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Pick `n' mix figures

Conservatives are showing much concern at the record numbers of 16 to 24- year-olds idling on the dole when they should be lounging in the common rooms of some educational institution.

David Willetts, the shadow skills secretary, has blasted this tragedy of wasted youth while decrying the underfunding of sixth forms. But wait, aren't schools and colleges underfunded because there are more teenagers than expected staying in education? Hmm.

Far be it for FErret to suggest the figures are somewhat selective, but the mystery seems to be resolved when one realises that the size of the age group increased by about 85,000 last year.

Teenage drop-out rates have been comparable for more than 20 years - they have consistently hovered around 10 per cent. Which is where they are today, but unemployment for over-18s does seem to be getting worse, to no one's surprise.

"If we had predicted in 1997 that youth unemployment and disengagement would have increased under Labour, no one would have believed us," Mr Willetts said. Ah, scepticism, the first step on the road to wisdom.

On the bandwagon

Time was when the worst you had to fear from a music festival - trench foot aside - was a bit of corporate sponsorship encouraging you to drink more beer or to buy a mobile phone to find out where all your friends had gone.

Now it seems nowhere is safe from morally improving messages, as Sussex Downs College lends its name to the Eastbourne Festival Live's second stage this weekend.

One cannot fault its marketing brains for zooming in on the festival as a likely source of the feckless youth that FE is charged with moulding into useful citizens. But one wonders how on-message the bands will be, even if some have had the advantage of an education at the local college.

"We kill children," reads the sole comment on one of the bands' MySpace page.

None of that on the Sussex Downs College stage, please, lads.

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