Spotlight on 16-year-olds as NEETs rise and level 2 apprenticeships fall

A sharp fall in the number of 16-year-olds taking up level two apprenticeships is being blamed for a startling rise in people of that age who are not in education, employment or training.

Provisional ‘participation’ figures for the year ending 2017 released by the Department for Education this morning show that the proportion of 16-year-olds that are NEET has risen (0.7 percentage points to 3.9 per cent) for the first time since the end of 2011.

It is also the first increase in this group since the government’s Raising of the Participation Age policy came into force – which means that all young people must continue in education or training to 17 from 2013 and to 18 from 2015.

The rise would appear to be directly related to the number of 16-year-olds participating in level two apprenticeships.

There were two per cent fewer 16-year-olds overall in England, but the fall in apprenticeship participation was far greater at nearly 12 per cent, from 23,700 to 20,900, of which it was an 18 per cent fall at level two (from 18,100 to 14,900).

In terms of the age 16 NEET cohort, this rose a massive 20 percent, from 19,500 to 23,400.

When FE Week showed the dramatic fall in 16-year-old apprenticeships and rise in NEETs to the AELP, its chief executive Mark Dawe said: “Once again we predicted this would happen when the government announced that we would move to the same funding rate for all ages.

“We also said that that £1,000 employer incentive for 16-18 year olds across the length of an entire programme would be insufficient for many sectors.

“The minister acknowledged at the AELP conference on Monday that Brexit has to be a consideration in the government’s thinking and sectors like care, hospitality and retail are going to be badly affected unless the entire funding system for 16- to- 24-year-old apprentices is reviewed immediately.

“The lack of action also totally undermines the government’s claims to be serious about social mobility.”

Stephen Evans, chief executive of the Learning and Work Institute, said the news was “disappointing”.

“It is disappointing to see a rise in the proportion of 16-year-old NEETs. Our research shows that young people spending a longer time NEET account for a higher proportion of the NEET figures, with particularly shocking outcomes for groups such as care leavers. We need action to make sure these figures are a one-off and not the beginning of a trend.”

He added that the fall in apprenticeship take up among 16-year-olds is “also troubling given that far fewer young people in the UK are undertaking an apprenticeship than in other countries.

“We must do better if we are to ensure that today’s young people have a strong foundation of skills and experience on which to build rewarding careers.”

A DfE spokesperson said: Today’s data shows that the proportion of 16-17 year olds in education and apprenticeships has remained relatively stable and is now at the highest level since consistent records began.

“We have put in place a comprehensive programme of reforms, both pre- and post-16, to improve the quality of young people’s education and support them to participate.”