Debate around the shocking number of NEET young people and youth unemployment is inevitably focused on what the government is going to do NOW. That’s important, but it makes no sense for all our efforts to be concentrated on emergency flood relief. Just as urgent are solutions further up stream, because regardless of when we see an upturn in the economy, another generation of disengaged young people is waiting in the wings.
According to government figures, almost 400,000 children missed at least a month’s worth of lessons in the school year 2010/11, with those on free school meals or with special educational needs, around three times more likely to be persistently absent. Of pupils who miss between 10 per cent and 20 per cent of school, only 35 per cent manage to achieve five A* to C GCSEs, including English and maths.
Many are children like Luke, the subject of a short online film that gives us a glimpse of his world. Luke has aspirations. He wants to be a vet. What is heartbreaking is that at just eleven he already senses that somehow that is a step too far for someone like him and that he probably won’t make it.
What can we do for Luke? A lot. Early intervention programmes, backed by PEF, look beyond the classroom to resolve challenging circumstances at home, work in schools to give mental health support, and provide near peer mentors, all with the aim of improving attendance and academic attainment in areas of deprivation.
In addition, ThinkForward, PEF’s latest breakthrough programme assigns ‘at risk’ 14 year olds with their own ‘super coach’ who works with them right up to age 19, giving them a personalised action plan, workplace mentor, introductions to business networks and work opportunities.
My dream is that we can get to young people like Luke before they stop dreaming. While of course we must do everything we can to for the current cohort of young people without work, let’s not leave it all so late for Luke.
Shaks Ghosh, Chief Executive, Private Equity Foundation