Editorial - A PreVentative measure that might just work

27th February 2009 at 00:00
A scheme that singles out 11-year-olds in danger of becoming Neets shows promise

Alfie Patten, the baby-faced 13-year-old believed to have fathered a child by his 15-year-old girlfriend, has made sensational headlines in newspapers worldwide. But while the tragic tale makes a good read, the lives of two young parents are at a crossroads.

Although Alfie could reasonably go on to complete his education, it will be harder for young mother Chantelle Steadman, who could easily become just another Neet - a young person over 16 who is not in education, employment or training. The chances are both will become school dropouts.

It is all too easy to go off the rails in teenage years, but dabbling in drugs or having unprotected sex could have lifelong consequences. It is therefore only right that young people in danger of going down a slippery slope should be targeted as early as possible.

With the number of Neets stubbornly stuck at 10 per cent, more needs to be done to address this drain on society, which is estimated to cost more than Pounds 1 billion in Wales alone.

With this in mind, the announcement of the pilot PreVent scheme this week is broadly to be welcomed. So far, only sketchy details have emerged. But it seems that youngsters with a low reading age will be cherry-picked from the pilot schools to receive extra tuition in basic skills and personal and social education. The scheme will also involve motivating young people to achieve vocational qualifications. By introducing young pupils to real-life jobs, officials hope to spark a lifelong interest in learning.

It is also right that these children should be taught emotional intelligence. It is important that they understand the consequences of their actions and learn to make the right choices. If parents don't instil this, schools should.

But some reservations about PreVent were voiced this week. Officials say the scheme is not about being judgmental, but the fact remains that children in the scheme will be treated differently from their brighter, and possibly more affluent, peers. Whether it is extra help with basic skills or a week free from the timetable every term to gain a taste of vocational college courses, children in the PreVent scheme will become special cases. So will being part of PreVent become a label?

Given also that some children develop later than others, is 11 too young to push children in one direction? According to Dr Christopher Arnold, an educational psychologist who has studied 14-year-olds likely to become Neets in England, the answer is no. He believes Wales leads the way in dealing with the Neet problem, which disproportionately affects our nation more than any other in the UK.

No doubt the thinking behind PreVent is that prevention is far better than cure. We can only hope this latest initiative will produce a real solution to a problem that has so far refused to go away.

Nicola Porter, E: nicola.porter@tes.co.uk.

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