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100,000 teenagers ‘off the radar’ – MPs

Tens of thousands of teenagers have fallen “off the radar” with no information available on whether they are in education, employment or training and councils and the government must do more to keep track of them, MPs have warned.

The Public Accounts Committee said that 148,000 out of two million 16 to 18 year olds are not in education, employment or training, known as NEETs, and a further 100,000 have simply disappeared from all public systems.

Margaret Hodge, chair of the PAC, said: "Too many young people simply disappear from all the relevant public systems. 100,000-plus young people are off the radar in that some local authorities do not know whether they are participating in education or training or not.

“If the activity of young people is unknown to the local authorities where they live, they are unlikely to receive targeted help.

“It would seem common sense that the main reason the number of NEETs is down is that the law has changed to require young people to continue in education or training until at least their 18th birthday. It is difficult to show that any other interventions, such as careers advice, have been effective.”

The report said the Department for Education (DfE) recognised it could do more and would work with councils to identify and share good practice. In some areas the activity of 20% of young people was unknown, compared with a national average of 7%, the committee said.

The committee was also critical of the DfE’s understanding of its current initiatives and programmes.

Hodge said: “Furthermore, the amount the government spends on 16-18 education has fallen by 8% in real terms compared to 2010-11 and in September 2014 it reduced the basic rate of annual funding for an 18-year-old from £4,000 to £3,300.

“With scarce resources it is vital to understand whether and which initiatives are most effective and why. Yet, the Department for Education has little understanding of the impact of existing initiatives and programmes.”

The MPs called for the DfE to state what it would do if the careers advice offered by a school was found to be poor, and raised concerns that many councils did not help teenagers with the cost of travelling to school or college.

David Simmonds, chair of the Local Government Association’s children and young people board, said councils needed further powers to ensure partners shared information on teenagers.

“Too often the challenging task of reducing teenage disengagement is made far more difficult when schools, colleges, jobcentres, national schemes and UCAS do not provide the information needed to identify those in need of help,” he said.

“Councils know that transport costs can be a real barrier to post-16 education for young people. Despite not being legally required to do so, many councils have dug deep to try to fund travel costs for young people to get to college.”

A DfE spokesperson said: “We are committed to ensuring that we equip all young people for life in modern Britain. NEET levels for 16-18 year olds are at their lowest level since consistent records began and the proportion of young people whose activity is not known by local authorities is also decreasing.

“But we are not complacent.  We continue to work with councils to encourage the exchange of good practice and regularly publish data on the progress made by each local authority so we and the public can effectively hold them to account for their performance.”

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