Like the family member frustrated by a relative’s inability to face up to reality, we need an intervention to put the government straight on Britain’s continuing Neet (not in education, employment or training) problem.
The steady decline in headline Neet numbers from their 1.1 million peak in 2011 has led to complacency. But the snapshot approach to recording Neet numbers has masked the grim reality of significant and increasing numbers of young people who are spending over a year Neet.
Add to this the disturbing increase in 16- to 18-year-old Neet numbers three years after the school leaving age was raised – which should have been an insurance policy against anyone of this age being Neet – and, ahead of GCSE results 2017, we have a serious problem.
For the 811,000 young people that our Youth Job Index identifies as having neither “earnt or learnt” for 12 months or more – a 100,000 increase in the long-term Neet levels recorded by the index last year – the effects will be brutal and life changing. To be this long out of work or training depresses wages over a lifetime, decreases the chances of ever sustaining work, and has negative consequences on mental and physical health.
And the young people most at risk of this debilitating future are those with no qualifications or those below a level 2. They’re much more likely to spend six months or more Neet than those with level 2 qualifications.
While not an inoculation against becoming Neet, a level 2 qualification gives a young person a fighting chance of finding a job or a place in education and sustaining it.
Qualifications matter – we’ve always known this. But we also know that many young people are not getting level 2 qualifications in English & maths. Earlier this year our Confronting the Crisis report showed just how few young people are getting through their retakes in these subjects. We’ve spoken to many teachers and college leaders and understand the challenges facing FE, sixth-form colleges and schools in delivering the retakes policy.
Our Youth Jobs Index data shows what is at stake and that we can’t give up on getting more young people these qualifications. Level 2 qualifications significantly reduce the risk of being long term Neet, and are the gateway to higher-level qualifications which reduce it yet further. A significant improvement to the current retake success rates cannot be made without substantial new funding directed at re-takers, which is what we’re calling for. But we don’t support rowing back on the policy and not giving young people a second chance at these qualifications that make such a difference.
Declining Neet numbers are a chimaera. Facing Britain’s long-term Neet problem will begin with confronting the crisis in the resit market and giving young people a real second chance to succeed.
Jenny North is director of policy and strategy at Impetus-PEF
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