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Don't lose another generation

Tracking the NEET problem is widely regarded as the prize in Scottish education. If schools, colleges, and associated professionals can engage the 20,000 young people who are lost to education, employment and training, the dividends will be enormous.

The Scottish National Party accuses the Scottish Executive of failing to tackle the root causes of NEET-ness - namely poverty and lack of economic growth. The Tories want the money which is being directed to quangos to be redirected to voluntary organisations with a track record of tackling the problems of youth disengagement. Both these responses fail to recognise, however, that individual young people need different solutions.

Organisations such as the Prince's Trust and Fairbridge have demonstrated that focused support can make a significant difference to the very youngsters who would otherwise never become engaged.

It makes sense that Skills for Work programmes should embrace pupils in S2 rather than waiting for S3 when they may have become even more disaffected.

Pilot programmes in schools in Glasgow have shown that more focused support from Careers Scotland staff for potential NEET pupils can tip them towards positive training, education or employment rather than a spiral of unemployment and antisocial behaviour.

And if financial incentives for 16-19s can prevent a lifelong dependency on state benefit, then that small cost will pay long-term dividends. It may be that better collaboration between sectors will address the piecemeal approach and postcode lottery that have dogged the NEET problem in recent years. But for the youngsters who are turning 16 this year and see no prospects for their future, time is of the essence.

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