The starting point for this strategy is that, for young people, being NEET represents an unacceptable waste of potential. NEET sells young people short; economically and socially it makes no sense.
Our objective is to eradicate the problem of NEET the length and breadth of Scotland. This is a national priority demanding a national effort.
Government cannot alone tackle this issue. The NEET strategy demands action from a range of agencies in every local authority area in the country. Our engagement with Scotland's business people is absolutely central to this effort. They can provide an expertise, resources and the opportunities to help young people. So we are delighted that a group of Scotland's most senior business people and respected educators have come together under the chairmanship of Sir Robert Smith to work with us in a unique and important partnership to tackle NEET.
The strategy is being published alongside Workforce Plus the Scottish Executive's Employability Framework for Scotland. The NEET strategy and Employability Framework are complementary; coherent in their aim and underlying principles (entering the labour market as a realistic option for those who are currently furthest away from it through appropriately designed support and opportunities), but with important differences in terms of scope and audience (this strategy's emphasis on prevention, with related action for the pre 16 system).
The NEET group
We have a headline figure of 35,000 (13.5%) young people in Scotland between the ages of 16 and 19 who are NEET. That said, there is evidence to suggest that a truer figure for those who will need some additional support to access and sustain opportunities in the labour market is around 20,000.
We explain that this statistic represents a wide range of circumstances. For some young people being NEET is a finite, transitional phase, ending in a positive outcome. For others, NEET is both a symptom of disadvantage and disengagement in earlier years and indicates a lifelong disengagement from actively participating in and benefiting from a prosperous society.
The strategy presents a detailed analysis of the NEET group, recognising that definition is important in order to determine where government funded interventions should be targeted. We show that NEET status represents a dynamic group: whilst the overall numbers NEET remains broadly static, many of the actual individuals within the group are changing at a rapid rate; but that within this there is a core cohort who do not change over time.
Target areas and target groups
We propose seven NEET hotspot areas (Glasgow, West Dunbartonshire, North Ayrshire, East Ayrshire, Clackmannanshire, Inverclyde and Dundee) where NEET is a particular challenge and where reducing NEET locally would make an impact at the national level. But while we identify these seven areas where targeted action will make a substantive difference, we make clear too that we need action from all partners in every local authority in the country.
This strategy goes on to identify the sub-groups we know are most likely to be, or become, NEET: care leavers; carers; young offenders; young parents; low attainers; persistent truants; young people with physical/mental disabilities; young people misusing drugs or alcohol. We also show that the groups can be broken down into young people with few or no additional support needs; those with intermediate needs and those with very complex needs.
Throughout the strategy we make clear that the range of policies and programmes aimed at these sub-groups - for example, in health, housing, social care - need better to engage with the concept of employability to enable the individuals concerned to progress towards the labour market, regardless of their starting point.
The Executive's significant investment and strategic direction on early years, education, children's services, regeneration, enterprise and lifelong learning are providing exactly the right foundation for turning the NEET problem around. We are already beginning to link the focus on employability in disadvantaged neighbourhoods through our use of Regeneration Outcome Agreements ( ROAs). The Executive spends well in excess of £4 billion on a range of mainstream and targeted policies which invest in young people, and their employability - over £4bn this year on our schools; £534m on further education colleges; £75.5m on activity aimed at young people through the enterprise networks; £59.5m through Careers Scotland; £50m of the Community Regeneration Fund to get people of all ages back into work; £6m on improving employability outcomes for looked after children; £2.75m through our Youth Crime Prevention Fund; up to £12m on improving all young people's life chances through Schools of Ambition and £22m on Determined to Succeed, our strategy for enterprise in education. The strategy makes clear that the challenge is in delivering the benefits of these policies to all young people, even those who are most disengaged. As such, the overarching aims of the strategy's approach are to:
- Stem the flows into NEET - prevention rather than cure;
- have a system-wide (pre and post 16) focus on, ambitions for, ownership of - and accountability for - the NEET group;
- prioritise education and training outcomes for the NEET group as a step towards lifelong employability, given their low attainment profile;
- position NEET reduction as one of the key indicators for measuring the pre and post 16 systems' success.
The strategy presents a range of specific actions aimed at achieving the Closing the Opportunity Gap ( CtOG) target 'to reduce the proportion of young people not in education, employment or training by 2008'. Reflecting the five key areas in which we need to make a difference, the strategy identifies five key areas of activity:
Pre 16 (opportunities for young people of school age)
Wide-ranging action is needed across the education and wider children's services to improve the educational experience of all children, especially those most at risk of disaffection and under achievement and of leaving school with few or any qualifications. Learning experiences have to be transformed to ensure they are tailored to individual needs and are designed to enable every child to develop their potential regardless of their personal circumstances. Action is needed to ensure schools support all children in raising their own expectations of what they can achieve and to fulfil these expectations throughout their school career and beyond.
Transforming the learning environment: the Schools of Ambition programme to bring about a step change in ambition and achievement to transform educational outcomes for all children in those schools; a new excellence standard for school and local authority inspections to support the drive for excellence throughout the education system, and wide ranging action to improve the quality of leadership at all levels in education;
Flexible, personalised learning opportunities with appropriate recognition: a radical overhaul of the curriculum and qualifications framework and a new approach to assessment, to support schools in tailoring teaching and learning experiences to the needs of individuals, whatever their circumstances, to ensure they enjoy the opportunities and support they need to both develop their potential throughout their school career and to prepare them for their chosen career path on leaving school;
Recognition of wider achievement: giving credit to different skills, abilities and achievements;
Support for learners: a new framework to ensure that all children who require additional support to benefit fully from school get that support both from schools and wider children's services;
Developing employability: to better prepare all young people for the world of work and improve school leaver destinations;
A focus on outcomes: Renewed emphasis on the responsibility of schools and local authorities to consider the outcomes for all children, including appropriate monitoring as part of performance management arrangements for schools and local authorities.
Post 16 (post compulsory education and training)
Services have to fit together to help those 16+ who are already NEET to engage with education, employment or training and ensuring young people in education, employment or training are supported to sustain and progress from these opportunities as opposed to falling (back) into NEET.
More choices and more chances, with guaranteed options: to make a clear commitment to young people about the routes to education, employment or training which are on offer to them;
Supported transitions and sustained opportunities: expanding choice and building the quality of education and learning options for young people to improve the long-term employability of group by focusing on sustainable outcomes and progression;
Engaging employers: working with public and private sector employers to improve employment and work-based training opportunities for young people.
Financial incentives (education, employment and training as viable options)
Just as government cannot 'do nothing' about the NEET issue, 'doing nothing' is not an option for young people if we ensure that 'doing something' is a viable route.
Ensuring learning is a financially viable option: testing new financial incentives in order to remove financial barriers in progressing towards the labour market.
The right support (removing the barriers to accessing opportunities)
Young people must get the personal support they need to find out about, engage with and sustain education, employment and training options.
One to one support where needed: to make accessing the guaranteed options a reality for all young people as well as offering an element of challenge to young people to help them move on.
Building the skills and employability focus of a range of providers who deal with young people who are, or are at risk of becoming, NEET: encouraging other services (health, housing, social care) in the pre and post 16 sector seeing post 16 education, employment or training as an integral part of personal planning, not a stage that follows it.
Joint commitment & action (national & local leadership, planning & delivery)
Clear leadership and better partnership are essential features of future action. At a national level, we will build on the Executive's unique national partnership approach with business and education leaders offered by The Smith Group. Additionally, all local partnerships across Scotland will be expected to drive forward collaborative action on NEET.
Ambitious about what we want to achieve: setting stretching local and national targets;
Joining up delivery to meet the challenge: local partners to collectively plan and develop the service infrastructure required to meet the needs of the NEET group, building on existing frameworks like ROAs.
We have identified the problem. We have set out the responsibilities the Executive and its various partners face. We know that a range of solutions are in place or in development. But we know too that more action is needed. Our ambition is to begin now to eradicate the problem of NEET from Scotland and to do so in a manner that is progressive and sustainable.