 11th April received a holding reply. These are not difficult questions; how many young people are leaving school in July; how many places and where are there available; what careers guidance has been offered parents and pupils?

As a consequence of the failure to address concerned questions by April 2013 I want to know what careers guidance has been given so far and what guarantee's are there that every young person will be able to stay on, on a course of their choice? We do not want young people pushed on to courses they do not want to do. These are real concerns.

Any failures by Lancashire County Council will result in young people and parents suffering. If the council cannot even tell me how many places there are, and where they expect young people to go then it is shambolic. If there isn't a thorough plan - and I want to see one - then the result will be serious disappointment in September for some parents and young people when the change will come into effect.