'Too little, too late', warn experts on Neet stats
The assembly government has been accused of failing to seize the opportunity to tackle the Neet problem, despite new statistics that appear to show an improvement.
Official figures released last week show the number of 16- to 18-year-olds not in education, employment or training (Neet) reached an all-time high of 15,400 at the end of 2008, before falling to 14,200 at the end of 2009.
The government said the figures show its efforts to increase the number of education and training places available are starting to have an impact.
But Paul Davies AM, the Conservative shadow education minister, said the government has not done enough in the face of tough economic times ahead.
"Ministers are still failing to seize the opportunity to improve the situation for those not in education, employment or training," he said.
"It is essential that ministers prioritise this issue, especially during these difficult economic times.
"The chances of these figures improving are made harder as the Assembly government seeks to cut further education funding and cap higher education access, with fewer job opportunities, and with more people seeking work and training."
There were serious concerns among educationalists and business leaders that measures put in place to tackle Wales's Neet problem were "too little, too late", and that more should have been done before the recession hit.
But the government said its strategies are working, including an additional pound;49 million being pumped into the system this year to fund more places and to support a variety of programmes.
A spokesman said: "We are committed to ensuring that all young people are equipped with the skills they need to secure satisfying careers."
However, the statistics also reveal the percentage of Neets has barely changed over the last 15 years, fluctuating between 10 and 12 per cent.
They also show that among 19- to 24-year-olds the number of Neets was at an all-time high of 54,600 at the end of 2009, compared to 44,200 the year before.
As TES Cymru revealed earlier this year, the Assembly has abandoned its goal of getting 93 per cent of young people into employment, education or training by 2010.
Officials admitted that the target set out in the 2006 Learning Country: Vision into Action document was "ambitious" in the light of "recent economic challenges".
The cross-party Enterprise and Learning Committee has since launched an inquiry into the effectiveness of the government's Neet strategies, and education minister Leighton Andrews has established an internal review into why young people fall into the Neet group.
An Assembly spokesman said that addressing the Neet problem was a "long- term" issue, but admitted that "more needs to be done".
He added: "We are looking at addressing the issue in the earliest years, recognising that there can be a variety of reasons why people fall out of education, employment or training.
"It is also important that we help those young people who are keen to find employment and to encourage employers to take them on. There are no short- term solutions."