The clear message given by Ofsted in their recent annual lecture was that many young people are still missing out on vital education, employment or training, despite efforts from all sides to tackle this problem. Ofsted’s Director for Further Education and Skills Lorna Fitzjohn noted that the number of individuals in this group has reached almost 1.18 million. Additionally, a growing number of young people aged between 16 and 24 are unaccounted for entirely due to their education, training or employment status being unknown.
In an attempt to reduce this figure and improve chances at achieving career aspirations, new study programmes for 16 to 19 year olds were created last year. These programmes aimed to customise education provision and career advice to individuals. However, 12 months later survey findings show only minimal progress. Concerns highlighted include the discovery that although career advice was offered, much of it was unclear when explaining the different options available to learners and not all providers ensured that programmes actually met the needs of the learners. For those students who had completed secondary education, many chose not to continue to an apprenticeship, employment or higher education, possibly as a result of this absence of clear guidance. Those from disadvantaged backgrounds or those wanting to follow vocational pathways encountered a further lack of support. Additionally, not all teaching of English and mathematics met a high enough standard, contributing to the lack of preparation young people faced when making decisions about their future education or employment options.
Ofsted set out plans to improve the situation, including the implementation of a system to track the movement of young people after they leave high school. This would include new legal powers for local authorities to enable them to obtain concise information from schools, academies and colleges on those who drop out of education. There is also a strong need for providers and employers to work together in order to guarantee that education and training leads to secure employment in future. Too many young people remain in education or training but fail to achieve meaningful qualifications and experience that will help them reach their career aspirations.
The NFER Research Programme set up in 2011 has been a key figure in the exploration of the challenges that young people face when navigating between education and future opportunities. NFER found that those individuals who had a previously negative experience at school, with higher levels of truancy and exclusion and lower levels of academic attainment, were less likely to re-engage in education or training. NFER also identified a group of undecided NEETs (not in education, employment or training) who were ‘open to learning NEET, but dissatisfied with available opportunities and their inability to access what they want to do’ (Nelson & O’Donnell, 2012, p.2). This group was of particular interest, as there is obvious potential for effective change here. The report proposed both national and local policy-level strategy in response. Governments must maintain adequate macro-economic funding for cost-effective and individually tailored youth labour market programmes, and there needs to be a dedicated national leadership with a partner at local policy level to track the progress of the NEET agenda and coordinate the response amongst all parties involved. At a local level, the needs of young people must be identified early on, with intervention involving the family if there is risk a risk of a poor outcome, and high-quality, sustained, one-to-one support at key transition points. The study recommends the provision of volunteering opportunities for individuals who are unclear on personal goals and the development of alternative and flexible learning routes for those students who do not benefit from classroom-based education. Online education may fill this need fairly successfully, allowing students to study at their own time and pace. The research also suggests that local employers are included in the development and design of employment opportunities for young people, in order to identify and foster potential initiatives for vulnerable young people, enterprise development and employer support.
One positive conclusion from Ofsted is that the number of individuals categorised as NEET is at the lowest level since records began. However, there is still room for improvement. The requirement for students to continue to study maths and English if they do not reach an acceptable standard at school is encouraging. As are the indications that schools and colleges are now entering young people for more rigorous qualifications, with an increasing number of students taking GCSEs in English and maths. But further solutions are needed in order to ensure that the number of NEET individuals continues to fall.
Ofsted, ‘Press release: Ofsted Further Education and Skills Annual lecture: Securing a better future for all at 16 and beyond’ (2014). Available online at http://www.ofsted.gov.uk/news/ofsted-further-education-and-skills-annual-lecture-securing-better-future-for-all-16-and-beyond?news=23482. Accessed September 14, 2014.
Nelson, J and O’Donnell, L. (2012). Approaches to Supporting Young People Not in Education, Employment or Training: a Review (NFER Research Programme: From Education to Employment). Slough: NFER. Available online at http://www.nfer.ac.uk/publications/RSRN01/RSRN01.pdf Accessed September 14, 2014.
Photo: Alan Levine