Amid the response to a report by the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) on young people not in education, employment or training (Neets) crucial issues were overlooked, says Amy Lalla.
It’s heartening to see MPs on the powerful PAC turning their attention to Neets, but there are three key issues that I was disappointed didn’t receive more attention.
To start with, we mustn’t wait until it’s too late. No one wants to hear the phrase ‘early intervention’ yet again, but when it comes to young people at risk of becoming Neet, it really is the only game in town.
Once a young person becomes Neet, we’ve failed. We know only too well that the consequences to them of disengagement are enormous — drug and alcohol abuse, mental and physical health problems, and high risk of involvement in crime.
Once young people become Neets, they are, by definition, hard to reach. So the cost of providing support rockets. And society, too, pays a high price.
For young people who have struggled at school until the age of 16, two more years of classroom-based learning is hardly going to be an attractive option
It’s in schools that ‘would-be’ Neets are identified. But schools can’t be expected to shoulder the burden of interventions alone. At Let Me Play, we go into primary schools and work with teachers to provide the extra support needed to children as young as 10. It’s at that age that the crucial ground-work is done to avert potential disaster at 16.
Secondly, advice, support and guidance has simply gone missing.
The deterioration in careers advice since provision was handed to schools — with no extra funding — has received much attention. Ofsted found that three quarters of schools visited by inspectors were providing inadequate guidance to students.
The sub-standard career guidance is often discussed in relation to young people’s choice of A-level subjects and university access, but its impact in this sector has been underplayed.
For young people who have struggled at school until the age of 16, two more years of classroom-based learning is hardly going to be an attractive option.
But they are simply not being made aware of the options available to them. We need the varied offering of the market place for education for 16 to18-year-olds communicated to young people far earlier, and we need a single access point for the information they need.
And thirdly, there’s the fact that travel costs bar students from learning. Let’s suppose, just for a moment, that these young people do receive that expert, impartial advice and have a place on a training course. How are they going to travel to and from the training centre or college?
Last week we had a teenage mum on the phone in tears because she couldn’t afford the travel to college — so we’re picking up the bill.
Last year, we had a student last year who travelled across town from near Staines in West London to Haringey in north London for our course. But he was late every day as he couldn’t afford to travel during peak hours.
Similarly, we’ve had to rent minibuses and hire cars to take our students to offsite exams, because the candidates simply can’t afford to get there.
Students can apply for college bursaries, but they are only awarded to students with good attendance records and they typically take six weeks to process. By this time, in our experience the young people have already started to suffer financially, their attendance levels have fallen and they won’t get the bursary.
As a London-based provider, we have lobbied the London Mayor’s office and Transport for London on this issue, but to no avail.
This is a nonsense that must be addressed — and fast. There are young people languishing who could be in training, but simply don’t have the means to travel there. How crazy is that?
Our young people deserve better.