'Too often, life chances are determined by your background'

Too many people fail to progress from education to work. The Youth Commission wants to change this, says Stephen Evans

Stephen Evans

vulnerable pupils danger

One in 10 young people are not in education, employment or training. The Learning and Work Institute’s new Youth Commission will look at how to tackle this.

The headlines are dominated by Brexit and the latest comings and goings in the government. Every day, there’s a new twist or turn, and Donald Trump’s visit is about to begin…

But look beyond the political soap opera and there are big, long-term challenges that we need to focus on. Perhaps none is as important as ensuring all young people get a high-quality education and make their first step on the career ladder. That matters for fairness: ensuring that everyone gets a fair chance in life. And it matters for prosperity: our country will only succeed if we harness everyone’s talents.

Rise in attainment

There’s lots of good news. Education attainment has risen over time, around half of young people gain higher- level qualifications, and most young people move into work and build a career. But for too many young people, that isn’t what happens. And there are stark class divides – too often your chances in life are determined by your background.

That’s why this week we’ve launched a Youth Commission. It will look at how to improve education and employment opportunities for 16- to 24-year-olds. We’ve got some great commissioners: Kate Green MP, Jo Maher (principal of Boston College), Amy King (founder of GlamSci), and Maggie Galliers (our chair). And I’m grateful for the support of NOCN, Prospects, the Association of Colleges, Capital City Colleges Group and London South Bank University in making the Youth Commission happen.

Our launch report set out the state of play. It highlighted the fact that one in 10 young people are not in education, employment or training. The proportion of young people gaining higher-level qualifications compares well to other countries, though with inequalities in access and fewer opportunities to gain these qualifications throughout people’s lives. Literacy and numeracy are poorer than other countries as is attainment at level 3 and lower, particularly for vocational routes like apprenticeships.

Pessimistic about prospects

New polling for the Youth Commission shows the public share these concerns. Those aged 25 and over were around twice as likely to be pessimistic about young people’s prospects than young people themselves. Those out of work were far more likely to say that education had not prepared them well for their careers.

We also asked people what policies they thought should be a priority. There were clear age and class divides. Younger age groups were most likely to want more experience of work, while older age groups argued for a greater focus on English and maths. Cutting university fees was a bigger priority for those in the highest socio-economic groups, while lower socio-economic groups were more likely to want more opportunities to learn throughout life. No age group thought more grammar schools should be a priority.

All of this led us to identify five key challenges the Youth Commission will focus on.

Key challenges

  1. Better supporting the 700,000 young people not in education, employment or training.
  2. Increasing the number of people qualified to level 3.
  3. Improving attainment in literacy, numeracy and other basic skills.
  4. Creating a diversity of higher-level learning routes throughout life.
  5. Supporting job quality, career progression, and economic security.

This certainly feels like a good time to be looking at this. The government’s post-18 review is tasked with a similar remit. Next year’s Spending Review will set the policy and funding priorities for the years ahead. And there are local authorities, colleges, providers and others doing great work across the country.

This is such an important topic. Ultimately, it’s about building a country in which where you’re going matters more than where you’ve come from.

You can find out about the Youth Commission and read the launch report here.

Stephen Evans is chief executive of the Learning and Work Institute

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