THE STEREOTYPE of the Neet youngster - a young, "neddy" male, in and out of trouble with the police - has been shattered by statistics from some of the "Neet" hotspots in Scotland.
In North and East Ayrshire, girls claiming workless benefit outnumber boys, while in Inverclyde, education officials been surprised that the split is close to 50:50 between girls and boys in the Neet group.
The findings come with a health warning from education officials that youngsters between 16 and 19 years old are a complex group and that there should be no rush to find a quick-fix solution.
A number of explanations are offered as to why so many girls should be Neet - not in education, employment or training - and why a particularly large proportion fall into the category of not actively seeking work. They vary from teenage pregnancy, caring responsibilities for relatives or siblings, lack of aspiration, and some Asian girls being expected by their families to stay at home.
Graham Short, executive director of educational and social services at East Ayrshire Council, said: "Girls in disadvantaged areas seems to be much less career aspirational than boys. It is one of the paradoxes: girls tend to achieve much more in school than boys but, when it comes to the transition to work, boys still have less of a disadvantage."
In November, Graham Donaldson, senior chief inspector of education, told the annual conference of the Headteachers' Association of Scotland that there were more girls in the Neet group than boys, and that schools had to do more to track pupils when they left secondary education.
Since then, Jack McConnell, the First Minister, has announced that, if Labour won the Scottish elections, he would set up 100 skills academies to tackle the Neet problem. This month, he announced that all 12 Scottish Premier League football clubs had signed up to a Scottish Executive initiative to try and engage potentially Neet boys.
Mr McConnell has also floated the idea of effectively raising the school leaving age for young people who do not have a further education or training place or job to go to at the age of 16.
However, Mr Short warned: "There is a danger that we deal with the population of school-leavers in terms of just a leavers' destination.
"We could have young people leaving school at 16 and going to college. But the question is, what are they going to be doing six weeks after starting college? We have a consensus across the country among education authorities and FE colleges that the big issue with Neet is to solve the retention rate problem in colleges."
In his authority, the figures for people aged 16-19 claiming workless benefit in 2005, according to the Department for Work and Pensions, were 400 girls and 348 boys. In 2004, the figures were 380 girls and 300 boys; in 2003 - 380 girls and 345 boys.
He added: "According to our figures for October to November 2004, 80 of this group were lone parents."
John Travers, corporate director of education services in neighbouring North Ayrshire, said the figures in his authority for 16-19 year-olds on workless benefit in 2005 were: 400 girls to 330 boys.
"People walk about with a stereotypical Neet youngster in their mind - that they are young and 'neddy', male, and getting into trouble with the police.
But that's not necessarily the case - the position is much more complex than that."
There were significant disparities between authorities. In North Ayrshire, there were very few jobs; in other authorities there were jobs going unfilled because youngsters did not want to go into them for one reason or another.
At Inverclyde, another of the seven "hotspot" Neet authorities, Colin Laird, a head of service in the education department, said: "Our impression of the Neet population is that females and males are roughly equal in size.
"That surprised me, knowing what I know about girls and their maturity and slightly greater willingness to learn. I would have expected the split to be otherwise - more males."
Mr Laird speculated that part of the explanation may be "movement and churn" in the service industry and shops.
Julie-Anne Jamieson, head of employability at Careers Scotland, said: "If you look at the statistics and attainment generally in schools, girls are doing better than boys.
"Intuitively, people think that Neet is more of a significant issue for boys because there are more boys than girls who are unemployed and looking for work than girls. But if you look at inactivity figures, the picture is different and there are more females."