Teen girls in Neet group on the rise

3rd April 2009 at 01:00
Experts say too many initiatives for disaffected youngsters are skewed towards boys' interests

There are now just as many girls as boys not in education, employment or training in Scotland, according to new figures released by the Scottish Funding Council.

For almost a decade there have been more young men than young women in the so-called Neet group. But recent figures show that the percentage of teenage boys fell from 14.1 per cent in 2006 to 12.2 per cent in 2007, while the number of young women rose from 10.7 per cent to 12.2 per cent.

Educationists blame initiatives that have focused on raising the aspirations of boys, but not girls.

It was hard to find programmes designed to engage the Neet group that were not based on football, said one diversity and equality expert at the Learning for All conference in Edinburgh last week, where the figures were released.

David Raffe, of Edinburgh University's centre for educational sociology, said: "The way discussions have taken place, people identifying incentives to get young people engaged have tended to think of males. Girls traditionally have participated more, but now it would seem that gap has closed."

In a bid to widen access to education, the SFC said it was launching three pilot schemes in Scotland to try to boost engagement among one of the groups hardest to reach - care leavers.

Pounds 350,000 will be available for two years to John Wheatley College in Glasgow, Edinburgh's three colleges and Dumfries and Galloway Colleges to come up with innovative ways to engage with this group.

John Wheatley College launched its project last year, and the others are expected to start this year.

"Innovation is an absolute requirement," said Jon Gray, assistant director of access and inclusion at the SFC.

Ultimately, the Scottish Funding Council hopes a quality mark for care leavers in FE will be developed, in conjunction with the Frank Buttle Trust which supports pupils in "desperate need".

The funding council has also set up an access and inclusion committee to look at the issue of widening access at a national level.

The latest figures showing the number of young men and women in the Neet group form part of the third annual update to Learning for All, the SFC's strategy for widening participation.

Other figures show that, despite a slight rise in 2006-07, the participation rate in college continues to fall; women are still more likely than men to participate in FE and HE, and people from deprived areas remain more likely to go to college than those from more affluent areas, who are likelier to go to university.

Meanwhile, the proportion of students who disclosed a disability rose at colleges and universities, and non-white Scots continued to be well represented.

But an expert warned the figure being taken as the proportion of non-white ethnic groups in Scotland - 2.01 per cent - was taken from the 2001 census. This was long out of date, said Ali Jarvis, former director of Scotland's Commission for Racial Equality, who sits on SFC's access and inclusion committee. "(It) does not take into account the influx of asylum-seekers, the eight EU accession countries or other economic migrants," she said.


John Wheatley College estimates that most care leavers who joined them last year are two and a half years away from being able to enter mainstream programmes.

The 50 youngsters, referred by social workers, mental health services and others, have chaotic lifestyles, to say the least. Student A was a poor attender at school and disruptive when there. Student B is tagged and has been in secure accommodation on three occasions and stopped going to school after S1. His mother has given up on the family and his father is frequently in prison.

Most of the youngsters attend college full time - 3.5 days a week - arriving between 9am and 10.30am. A dedicated member of staff phones those who do not turn up. About 80 per cent of youngsters have stuck with the programme.

Courses include everything from stand-up comedy and drama to sport, and the youngsters opt in and out as they wish.

The Scottish Funding Council money has also allowed the college to plan outings. Youth workers support the youngsters at college; they are the familiar faces as teachers and subjects change. But due to health problems that have begun to surface, mental health workers have moved out of GP practices and are now on campus once a week to offer youngsters extra support. As of next year, the college will also have eight flats to deal with any housing issues.

But for some, the real question is: what happens when funding runs out?

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