The government does not know if its schemes to cut the number of Neets (young people not in education, employment or training) in England are actually having any impact, according to a new report.
The document from the cross-party Public Accounts Committee says that although the number of 16- to 19-year-old Neets is dropping, the UK is still lagging behind other developed countries.
Figures show that at the end of 2013 there were 148,000 16- to 18-year-old Neets in England (out of a overall population of two million), but it is estimated that a further 100,000 could be “off the radar”, with local authorities not knowing if they are in education or training.
The report says that new rules in England requiring young people to stay in education or training until the age of 18 have helped the situation, but it adds that it is difficult to ascertain whether other interventions have been effective.
The amount the government spends on education for 16- to 18-year-olds has fallen by 8 per cent in real terms compared with 2010-11, and in September 2014 it reduced the basic rate of annual funding for 18-year-olds in education from £4,000 to £3,300 per person.
“With scarce resources it is vital to understand whether and which initiatives are most effective and why,” the report states.
“Yet, the Department for Education has little understanding of the impact of existing initiatives and programmes.”
It says that some Neets have been helped by the Youth Contract (the flagship youth unemployment programme championed by Nick Clegg) but this is only expected to support 35,000 young people, half the number originally planned. The £1-billion scheme will end in 2016, earlier than expected, and the DfE has no plans to replace it.
The report also expresses concern over “patchy” careers advice, a lack of local authority support with travel costs for 16-18-year-olds, and the “disappointing” fall in the number of 16-18 apprentices.
It makes six recommendations for the government, including that the DfE evaluate the effectiveness of its initiatives and use the results to shape future decisions about how to engage hard-to-reach young people.
It also says it should urgently work with local authorities to identify and share good practice on the most effective ways of tracking young people’s education and training activities.
Committee chair Margaret Hodge said: “There is still some way to go before we know all young people are getting the best start in life and we urge the department to take forward our recommendations.”
Martin Doel, chief executive of the Association of Colleges, said young people needed support to help them stay in education or training until the age of 18, but were being “held back” by funding cuts and policies that were not fit for purpose, particularly around careers guidance and transport.
“The Department for Education cannot carry on ‘hoping for the best’ without updating its policies and funding to take account of this major change,” he said.
“Policy has fallen behind in terms of funding and supporting young people in achieving the government’s aspirations.”
Jan Hodges, chief executive of the Edge Foundation, called for impartial careers advice, an expansion of the traineeship programme and better coordination between local authorities to track and support 16-18-year-olds.
A DfE spokesman said: “We are committed to ensuring that we equip all young people for life in modern Britain. Neet levels for 16-18 year olds are at their lowest level since consistent records began and the proportion of young people whose activity is not known by local authorities is also decreasing.
“But we are not complacent. We continue to work with councils to encourage the exchange of good practice and regularly publish data on the progress made by each local authority so we and the public can effectively hold them to account for their performance."
'Reinvigorate' practical learning in schools to tackle Neets, says charity – October 2014
Neets drop to lowest level in England since 2005 – May 2014
The missing teenagers: councils failing to record of who is and isn't a Neet – October 2013