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Saving Newcastle’s ‘forgotten generation’

March 11, 2015

As thousands of youngsters celebrated ‘good’ A-level and GCSE results across the city last summer, a significant minority didn’t achieve or dropped out of formal education for whatever reason.

According to recent official figures, the city has the highest number of NEETS (Not in Education, Employment, or Training) amongst all core cities in the UK. 18 per cent of 16 to 24 year olds are not in further education, employment or training and the picture gets worse when examining the most disadvantaged neighbourhoods of the city. Recent data leaked indicates that almost 10% of 16 to 18 –year olds are NEETS. Economic analysis reveals that the biggest percentages can be found in Walker, Benwell, Scotswood, Byker, Westgate and South Heaton. In both Walker and Byker, riverside wards of the city, more than 17% are classified as NEETS.

The independent Children’s Board trust implies there’s clearly a ‘’social divide’ when it comes to youngsters taking part in learning and training after the age of 16, a point re-affirmed by lead expert, Professor Robin Simmons and his colleagues at Huddersfield University.

According to the newly published report, the NEET group of youngsters are mainly defined by chaotic lifestyles; family breakdown, poor attendance at school; lower levels of prior educational attainment: learning disabilities; behavioural problems; informal caring duties for disabled parents; youth crime and workless families. In other words, vulnerable young people living in our most deprived communities. According to a recent report by Newcastle’s CSV many of these youngsters, especially living in the Walker area, lack the ‘self-confidence’ to stay on at school or attend college.

Clearly, as the Trust Board rightly points out, there needs to be a ‘’stronger, integrated partnership approach to NEET reduction with key stakeholders ‘’. Put simply, the City Council, secondary schools, academies, the ‘Third Sector’, and Newcastle College need to be working more closely than ever before to tackle the city’s biggest social problem. Most of these youngsters want paid work or get onto a meaningful apprenticeship scheme . This idea of a free market in post-16 education where schools, colleges and other post-16 providers compete against each other for learners is fast becoming discredited and costly according to Professor Simmon’s in his recent book, ‘Education, Work and Social Change’ (2015), and fails to meet the significant number of disaffected young people who want to access the jobs market.

Furthermore, we need more detailed localised empirical research into why many youngsters across the city don’t access training or educational opportunities beyond the age of 16, and more so why a significant minority won’t attend school even at primary level, which clearly restricts their employment ‘life chances’. That’s why Newcastle Councils recent policy decision to establish a Learning Challenge scheme with other partners is to be warmly welcomed. This project is designed to run alongside a North East Local Enterprise Partnership initiative to raise standards and attainment across the region.

The city-wide challenge will be co-ordinated by the Council in partnership with ’’our family of schools, businesses and further and higher education’’. The Council is fully committed on improving results from youngsters who come from disadvantaged backgrounds and reducing the number of NEETS which we all recognise is unacceptably high. There’s a clear need to close the gap in achievement between the most deprived children and their better-off peers, which is particularly evident between key stage two and key stage four. It will run in tandem with the Government backed NELEP plan to raise attainment across the schools and college network. It’s important to ensure that as many young people as possible get on and acquire good vocational and academic qualifications. It’s worth noting that the Ofsted ratings across Newcastle’s schools and college are well above the national average, but not all young adults are benefiting from this improvement. The attainment gap between children who are eligible for free school meals and youngsters who come from better off backgrounds is much higher than the national average. That’s why the Newcastle Learning Challenge’s remit will be to get to the bottom of why this is and what we can all do to solve it.

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