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The same old story 30 years on

It is instructive to read William McIlvanney's experiences as a Scottish teacher 30 years ago (page four). As the Scottish Executive and its public-spirited businessmen continue to show their determination to find solutions for the NEET group of youngsters who are not in education, employment or training, McIlvanney's account of his teaching years three decades ago sounds depressingly familiar and unchanging. His railing against "the futility of any standardised approach to this problem" is almost the flipside of the comment by Sir Robert Smith that "solutions must be flexible and adaptable".

Although the Executive's efforts to grapple with the NEET issue can only be commended, Sir Robert was wise to remind us that this is not a homogeneous group of people. There are regional variations, it is a positive experience for some young people to disappear to take a gap year for whatever reason and even some of those who appear as NEET one year move into the education or training mainstream the following year. So we have to tailor our solutions and not imagine that the "headline" figure of 35,000 youngsters is the true "hard core" figure, as Sir Robert effectively acknowledges.

The disagreement on the way forward between Sir Tom Hunter and North Lanarkshire's director of education is perhaps more apparent than real.

Certainly there are different emphases, but the examples we highlight in our report make it clear that there are many ways to skin a cat: schools are acting on the issues, external agencies are stepping in and both are often in it together.

Like many of the things that appear so intractable in education, it is once again striking how the features of an effectively run school are often the answers to what may appear as a series of disparate problems. Peter Galloway pointed in this direction when he referred to a school that values pupils and staff, and one that gives its young people insights into the relevance of what they do. These are among the factors necessary for all pupils to flourish, NEET or otherwise.

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