Some youths are more equal

19th May 2000 at 01:00
IT IS a question that even Carol Vorderman could answer. Which government department produces documents containing these words: flexible, innovative, modern, community, and pilot? The answer is all of them. They are the stuff of Blairism.

No policy discussion paper emerges without them. So it is with the Department of Education and Employment's Connexions, the service for young people to be "rolled out" from next April. What is on offer to young people might have been called a new deal, had that title not been used to rescue the unemployed.

The 13 to 19 age group needs better and more support than it gets. The well-intentioned do their bit, falling over the feet of different agencies with conflicting targets varied remits, while the most at-risk kids drift away to the margins of society.

Nobody who has read Andrea Ashworth's account of growing up in Manchester in the 70s and 80s, Once in a House on Fire, could doubt the damage that a dysfunctional family living in profligate poverty can inflict on the life chances of a teenager. One reviewer said that the book is essential reading for those who manage urban educational provision. Perhaps adolescents should also get copies.

A freshly-designed service that puts the young person at the centre, and offers support that meets their needs is what is on the table. If it sounds like a guidance version of inclusive learning, that's because it is. You can see the joins in the thinking.

But inclusivity does not come cheap. Every 13-19-year-old will have a case officer to keep them in school, shape their careers and monitor their leisure time.

And where is the money coming from for this thought-control? Answer: from those who apparently need it less. David Melville, chief executive of the Further Educatin Funding Council, said that money would be found for Curriculum 2000. What he didn't say was that the money was being taken, by way of a change in the tariff, from adult learners. That wheeze has not been lost on the people behind Connexions.

Some young people will need dedicated time and effort. They are described as the "most at risk of encountering obstacles to a successful transition to adulthood".

They will get what they need from a case officer with few clients. Others less at risk will be left to fend for themselves. They will have a case officer who keeps an eye on lots of young people, with little time for any of them. The same money, then, but redistributed.

We know how this will work because it's already happening. Careers services have been told to look at difficult cases and leave the easy ones to others.

For the first time in years, school staff have had to offer advice to compliant pupils about post-16 opportunities.

This has been tough, as their knowledge and skills in counselling have gone rusty. College staff have also been drawn into the process, as have those who push routes such as employment or apprenticeships. Disinterested advice will be avail-

able only to those who look like opting out of the system.

It is not clear how the resources needed for the Connexions service will be allocated to the various partnerships that will manage Connexions. There cannot be a one-size-fits-all pattern. Some areas of particular deprivation will need more case officers to handle more young people at risk.

It's not just the cost of your house insurance that is governed by your postcode, but your chance of leading a blameless and well-regulated life.

Mike Austin is principal of Accrington and Rossendale College

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