Huge funding cuts have left only a handful of local authorities in England able to meet their legal duties to identify and reduce the number of NEETs, it has been claimed.
The latest figures show around 740,000 young people aged 16 to 24 in England who are NEET – not in employment, education or training – the lowest since records began in 2001. The figures, for January to March 2015, show that the 16 to 18 NEET rate is at 7.1 per cent while the 19 to 24 NEET rate is 14.7 per cent.
However, a Local Government Association (LGA) survey of 87 of England’s 152 councils has found that 91 per cent are being forced to reduce spending on support for 16 to 18-year-olds at risk of becoming NEET.
Of those councils that could quantify the reductions, 20 per cent said spending had been cut by 50 to 69 per cent, while 12 per cent have cut it by 70 per cent or more.
Furthermore, only seven per cent of local authorities believe they have enough funding and powers to meet their legal duties to identify and reduce teenage disengagement and secure education and training places for all 16 to 18-year-olds.
The LGA is blaming 40 per cent cuts in funding to local authorities from central government since 2010 and the removal of council powers and control over key services, including careers advice and guidance, further education and national engagement programmes.
One of the barriers to tackling NEETs, the LGA says, is careers advice and guidance. In 2010, the coalition government cut the £200 million a year funding for the national network of Connexions centres and passed legislation making schools responsible for delivering careers advice services to students – but passing on none of the funding.
Since then, a number of high-profile reports, including from inspectorate Ofsted and the Education Select Committee, have attacked the quality and consistency of careers advice provision.
The government has established a National Careers Service, but this has a limited remit for young people, offering just a website and telephone advice line.
The LGA survey found that 94 per cent of councils felt their role had been restricted because of the loss of influence over school-age careers advice. The majority (89 per cent) of councils rated the effectiveness of government policy on schools career advice as either “inadequate” (44 per cent) or as “requiring improvement” (45 per cent). The National Careers Service itself was rated “inadequate” by 31 per cent of the councils.
One responding council commented: “The challenge is increasing vocational pathways to employment for 16 to 18s. A focus on English/maths is welcome, but there is a danger in leaving behind those who are not functioning well in respect of academic studies. The school careers service needs to focus on holistic careers options, not just looking parochially at what the sixth form has to offer.”
The findings come as the education leaving age is set to rise again next year, when teenagers will be required to stay in education or training until the age of 18.
The LGA is now calling for the government to establish a new “Youth Offer” that enables all 14 to 21-year-olds to access “independent careers and employment advice and experience while in education, training or work”. It argues that the Youth Offer could be planned and delivered locally by partnerships of councils and Jobcentre Plus, and funded using existing budgets.
Elsewhere, it wants the government to enable partnerships of schools, colleges and councils to work together to meet the skills needs of employers and young people by transferring the post-16 education budget from the Education Funding Agency to “those local areas that are ready to design, commission and be accountable for 16 to 19 provision”.
It would also like to see the Apprenticeship Grant for Employers devolved to local areas and expanded.
It says these three reforms could, over the course of the next Parliament, half youth unemployment and “significantly reduce” youth disengagement.
Cllr David Simmonds, chairman of the LGA’s Children and Young People Board, said: “Despite challenges, (councils) are proud of our leading role working with different governments to consistently increase youth engagement over the last 15 years.
“The message from local government is clear. Cuts without reform risk undoing all of our collective good work, putting thousands of promising futures at risk. Councils are uniquely well placed to help young people access the opportunities created by the local employers increasingly frustrated by remote national institutions. It is important that we have the powers, levers and funding to fulfil our legal duties to young people.
“Over decades, services supporting young people’s journey from school to the world of work have grown more complex and disjointed. With the greatest will, this cannot be resolved by national government alone.
“Councils and local partners know that, with the support of government, they can join-up advice, skills and experience around the needs of each young person and local employers to help more reach their potential.”
“The new government has a real opportunity to build on recent successes and meet its ambition of full employment by enabling local partnerships of councils, schools, colleges, job centres and employers to locally coordinate a single youth offer.”