Helen Hague introduces a three-page report on projects designed to ensure lifelong learning is really for all
NEXT month a report will landon Tony Blair's desk addressing the issue of why so many 16 and 17-year-olds fall through the educational net, and suggesting ways to help them.
Reports on truancy, rough-sleepers and "sink" estates have already been published - and one on teenage parenthood is imminent. The extent of such problems has already been highlighted in earlier reports showing that Britain has four times the French teenage pregnancy rate.
The Social Exclusion Unit, working out of Downing Street and answerable to the Prime Minister, may not have any money to hand out, but by focusing on areas which are causing concern across a number of government departments, the hope is that its findings will influence departmental spending - and, of course, promote so-called "joined-up" government so that New Labour's anti-poverty offensive does not get bogged down in interdepartmental turf wars.
The Department for Education and Employment - which has set demanding targets for 16 to 18-year-olds - has already framed a raft of initiatives aimed at tackling disadvantage and encouraging learning.
This week, a nationwide expansion of New Start was announced, aimed at tackling disaffection among 14 to 17-year-olds who feel education and training has nothing to offer them. Testimonials from young people who have been helped by individual projects were issued at the launch, showing that, with appropriate support, drug users and pupils excluded from school for aggressive behaviour can get back into the mainstream.
The scheme is directed at bringing cohesion to a range of projects run by various agencies - FE colleges, training and enterprise councils, local authorities and voluntary organisations. The pound;5 million budget - much of the new money directed towards 16 and 17-year-olds - will act as pump-priming. Local partnerships will be able to tap into funds such as the European Social Fund or the Single Regeneration Budget.
New Start is focused on Britain's most deprived districts and should help about 20,000 young people every year when expansion is complete.
Cash incentives to encourage young people from poorer families to stay on in education were announced earlier this year - chiming with the Government's social inclusion agenda. The Education Maintenance Allowance will be piloted in 12 areas from September. Each of the areas has relatively low post-16 education rates and fairly high levels of deprivation. Twenty per cent fewer young people from low-income households remain in education or training than their peers from more affluent households. The pilots will test out four variants to see how they encourage young people to stay on.
The first real rise in a decade for 16 and 17-year-olds in training is set to start in September, giving all young people covered a pound;40 a week allowance. There will also be incentive bonuses for trainees on pre-vocational courses, giving those with satisfactory attendance and those who achieve qualifications pound;50. With the spread of National Traineeships, replacing low-grade Youth Training, another part of the jigsaw falls into place.
Another shift in resources will soon be hitting careers offices. Resources for the careers service have been increased by double the rate of inflation in 1999-2000, fleshing out a shift in emphasis to help young people who leave school at 16 with few or no qualifications. The extra cash will be tied to targets for careers services to keep track of young people and place them in education and training places. TECs will be collaborating with the careers service in the drive to bring young people back to learning.
No one can accuse Education Secretary David Blunkett of fighting shy of setting targets. To achieve them, the needs of those who risk being excluded from the mainstream will have to be met.