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Back from the dole

The recent gloomy publicity on "Scots children who go straight from school to nowhere" is based on Careers Scotland's statistics which are inaccurate.

John Paul Academy, for example, is reported as having 37 per cent of school-leavers unemployed. This figure does not come from the school and when it was released to the school a few weeks ago, the pastoral care staff and careers adviser were perplexed as they had been working closely with a number of agencies and through a variety of initiatives to ensure appropriate destinations for these young people.

As this figure was very different from the school's estimate, staff set about identifying the names behind the statistic and could prove conclusively that the real unemployed figure was 17 per cent. Many of the young people reported as being unemployed were at college, in work, on training programmes or, as in two cases, still at school.

Why the discrepancy? A large part of the problem appears to lie with the way in which information is collected by Careers Scotland. If a young person upon leaving school registers as unemployed and does not return to, or make contact with, the careers office, they remain on the unemployment register.

Of course, many find their way into work or college throughout the succeeding months and don't inform the careers office of their change in status.

In October, when Careers Scotland compile the statistics, they update the information through attempts to make contact with these young people by telephone and by postcard.

If, however, they get no reply, the young people are assumed to be unemployed. It's a bit like the Inland Revenue assuming that, as you haven't returned your income tax assessment form, you must be dead.

It is irresponsible to allow these figures to be released into the public domain when they are based on such spurious methods of collection. I am aware that Careers Scotland have taken a lot of criticism from schools for this and that they intend to review their methods of data collection for next year.

But it does little for the morale of those who are trying hard to ensure that young people get the best start in life to find that these figures are given credibility which they do not deserve. It is even more worrying if they are taken at face value by policy-makers.

In John Paul Academy's case, it helps even less that the careers office in Maryhill (which has one of the worst adult unemployment figures in the UK) has been closed and that young people have to travel to the office in that unemployment blackspot - Byres Road. If they register as unemployed there, and do not make further contact with that office, then they remain, as far as Careers Scotland is concerned, unemployed - no matter what.

Charlie Docherty Depute headteacher John Paul Academy Glasgow

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