RAISING THE PARTICIPATION AGE
Will it help young people to secure jobs?
As Dr Alison Wolf has pointed out, keeping pupils is education or training post 16 will reduce opportunities for part-time employment and channel significant numbers of young people into school and college courses who do not want to be there. Is it sensible to keep pupils in the system- under duress? Having unwilling pupils in class we know leads to problems of resistance and disruption, accompanied by truancy, with consequent increases in youth offending, where the UK’s record is already among the worst among OECD countries
The reality is that a significant minority of pupils find 11 years of education from age 5 to 16 an endurance test. It follows then that they are unlikely to respond to more of the same. In most cases, these young people want a job and do not want to re-engage with education. However young people are confronting a double whammy. Almost regardless of their qualifications or level of motivation, they are finding it increasingly difficult to move into the labour market at any age,including now at 18. But for many post 16 stayers- on options don’t look too attractive either .The narrowing of options in the Government’s 14-19 strategy doesn’t help. Obviously there needs to be sufficient provision of college places, vocational courses, apprenticeships and other flexible work-based learning. But there isn’t enough to go round and too much of what is on offer is of variable quality.Much will now be underfunded. It is particularly important for education provision to reflect the changing needs and priorities of the post-16 age group. But take a look at the Foundation Learning programmes at Entry and Level One. Are they up to much? There seems little awareness of the need to make such qualifications accessible, relevant and engaging to young people in the NEET category. The weak vocationalism for instance, of GNVQs, applied GCSEs and now the Diplomas, struggling to embed and establish their credibility, has yet to herald a sufficiently flexible or relevant curriculum offer.
It is also becoming increasingly clear that opportunities for employment, with training in the present recession, are very scarce, with over 50 applicants now for each graduate level vacancy. Furthermore there is an acute shortage of the much heralded apprenticeship places necessary to address the NEET problem. Its all very well having an entitlement but Apprenticeships are in short supply and so unsurprisingly scarcity breeds much competition and so disappointment for many. There is a danger that these new participation requirements may shift the problem to a later stage in young people’s lives, while failing to address root causes, such as the absence of locally available entry level employment, even in the low-paid low-skill industries. The fact is that most young people want a job rather than qualifications of questionable currency. In such conditions, some college programme-led provision may easily assume ghetto qualities fomenting disillusionment with schemes that students know, right from the start will not lead to a job.
There is a need for instance for much more, and meaningful ,work-based learning, other than apprenticeships, along with more widespread opportunities for gaining vocational qualifications at Level 1, as a stepping stone to Level 2. There needs to be more flexible entry too, to many FE courses. Too many FE courses ,as Careers South West pointed out in a Memo to the Select Committee, still have a single September entry point so that young people who discontinue a course at Christmas, but wish to start an alternative full time course may have to mark time until the following September. Higher Education has its role to play too, improving access and remedial support with more flexible courses.
Also important is an excellent and universally available, well resourced all age careers information and advice service – delivered by professionals with knowledge of the local labour market, to support learners faced with a myriad of hard choices and possibilities. This would help to ensure that all young people maximise their potential helping them to make informed decisions to effect more successful transitions across education, training and work.
Reed employment says that many of the young people they work with do not have the basic soft skills required for businesses (its not just about being literate and numerate after all) and very few have received employability coaching whilst in formal education. This includes for instance help with writing a CV, accurately completing a job application form or attending and coping well with an interview. With a much more competitive labour market, these are clearly crucial elements limiting the availability of young people to secure work.
Self-evidently for a group with such diverse needs and challenges there needs to be a range of coherent policy responses, well beyond what is currently on offer.