We need a secretary of state for NEETs


A dedicated secretary of state is what is needed to tackle the continuing problem with young NEETs, argues Jatin Patel

The voting was underway as SecEd published this week. By the time you read this, the result could well be known. Or coalition talks might have begun...

With such uncertainty surrounding the outcome of the election, it is refreshing to see a relatively healthy set of commitments being made by each of the main parties to benefit young people. 

While some have made more in-depth statements than others, what has been clear is the promise from each, to work towards improving the school-to-work transition, through areas such as reform of further education and the creation of more and better structured Apprenticeships.

As we stated in our Blueprint for the next Prime Minister, there is a current and urgent need to tackle the structural nature of the issues surrounding young people who are not in education, employment and training (NEET). There has been some movement in policy over the last Parliament, but now is the time to hone in on making NEETs history.

From the introduction of a gold-standard Technical Baccalaureate for 16 to 18-year-olds and face-to-face careers guidance promised by Labour, to the additional training of maths and science teachers and better accreditation for further education colleges promised by the Conservatives, what these pledges confirm is a recognition of the need to better support the route from the classroom to the workplace for young people and to allow for the up-skilling of a generation to drive our country forward.

And while each party’s pledges vary, there are themes which are consistent throughout the manifestos, such as strong commitments to develop well-structured Apprenticeships which blend educational attainment with work experience and training, as well as easier access to higher education, be it through reduced fees or more places. These similarities reflect much of the work we have been doing to ensure disadvantaged young people gain access to opportunities which allow them to aspire to a better education and career. 

But while on paper these sorts of reforms are reassuring, what hasn’t been fully addressed is the complex and confusing chain of responsibility from central to local government. We don’t need sweeping top-down change, we do need definitive central accountability, which will galvanise local government and local delivery of services to support young people on their journey from school to training and/or sustained employment. 

We would like to see the appointment of a new and dedicated secretary of state to develop a five-year strategy to making NEETs history. The secretary of state should focus on:

  • Improving school-to-work transitions by ensuring schools in England and Wales are responsible for the post-16 destinations of their pupils and that they will be properly resourced to help ensure every pupil is supported into either education, training or employment. 

  • Higher quality further education and Apprenticeships: young people who go into further education or Apprenticeships are experiencing lower quality provision than those who go into higher education, with predictable impact on attainment. Public funding continues to prop-up poor-quality provision. This money should be refocused on further education and Apprenticeships provision that works.

  • Tailoring job-search services for young people: there needs to be greater emphasis on careers education in school coupled with more coordinated and focused careers guidance post-education.

  • Incentivising local authorities to make an impact: there are large variations across local authorities in the proportions of young people who are NEET. While these are inevitably due in some part to different economic conditions, activist local authorities can have an impact, and more must be encouraged to play that role.

The raising of the participation age was based on the example of peers from the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development and reflects the importance of young people entering the labour market with valued skills and qualifications. But, the provision of this education requires consistent oversight. Instead, presently, we suffer a transition in responsibility from the Department for Education to the Department for Business Innovation and Skills at a key stage of a young person’s educational journey.

We welcome each party committing to policies which will make the school-to-work transition more effective, but ask that with better Apprenticeships, careers guidance and teachers, comes a commitment to working with local authorities, partnerships and businesses to help young people secure themselves a bright future.

  • Jatin Patel is campaigns manager at Impetus-PEF, a charity that transforms the lives of disadvantaged young people by ensuring they get the support to succeed in education, training and employment. Visit www.impetus-pef.org.uk


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