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Six-point plan to save failing pupils

Young people at risk of falling into the NEET group (not in education, employment or training) are to be offered a range of incentives under the Scottish Executive's long-awaited strategy, announced this week.

But there will be no new money, although pound;13.8 million has been redirected from existing resources to support a 39-point action plan, launched at Braeview Academy in Dundee by Jack McConnell, the First Minister, and Nicol Stephen, Deputy First Minister.

The plan will involve private, public and voluntary sector partnerships and draw on proposals already highlighted by the Smith Group, headed by Glasgow businessman Sir Robert Smith.

Sir Robert said action was not dependent on more money. "Literally billions are applied to this issue in one form or another," he said. "This is about making that money work more effectively."

While 35,000 (13.5 per cent) of 16-19s are in the NEET group, this includes those taking a gap year between school and university. The executive therefore estimates that a hard core of around 20,000 need help to find their way into the labour market. The NEET group has been described by Mr McConnell as "a permanent state of life, a permanent state of mind".

Six main forms of action are now being proposed:

* Extension of the XLerate programme to prepare young people for the world of work - previously piloted with support from the Hunter Foundation (TESS, April 28). The executive is committing around pound;1 million over the next two years, to extend the scheme to about 100 schools in Scotland.

* An extra pound;400,000 from Careers Scotland's budget for 10 schools particularly affected.

* pound;2.4 million over two years to give enhanced careers advice.

* New financial incentives, such as "activity allowances" for those who participate in informal learning as a first step towards employment, education and training.

* Extending Skills for Work courses to S2 pupils.

* NEET "hotspots" in Glasgow, Clackmannanshire, Dundee, West Dunbartonshire, North Ayrshire, East Ayrshire, and Inverclyde will receive pound;400,000 this year and next; other authorities will receive pound;75,000, making a total of pound;10 million over two years.

The strategy, More Choices, More Chances, takes a twin-track approach of giving pupils the skills in school to make them more employable and providing learning experiences for them. It also aims to provide better profiling of the NEET group by tracking the progress of individuals.

Financial incentives to entice youngsters into training or education - the "something for something" approach - builds on plans to pilot activity and learning agreements for 16-17s in parts of England from April this year.

The plan also pledges to review financial arrangements for 16-19s to give those in vocational training the same support as those in full-time education.

Mr McConnell said: "If we can end this human waste, we will not only release individual human potential, but we will also sig-nificantly add to Scotland's economic success. That is why a national effort between public and private sectors is the way forward."

Mr Stephen, Minister for Enterprise and Lifelong Learning, pointed out that in areas of Scotland the problem is particularly acute. "That is why we will provide extra financial help to all local authorities - but most to those where the NEET problem is the greatest," he said.

John Mulgrew, chair of Learning and Teaching Scotland and a member of the Smith Group, pledged his organisation would help authorities to draw up innovative solutions.

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