It’s unclear just how poor the tracking of young people’s education and employment status is, but having seen Local Government Association (LGA) findings, Amy Lalla argues it’s an issue for which those at the very top must ensure funding pressures do not mean inaction.

Another week and another set of depressing data on the state of FE funding and the outlook for some of our most vulnerable young people.

The headline finding from the Local Government Association (LGA) survey is that ‘teenage Neets are at risk of being left behind by growth if services are not reformed, councils warn’.

Just 7 per cent of councils say they have powers and funding to meet their legal duties to identify and reduce teenage disengagement and secure suitable education and training places for all 16 to 18-year-olds.

It’s almost impossible to resolve an already intractable problem if we don’t have enough information to work with

And, piling on the misery, the LGA tells us that nine out of 10 local authorities (LAs) have been forced to reduce spending on support for 16 to 18-year-olds.

There’s absolutely no doubt that these statistics make for horrific reading. And although the survey achieved a very creditable 58 per cent response rate, I’d be surprised if — even with the usual caveats on methodology — there wasn’t yet more grim news lurking at the LAs which chose not to participate.

One of my main worries is the lack of data around exactly who Neets are. If we don’t know who, or where they are, how can we get them back into education or training and give them the opportunity they so desperately need to get their lives back on track? It’s as basic as that.

In January LAs were taken to task by the powerful Public Accounts Committee, which reported that round 100,000 teenage Neets had simply disappeared off councils’ radars. They had ‘gone missing’.

In some LA areas, the activity of a massive 20 per cent of young people was unknown, compared with a national average of 7 per cent, the committee said.

And this regional variation in data provision is a big worry. We know that many councils are beacons of good practice on this — they share their data with us and involve us in planning provision.

But we also know of councils which are unable to tell us who and where their Neets are despite the fact that we have the solutions to engage them.

It’s almost impossible to resolve an already intractable problem if we don’t have enough information to work with.

Without some foresight the problem of dealing with Neets will continue to grow — and the danger is that we won’t be able to locate them.

These regional variations must go, and the only way to do that is to introduce a standardised, central system for data collection. It cannot be left to the discretion of individual councils, now under enormous pressure and forced to make such punishing cuts across all their services.

Of course, the grim irony is that young people who have strayed from a traditional life path — often as a result of destructive home lives and educational barriers — are the least likely to have the resources or networks to make their voices heard.

That is why those of us who work in the sector and know at first hand the fantastic potential of these young people must campaign to raise Neets provision to the top of the political and policy agenda.

The wasted potential and cost — in human and economic terms — of picking up the pieces is simply unacceptable.

But of course, once young people have been reduced to faceless numbers on the Neets statistics, we’ve already failed them. What we should be focusing on is early interventions in school — primary and secondary — to identify the children in danger of becoming the Neets of tomorrow.

I have no doubt that this is where we need to turn our attention as a matter of urgency.