Making the RPA work to make NEETs history

As we near the end of our three-year School-to-Work Transition campaign, we are reflecting on, and sharing, what we’ve learnt with policymakers, media and peer organisations. We have produced extensive research delving into the causes of the UK’s alarmingly stable – and high – numbers of young people not in employment, education or training (NEET), and developed detailed recommendations to address these. We’ve also been pragmatic – assessing the current policies either in place, or proposed by the major parties, and thinking about what’s required to make these work in the best interests of young people.

On Monday I was at the British Academy, speaking at a Bright Blue Conference about what young people need to succeed. I spoke about the Raised Participation Age (RPA). If you don’t know what this means, it’s the rather opaque name given to the decision made by the last Labour government, and carried through by the Coalition, to raise the school-leaving age. The young people who left Year 11 in September 2014 will be expected to remain in some kind of education or training until they’re 18. This doesn’t just mean classroom leaning – it can include traineeships and apprenticeships, and can be combined with part-time work.

This move brings the UK into line with the majority of OECD countries, and we welcome it. But it is imperative that these extra two years in school help young people make a better transition into the workplace, as well as decreasing young people’s chances of ending up unemployed at 18 and beyond. In other words, we want this change to be transformative – not cosmetic. What would this look like? I suggested:

  • We should be expecting close to 100% of young people to secure Level 2 qualifications in English and Maths – the key qualifications employers say they look for. Currently only around 60% of young people secure these at 16, and of the 40% who don’t, only 1 in 6 has secured these by 19. This must be a priority for post-16 provision, with accountability measures for institutions to back it up.
  • Young people enrolling in further education at 16 who have secured Level 2 qualifications need clear routes of progression to qualifications at Levels 3 and 4 in courses that are valued by employers, and which give them prospects in the local and national labour market. Even in buoyant youth labour markets, there has been ample evidence that this has not been the case.
  • To ensure that young people are able to make the right choices at 16 and beyond, they need access to well-informed information, advice and guidance (IAG) on progression throughout their secondary education, but particularly from age 14. IAG can include information on careers in adulthood, but should be focused on the progression young people need to make in order to have positive career options after education, rather than focusing on one path.
  • We need to solve the problem, which we share with most – if not all – liberal economies, of how we expect businesses to be involved in education. Everyone involved in this area agrees ‘employers should do more’ but there is little clarity on what we should expect from business, or how we would incentivise or enforce the contribution we want.

It’s clear that achieving these elements will require changes to accountability regimes for educational institutions (and why, if education must now extend to 18, should we retain high-stakes accountability for schools only at 16?) and perhaps for business too. We believe this will be impossible to affect while responsibility for the school–to-work transition is split across three departments. We have developed a blueprint for ending the NEET crisis which draws together the relevant responsibilities from DfE, BIS and DWP. As a facilitating step we would want to see all educational provision, including further education and higher education, come under the aegis of DfE.

The raising of the participation age offers a significant opportunity to mend the broken school-to-work transition. The fact that it is being implemented as the economy returns to growth and jobs are being created strengthens this opportunity. We are calling on policymakers to seize it, and ensure that these jobs can be filled with young people who have the skills and qualifications they need to thrive in today’s labour market and beyond.

Impetus − The Private Equity Foundation
About The Author
Jenny North is Director of Policy and Strategy at Impetus-PEF. Jenny joined Impetus-PEF from Relate, where she served as Head of Public Policy for six years. Prior to this she held policy positions with Maternity Alliance and New Policy Institute. Her experience also includes working at the Home Office as a Crime and Policing Analyst. Jenny holds a degree in Philosophy and Theology from Oxford University. Follow Jenny on Twitter: @JayEeeEnn

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