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Editorial - Early intervention is key to save 'lost generation'

We've heard a lot about the "lost generation" this year - the youngsters who leave education with no training, no job, no hope. The ones who come from families where unemployment is endemic and all they have to look forward to is a life on the dole. With youth unemployment now at 23.5 per cent in Scotland, the prospects for young people are worsening. But there's one group that is particularly at risk, and that's the Christmas leavers who walk out of school mid-session around their 16th birthday: a high percentage have no SQA qualifications and many have additional support needs (News Focus, p12-15).

For years, there have been calls for Scotland to fall in line with England, which has a single school-leaving date in the summer when college courses and apprenticeships are starting up. There are many arguments for not forcing disengaged youngsters back to school for an autumn term, but this year's winter leavers are in urgent need of strong support and clear pathways to follow, so they do not disappear. School-college partnerships are doing what they can, but the FE sector, which has a critical role to play, is struggling with Government cuts (p5 and 7).

As last week's appointment of a Youth Employment Minister shows, the Government has school leavers clearly in its sight. Its 16+ Learning Choices, increases in modern apprenticeships, and Opportunities for All programme, guaranteeing a training or learning place for every 16 to 19- year-old, are already targeting them from different angles. But Angela Constance, in her new role, will have a hard task to deliver, and it may be too late for next week's leavers to benefit.

Within a year, the Minister has skated from Skills and Lifelong Learning to Early Years and now back to Youth. However extreme the switches may appear, there is a connection. This Government has always stressed the vital role of early years education in developing social skills, numeracy, literacy - the very skills which, if laid down in early childhood, can prepare teenagers for a better future.

This week's feature (p18-21) is evidence of the difference early intervention and lifelong learning can make to whole families. In deprived areas of Fife, 22 school centres are host to babies, toddlers, mothers and support workers who can help them. One young mother describes how much her toddler has benefited from coming to the centre, how the skills he learned from socialising with the babies helped him bond with a new arrival in the family. Other parents have received help with their own literacy problems, preparing them not just to go on to college, but to support their children's education. The secret is to start early and tackle parent and child support needs before they harden into intractable problems.

Gillian Macdonald, Editor of the year, (business and professional), gillian.macdonald@tess.co.uk.

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