Literacy and numeracy: the key to solving the NEET problem?
In December, we at Impetus-PEF joined forces with the Fabian Society to publish Out of Sight, a new and concerning set of insights about young people who are NEET (not in education, training or employment) authored by OFSTED’s former head of strategy Richard Brooks.
Brooks’ research shows that we need to change fundamentally the way we think about young people in these situations. The key is understanding who they are and the journey they make into unemployment.
Contrary to popular myth, most young people who become NEET at the age of 18 look very average in most respects. Only a small number ‘drop out’ after leaving school. Most stay on, usually at further education colleges, for two more years of education. Most don’t come from low-income families or have special educational needs, and very few face more serious challenges such as being looked after or getting in trouble with the police at an early age.
Instead, their defining characteristic is the lack of skills and qualifications – especially in English and mathematics – that are the passport to secure and decent employment. This only becomes apparent when they finally move into the labour market and can’t get a job. Of course those young people who face more significant challenges need special help. But the key to really reducing NEET numbers lies in ensuring that many more young people develop their core skills and qualifications.
Most importantly, this means dramatically improving literacy and numeracy through the education system. At the moment fully one third of young people in England reach the age of 19 without decent English and maths qualifications at the equivalent of GCSE C grades. We simply cannot be a productive country where prosperity is shared widely on this basis.
Historically, few of those who reached the age of 16 without good literacy and numeracy skills gained them over the course of another two years of further education. Very few young people in this situation were even studying for such qualifications. Turning round this dismal record is now the most important mission for the Further Education sector.