Sunday, 13 April 2014

Why the government couldn't care less about young people.

5.8% of 16-17 year old's in Lancashire are still not in Education or Training. The figure in Hyndburn is higher, 7.8%. Back in 2008 legislation was passed making training or education compulsory from September 2013.

In my view this was important milestone but the Conservative/LibDem government have watered down regulations around enforcement, fragmented responsibilities for 16-18 years old's between schools, shire councils and  Education Funding Council and have displayed negligence towards young people.

I recently received a letter from a Minister which just highlighted this Government’s dismissive attitude to young people. The issue is the new legal duty (legislated for back in 2008; Educations and; Skills Act) placed on local authorities to ensure all young people aged 16-17 are in education or training. A policy better known as Raising the Participation Age, or ‘RPA’.

Concerned about NEETs in Hyndburn and across my local authority Lancashire, I wrote to the Minster after House of Commons library figures for the first term (Sept – Dec 2013) of this new policy which showed there remains an alarmingly high number of young people as NEETs (Not in Education, Employment or Training). Far from the 100% mandated, the national figure of those in employment and training is just 94.2%.

Moreover, 7.6% of 16-18 year olds were NEET as of the last quarter, which is an improvement of just 0.4%. That is nearly 1 in 13 of these young people. This is a scandalous waste of young people’s talents and highlights the lack of government investment in young people. A scheme which is mandatory and has a statutory underpinning through an Act of Parliament yet the Government seems not to care about the inabilities or disinterest by the various government agencies, including most notably its own Department for Education.

The reality in Lancashire as elsewhere is the disjointed nature of the system makes this policy difficult to implement. Local Authorities are now legally responsible for promoting participation and to identify those not participating. However that task is now impossible thanks to Michael Gove’s chaotic reforms.

Schools, colleges and other learning providers are now legally responsible for promoting goods attendance and informing local authorities of those who have dropped out. Some are local authority run schools but many are independent Academies and now Free Schools. Add to the complexity of post 16 provision is the added responsibility given to schools of providing careers advice. Local Authorities aren’t just adrift of what schools are doing either, they are adrift of post 16 education full stop. Education Funding Council is the body responsible for accessing and providing enough post 16 places.

In his letter, Minister Matthew Hancock states that the Government is “holding local authorities to account for delivering on their statutory responsibilities”. The figures highlight the fact that the legislation is simply not being enforced in any meaningfully significant way.

At Conference last year David Cameron said: “There are still over a million young people not in education, employment, or training. Today it is still possible to leave school, sign on, find a flat, start claiming housing benefit and opt for a life on benefits. It's time for bold action here. We should ask, as we write our next manifesto, if that option should really exist at all. Instead we should give young people a clear, positive choice: Go to school. Go to college. Do an apprenticeship. Get a job. But just choose the dole? We've got to offer them something better than that.”

I agree with him – but what is he going to do about it?