People in the NEET category are not always problematic

1st December 2006 at 00:00
My son has a chronic health condition. It means he has had periods when he has not been able to work or engage in education. Prince William took a well-publicised gap year before starting at St Andrews University.

Neither of these situations posed a long-term problem for the economy, society or the individuals. Yet both of these young people would have been part of what was described in last week's TESS as the "scandal" of around 35,000 problematic young people not in education, employment or training.

NEET is a statistical category used, originally by OECD, to describe the remainder left after counting those in employment, in education or in training. As a negative description, it does not allow for any indication of what the people are involved in, only what they are not involved in.

Many young people not in education, employment or training are involved in worthwhile activities, such as voluntary service or caring for disabled family members. Others are between jobs or educational courses or are simply being young. There is more to life than education, employment and training.

This is not to argue that a problem does not exist. What we lack is fine-grained data on those 35,000 not in education, employment or training.

Education is seen as one solution, but it is only one. British educationists look at the Finnish education system as a model of inclusive practice, yet Finland has a higher percentage of young people in NEET than either Scotland or England. A coherent education system is not the whole answer.

Young people are not in education, employment or training for a range of reasons, so there will need to be a wide range of strategies to address their needs.

Some of these strategies are already in place. The Scottish Executive is investigating the effects of educational maintenance allowances on keeping young people in education. Research, in which I was involved, suggests that they do. Research in England indicates that young people who have been looked after and young mothers are disproportionately represented in NEET.

Supportive housing arrangements and appropriate, low-cost or free childcare are likely to be important for these groups. Employers and social services have roles as important as education in addressing the needs. Simplistic solutions requested of only one sector of the public service are not the answer.

Ian Finlay

senior lecturer, Department of educational and professional studies, Strathclyde University

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