COMMONS

Report published: 16-18 year old participation in education and training

22 January 2015

The Department is still learning how best to use its resources to prevent young people falling out of education, training or employment at 16 according to the Public Accounts Committee's report published on Thursday 22 January 2015.

The Rt Hon Margaret Hodge MP, Chair of the Committee of Public Accounts, today said:

"There are 148,000 out of 2 million 16- to 18-year-olds in England who are not in education, employment or training – or NEET – and whilst the number is thankfully improving, the UK is still behind other OECD countries when it comes to reducing NEETs.

Too many young people simply disappear from all the relevant public systems. 100,000+ young people are off the radar in that some local authorities do not know whether they are participating in education or training or not.

If the activity of young people is unknown to the local authorities where they live, they are unlikely to receive targeted help.

It would seem common sense that the main reason the number of NEETs is down is that the law has changed to require young people to continue in education or training until at least their 18th birthday. It is difficult to show that any other interventions, such as careers advice, have been effective.

Furthermore, the amount the Government spends on 16-18 education has fallen by 8% in real terms compared to 2010-11 and in September 2014 it reduced the basic rate of annual funding for an 18-year-old from £4,000 to £3,300.

With scarce resources it is vital to understand whether and which initiatives are most effective and why. Yet, the Department for Education has little understanding of the impact of existing initiatives and programmes.     

Some within the NEET group have been reached by the Youth Contract, but this is expected to only support half the number it was originally predicted to assist. The Programme will end in 2016, earlier than expected, and the Department has no plans to replace it.

We welcome the increase in longer apprenticeships available to young people. However, it is disappointing that the total number of new apprentices aged 16 to 18 fell last year. It is important to ensure that smaller businesses can be helped to offer quality apprenticeships too.

We are also concerned that many local authorities do not help 16- to 18-year-olds with the costs of travelling to school or college, which can lead to some young people being disadvantaged. In 63 local authorities where transport costs are relatively high young people do not get help with these costs, creating a postcode lottery.

Careers advice remains patchy across the country and most young people still do not receive the careers advice they need. In 2010 the Department transferred responsibility for providing careers advice to schools but did not give them additional resources to fund it.

There is still some way to go before we know all young people are getting the best start in life and we urge the Department to take forward our recommendations."

Margaret Hodge was speaking as the Committee published its 31st Report of this Session which – on the basis of evidence from Chris Wormald, Permanent Secretary, Department for Education and Mike Keoghan, Director of Vocational Education, Department for Business, Innovation and Skills – examined 16- to 18-year-old participation in education and training.

UK behind OECD

We are pleased that more 16– to 18-year-olds continue in education, although note the UK still lies behind other OECD countries.

Whether this is because of changes in legislation or more effective interventions is debatable. We note, however, that at the end of 2013, 148,000 out of the cohort of 2 million 16- to 18-year-olds in England were NEET (not in education, employment or training). Some within this NEET group have been reached by the Youth Contract, but we note this is expected to only support half the number it was originally predicted to assist, will end soon and the Department has no plans to replace it.

Careers advice remains patchy across the country and local authorities do not know what large numbers of the young people in their areas are doing. This means these young people are difficult to target. In 2010 the Department transferred responsibility for providing careers advice to schools but did not give them additional resources to fund it.

More employers involved in apprenticeships

The Department wants more employers to be involved in providing apprenticeships. We welcome this, but note it needs to ensure that smaller businesses can be helped to offer quality apprenticeships too.

We are also concerned that many local authorities do not help 16- to 18-year-olds with the costs of travelling to school or college, which can lead to some young people being disadvantaged. The Department told us that, unlike academies and local authority maintained schools, sixth form and FE colleges are unable to reclaim because they are classified as private sector. This means that sixth form students attending FE and sixth form colleges are less generously funded.

The Department for Education sets national policy and funds 16- to 18-year-old education and training. In 2013–14, it allocated £7 billion to this aspect of its work. Other organisations, including schools, sixth form colleges and FE colleges, deliver education and training, while local authorities have statutory duties to secure sufficient suitable provision for all young people in their area, and to support participation. At the end of 2013, there were nearly 2 million young people aged 16 to 18 in England and over 80% were in education or training. At the same time there were 148,000 young people (7.6%) who were not in education, employment or training (NEET), which is the lowest proportion since comparable records began in 1994.

Enforcement provisions not in effect

Young people who are NEET are, on average, more likely to be unemployed, have lower paid jobs, have addictions or go to prison. The Government has legislated to raise the participation age so that young people are required to continue in education and training beyond the age of 16, and students who left year 11 in summer 2014 are the first cohort that will have to continue until at least their 18th birthday. However the Government has decided not to bring the enforcement provisions into effect, preferring to rely on persuasion.

The Department has also introduced other initiatives to help young people participate, particularly those at risk of being NEET. These include the Youth Contract, reforms to careers advice, new Study Programmes and Traineeships, and changes to the Apprenticeship Programme. There is also funding available to help young people pay for their travel, books, clothing and equipment.

Conclusions and recommendations

The Department is still learning how best to use its resources to prevent young people falling out of education, training or employment at 16. Over the past 3 years, the Department has reduced funding for 16- to 18-year-old’s education and training. In 2013–14, the Department’s budget was 8% lower, in real terms, than its spending in 2010–11 and in September 2014 it reduced the basic rate of annual funding for an 18-year-old from £4,000 to £3,300.

The data suggests that the change in the law has had a significant impact on increasing participation beyond age 16. But 148,000 young people were still in the NEET group at the end of 2013. This is in spite of the Department introducing a range of new initiatives to encourage young people to continue in education and training. With scarce resources it is vital to understand which initiatives are proving most effective and why, yet the Department has little understanding of the impact of these initiatives and programmes.

Recommendation: The Department should evaluate the relative effectiveness of its individual initiatives and use the results to shape future decisions about how to engage hard-to-reach young people.

The Department and local authorities have more to do to identify over 100,000 young people who are off the radar. Too many young people simply disappear from all the relevant public systems. Local authorities have a statutory duty to track the activity of 16- to 18-year-olds, but some local authorities do not know whether young people are participating in education or training or not. Nationally, 7% of young people’s activity is unknown. In some local authorities the proportion is as high as 20%. If the activity of young people is unknown to the local authorities where they live, they are unlikely to receive targeted help if they need it, for instance support from the Youth Contract. The Department recognises it could do more, working with local government, to identify and disseminate good practice, on tracking young people’s activity.

Recommendation: The Department should work urgently with local authorities to identify and disseminate good practice on the most effective ways to track young people’s education and training activities.

The key intervention for the hardest-to-reach young people, the Youth Contract, is ending in 2016 and the Department has no plans to replace it. The Youth Contract provides extra support to 16- and 17-year-olds who are the hardest to reach, to move into education, training, or work with training. The Department had estimated that there were some 70,000 who could benefit from the Youth Contract. However the programme is only expected to help 35,000 individuals, half of the original ambition. These young people were NEET and also either had few qualifications, or were young offenders, or were or had been in care. The Youth Contract will stop recruiting in March 2015 and, disappointingly, the Department has no specific initiative with which to replace it.

Recommendation: The Department should establish how it will build on the positive impacts the Youth Contract has achieved and set out how young people will receive similar help in the future.

Longer and better quality apprenticeships are welcome, but it will also be important to guard against increasing barriers to young people and smaller firms participating. We have previously recommended changing the delivery and funding of apprenticeships, including making them longer and getting employers more involved, in order to enhance the experience for young people. We welcome what the Department, along with the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, have done to address our previous recommendations. However, while the number of young people aged 16 to 18 starting apprenticeships of 12 months or more increased in 2012/13, the total number of new apprentices aged 16 to 18 fell in both 2011/12 and 2012/13. Currently, only 29% of firms that employ under 50 people provide apprenticeships and the new model may be inherently unattractive to them if they perceive that both the administrative burdens and costs will grow.

Recommendation: The Government needs to learn from the early pilots and trials of its new model for apprenticeships, particularly if they create new barriers that prevent the engagement of SMEs in the scheme. They will need to adjust their plans to have regard to this.

Many local authorities do not help 16- to 18-year-olds with the costs of travelling to school or college, which means some young people are disadvantaged. Local authorities must have a transport policy setting out what arrangements they have to support 16- to 18-year-olds in accessing education and training. This policy does not have to include providing financial assistance and, in 63 local authorities where transport costs are relatively high, young people do not get help with these costs. Local authority decisions on support for transport costs will impact on the participation rates in education and training. If young people cannot afford the travel costs they may drop out. Also, some young people receive support from the Bursary Fund—to help pay for things like transport, clothing, books and other equipment. They will have to spend it all on transport, with less available for other things. This variation in local policy reduces access and choice for some young people and creates a potential postcode inequity, and the Department accepts that it does not know enough about these policies’ impact on participation.

Recommendation: The Department should examine the impact of variation in local authority transport policies on its objective to increase participation and should review whether and how to intervene where this is a significant barrier to participation.

Despite many different approaches over the years, most young people still do not receive the careers advice they need. Over time many different approaches to careers advice have been tried and have failed. The Department has now placed a statutory duty on schools to provide independent and impartial advice. Despite the Department’s belief that schools are best-placed to provide the right advice, Ofsted found only 12 out of 60 schools doing so when it inspected. The Department agrees that, over a year later, advice remains patchy. It is hard to see how some schools will ever offer independent and impartial advice about the choices students have when they have a vested interest in retaining pupils in their schools. Meanwhile, staff in small schools may lack the breadth of skills and knowledge to advise students well and employers may not be sufficiently involved.

Recommendation: The Department should articulate what actions it will take in future when a school’s careers advice is shown to be poor. It also needs to find ways to encourage schools to work together to provide advice with more employer involvement.

Further information

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