NEETs and “Inbetweeners”: A Bright New Dawn?

28 April 2017

Author: Alex Quigley

As all political parties enter the final push for the 2017 General Election, the promises of a bright future will abound. More jobs, more houses, more bright opportunities for everyone, including our next generation of children.

An American politician, Hubert Humphrey, Vice President to Lyndon B. Johnson, once said: “…the moral test of government is how that government treats those who are in the dawn of life, the children; those who are in the twilight of life, the elderly; those who are in the shadows of life; the sick, the needy and the handicapped.”

We should ask: how bright is the dawn for our children in our schools?

Despite the talk about social mobility in election speeches by all party politicians, with a big focus on grammar schools from the current government, we know that the vast majority of our poor students will never cross the threshold of a grammar school, and that many children are leaving schools now with reduced opportunities and little hope of upward mobility.

Today, the BBC released an article with the headline: Work visits result in fewer young Neets. They cited research from the charity Education and Employers. The article explores how the “availability of contact with employers was skewed towards better-off pupils.” With the National Audit Office revealing a real-term cut of 3 billion over the next four years, alongside inflation, and cuts to related council careers services, schools are being forced to make cuts that inhibit careers education. The influence of school cuts are more obvious to parents and voters in guises like increasing class size, but some are more subtle, like the reduction in engagement with employers. That needs time, money and expertise.

NEET (children ‘Not in Education, Employment or Training’) children could prove a lost generation for the UK. Last year, 826,000 people aged 16-24 were NEET, representing 11.5% of the age group (see this Parliament Research Briefing). In Yorkshire, the figure rises to 13.1% and in the North East a massive 15.2% of children. These youngsters are not likely to vote in June and their opportunities are as limited after it if we don’t provide significant supports. You can see that services that broker employer engagement, like work experience, and longer-term relationships, are going by the wayside as budget cuts bite. Careers experts are cut, support programmes disappear, and school are forced to make and mend as best they can.

The current government have focused on a policy of apprenticeships, promising 3 million new apprenticeships by 2020, costing £2.5 billion. The devil will be in the detail (like the added costs to schools and the reduced infrastructure within schools) of implementation and we need to draw upon good evidence of how this will work effectively. The Education Endowment Foundation is reviewing ways to improve careers education, which is crucial, as we need more robust evidence about the impact of work related learning, as well as guidance for what schools can do with little to no money (the elephant charging through this debate is once more school funding).

Significant obstacles remain for our children at the dawn of their professional lives. We know that the huge growth in unpaid internships could potentially damage the chances of our poor and disadvantaged students most:

unpaid interships

The statistics from IPPR show that such internships have risen 50% since 2010. They are the ‘Inbetweeners’. How many NEETs were part of that huge rise? Likely few, or none. Such internships are dominated by those who can of course be supported to work unpaid for a period of time. It enshrines that unfairness and stunting of social mobility that the current prime minister talks about repeatedly.

More than speeches as we approach the polling booths, we need actions from whoever is in government post-June. We must break the cycle where who you know determines what you can do.

We have important questions to ask:

  • Does ‘employer engagement’ really benefit our children? If so, how do we do this best?
  • Will the new apprenticeships and grammar schools benefit our most disadvantaged students?
  • What careers education strategy can schools viably undertake based on good evidence? And what protected funding and support is available to do so?



Alex Quigley, Director of Huntington Research School

Posted on 28 April 2017
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