The Association of Colleges says more life skills training is needed to change entrenched attitudes in areas of high unemployment, reports Steve Hook
TACKLING the regional divide in job opportunities for young people will be a high priority for the restructured further education sector.
John Brennan, the Association of Colleges' director of development, says the new Learning and Skills Council will need to use its funding flexibility to break the cycle of low expectations in communities blighted by unemployment. Despite years of regional development, stark contrasts remain.
"If you look at the figures in terms of social class, you find significant differences in staying-on rates," he said.
Government figures show that, among the brightest children of parents with professional and managerial occupations, 90 per cent stay on in full-time education at 16, compared with 80 per cent of similarly-qualified children from homes where the parents are unskilled.
Among less able pupils, 40 per cent of the professional and managerial children stayed on, compared with 25 per cent of the children from unskilled homes - a fact Mr Brennan attributes to low aspirations and, in some cases, financial barriers, combined with little hope of getting a good job.
"If you live on a run-down estate and maybe most of your family and friends are out of work or, in some cases, have never worked," he said, "you may see training for work as something which doesn't suit you.
"Of course, there are economic factors, such as a lack of employment opportunities in some areas but what we would say, and what the new council has to address, is that there are also other factors at work such as people's attitudes to training and work.
"The council will have much more flexibility to fund programmes which are aimed at working on people's atitudes, increasing their confidence and getting them into a disciplined routine, rather than simply being driven by qualifications."
Now, as in 1993, the North-east and London remain as the areas with the highest unemployment, while the South-east and the East continue to prosper.
Poor educational performance contributes to London's joblessness, says Paul Bivand, senior researcher with the Unemployment Unit and Youth Aid.
Many Londoners were excluded from jobs because they lacked the right GCSEs. As a result: "London imports a lot of people who have the qualifications for the type of jobs it offers but those who come from London and lack the right qualifications at GCSE are excluded.
"Over the years, educational performance has not been as good in London as it is in some of the south-eastern counties," he said.
The South-east has seen the greatest fall in unemployment over this period, with the number of jobless more than halved. The North-east has seen the smallest reduction, at just over a quarter.
David Gibson, chief executive of the AOC, said: "If we are concerned about social exclusion then we have to be concerned about these figures. Despite all the years of the Government trying to address the issue, we still find stark contrasts.
"Of, course, if you close all the shipyards and the mines and the steelworks then you have an employment problem which can't be solved simply by more training, and I'm not going to be unrealistic about that."
According to current figures, unemployment is highest in the North-east, (9 per cent), followed by London, at 7 per cent, Yorkshire and Humberside (6.1 per cent), the North-west (5.4 per cent), the West Midlands, (5.8 per cent), the East Midlands (4.8 per cent), the South-west (4 per cent), the East (3.7 per cent) and the South-east (3.1 per cent).