Reforms risk rise in NEETS, says youth education commission

Report calls for level 3 defunding pause and review of resits

Report calls for level 3 defunding pause and review of resits

Government policy on English and maths resits and reforms to technical qualifications are putting young people at risk of becoming NEET, a new report suggests.

The commission on post-16 education and training, led by Youth Employment UK, has proposed a “young person’s entitlement” which would give every young person a personalised route through qualifications and into employment.

Its report, published today during the Annual Apprenticeship Conference, found too much “complex” policy focus on level 3 and above qualifications and excluded large groups of young people, including some learners with SEND, learning at lower levels.

The commission also slammed the government’s English and maths GCSE resit policy for putting “many young people at risk of becoming NEET (not in employment, education or training)”.

For young apprentices, the report said it was “costly and time consuming” for employers to support them to reach English and maths standards. They said this was likely to “restrict social mobility” because “many” employers would rather insist on level 2 English and maths standards as entry criteria.

The commission called on the government to allow more young people to take lower level English and maths courses, including those without an EHCP or formal SEND diagnosis.

This comes as the government doubles down on its compulsory English and maths resit policy.

A new minimum teaching hours requirement for English and maths was announced during half term alongside the phased removal of the 5 per cent condition of funding tolerance.

Beyond ABS

In 2022, 8.4 per cent of 16-18-year-olds were NEET, up from 7 per cent the year before.

The report outlined concerns that too many young people were not receiving “appropriate” careers education and work experience, which can lead to learners picking the wrong pathway and increased dropout rates.

To produce recommendations, the commission identified Kettering and Darlington as two areas with average youth unemployment in England.

The commission found local concerns that DfE does not have “sufficiently fine-grained data to know how qualifications reform is impacting on young people”.

“It is disadvantaged students who are most likely to find themselves with no, or unsuitable, pathways,” the report said.

The commission made several recommendations for the short term. These include pausing and reviewing plans to defund qualifications and reviewing compulsory English and maths resits.

It also recommended to “work with employers to make English and maths an exit, rather than entry, requirement particularly for apprenticeships, and provide resources and funding to enable young people to achieve that”.

The commission agreed with the government’s intention to develop the Advanced British Standard but stressed that “too many young people could fall through the gaps” once rolled out.

“There’s some really good stuff in [the ABS], but actually, it’s very level three focused,” Laura-Jane Rawlings, CEO of Youth Employment UK, told delegates at the AAC 2024.

“What happens to our entry-level – level 1 and level 2 – I wanted to develop our commission showing the Young Person’s Entitlement, which is a step after the ABS that includes everybody.”

Its recommendation for the long term was a more “flexible” form of post-16 education called the young person’s entitlement.

“Our recommendations are for post-16 education and skills, but we believe that the young person’s entitlement should also underpin a review of KS4 curriculum,” the report added.

The framework encompasses four reforms: 

  1. Clear pathways for young people who want to move into apprenticeships, and supported apprenticeships for those who require them.
  2. A meaningful programme of work experience, at different ages and stages of the learner journey, from the earliest ages possible, and a clear understanding of what makes for good work/industry placements.
  3. A progressive careers programme that is embedded in school and college provision, supporting pupils from an early age to make the best choices. 
  4. English and maths qualifications that are proportionate to pupils’ level of study and course content, and properly embedded in all pathways including apprenticeships.

Rawlings added: “During the commission, the plans for an Advanced British Standard were announced and so the commission used the evidence gathered to also look at long-term education and skills reform. And I am delighted to bring to this Report the Young Person’s Entitlement, a new framework for post-16 education. 

“The entitlement puts young people back at the heart of the education and skills system, and sets a bold and ambitious plan for realising a system that will meet the needs of the learner, employer and the future world, whatever that may look like in 10 or 20 years’ time.”

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