Neets strategy puts onus on schools
A long-awaited Assembly government action plan to tackle one of Wales's biggest social problems - teenagers who leave school with no qualifications - has been attacked for containing "nothing new".
Opposition Assembly members said they were disappointed by the government's plan to lower the number of Neets (young people not in employment, education or training) and also criticised it for being nothing more than rhetoric.
Around 12,000 16 to 18-year-olds in Wales are classified as Neets. That is 10 per cent of the age group - the highest percentage anywhere in the UK.
Launching the plan in the Senedd on Tuesday, John Griffiths, the deputy minister for skills, said the statistics were of "significant concern", but that the plan was an important milestone in tackling the problem. He added that the new strategy drew on best practice and the advice of experts.
But Jenny Randerson, the Liberal Democrat education spokeswoman, said she struggled to find anything new in the announcement.
Paul Davies, the Tories' new shadow education minister, said: "I feel that we have heard this statement before."
The action plan calls for schools to improve identification of pupils at risk of becoming Neets.
Mr Griffiths said all schools should be working more closely with pupils in danger of dropping out, and that sharing information with other agencies would help if social issues, such as alcohol and drug abuse, were included.
The vocationally led 14-19 learning pathways are seen as playing a major role in the plan by offering a wider choice of options and more opportunities for young people.
Under the proposals, learning coaches - one-to-one mentors who give vocational and other guidance to pupils - will be given extra training and have their role expanded to focus more on pupils at risk of dropping out.
Announcing the plan, Mr Griffiths said: "We are confident that if we can get these things right, we will set ourselves on course for success.
He said the strategy was about making better use of resources, but that extra funding was available through the ProAct and ReAct wage supplement and training schemes.
He dismissed Lib Dem and Tory criticisms of the plans, arguing that they would make a real difference.
The announcement comes a week after five south Wales councils launched a radical pound;7 million trial to target 11 to 13-year-olds at risk of dropping out. If the PreVent scheme is a success in these areas, it could be introduced nationally.