Seeking better quality data on NEET
And more accountability from schools on tracking, destinations and careers advice
On 10 September, Lorna Fitzjohn, Ofsteds National Director for Further Education and Skills delivered a speech at the Further Education and Skills annual lecture . The speech attracted little media coverage at the time but was nonetheless important in outlining Ofsteds approach to the 16-19 sector.
Fitzjohn explored the issues that prevent young people from engaging in education, employment or training. She highlighted the arresting fact that approximately 1,184,000 young people aged between 16 and 24, do not have a full-time job and are not attending full-time education or training courses. That is more than the total population of Birmingham. She said that while the raising of the participation age in education, training and employment to 17 last year – and to 18 next year – seems to be having a positive impact on reducing the number of 16- to 17-year-olds who are NEET, part of the problem seems to have shifted and the focus is now on the high number of young people aged 18 to 24 who are NEET. Unemployment currently affects around 605,000 18– 24-year-olds .
The lecture used evidence from the survey Transforming 16 to 19 education and training: the early implementation of 16 to 19 study programmes and is supported by background information, data and case studies.
We now, ostensibly, live in a policy environment in which both policy and practice should be informed by evidence . However, Fitzjohn points out that even now we lack definitive reliable data on the number of young people who are in the NEET category. ‘Quite simply, there are far too many people that are unaccounted for. The category used for these people is ‘current activity not known’. They are often called the ‘unknowns’. If you don’t know who these young people are, how can you support them’, she asks
She said “Local authorities have the overall responsibility for recording participation in employment, education and training. However, there are no lines of accountability in making the tracking processes more efficient and effective. The accuracy of the data is also dependent on the quality of the data collection by each local authority and the reliability of data provided by schools and providers. Inspectors encountered hugely contradictory data at a local level. The anomalies were quite shocking. For example, in one area, schools collectively reported a NEET figure of 0%, while the local authority for that area reported a figure of 10%. How can we plan for improvements when we simply can’t rely on the figures we have?”..” Local authorities have the duty to collect this information, but they do not have the power to enforce the providers to submit it to them.”
Her first set of recommendations to address the problems are:
Firstly, the government must ensure that there is a reliable system for tracking a young person’s educational progress and participation throughout their learning career. Plans to use the unique learner number linked to an individual’s national insurance number may be one way forward. However, any system would need to be accurate, secure and fool-proof. Whatever the systems, local authorities must be held to account if their data collection is ineffective.
Secondly, local authorities must have legal powers of intervention to ensure that all schools, academies and FE and skills providers comply with local protocols to provide full and prompt information on learners who drop out of their courses into unknown destinations.
Thirdly, the government must ensure that schools, providers, local authorities and government agencies, such as Jobcentre Plus, are mandated to share (albeit sensitively) information about learners’ backgrounds. This information is key to providing individualised support to young people when they transfer to different education and training providers
One of the main issues is that nationally managed strategies have too often been poorly aligned with local delivery. So there must be national strategies to support local initiatives to develop long-term solutions.
So, in relation to this, here are her second set of recommendations:
Firstly, young people must be at the heart of all planning and delivery of 14 to 19 provision. The government must ensure that there are clear lines of local accountability for the range and content of education and training, be it through the local enterprise partnerships, the local authority or other bodies.
Secondly, employers must take responsibility for leading vocational education and training for young people and make sure it supports the economy of the area. In turn, providers must work with employers to ensure that what they provide leads to their learners securing employment.
Finally, all schools must collaborate with other providers and careers guidance professionals to ensure that every young person has access to impartial careers guidance to help make informed choices about their futures
She concludes ‘As for Ofsted, I can assure you that inspections will take greater account of the actions taken by schools, FE and skills providers and local authorities to decrease the likelihood of a young person becoming NEET. Inspections will focus on how well providers ensure that all young people have a fair chance to progress.’
This is perhaps the strongest indication yet that Ofsted will, in future, pay much more attention to, and hold schools accountable for, the quality of information that they hold on their pupils, their progress and tracking , their training and employment destinations and the quality of the impartial professional careers advice and guidance that they actually receive.
More recently, the Education Secretary Nicky Morgan said in the Commons on 1 December, implicitly recognizing stakeholders concerns about Careers guidance in schools:”We are consulting representatives to examine what further steps we can take to prepare young people for the world of work more effectively, and to ensure that businesses are engaging with schools in meaningful ways.”
Securing a better future for all at 16 and beyond – annual lecture for further education and skills 2014 Lorna Fitzjohn, National Director for Further Education and Skills
10 September 2014