The current generation of young people that are not in employment, education and training (NEET) has confounded policy makers – despite huge efforts to bring numbers down, almost one in seven young people aged 16-18 are NEET. The personal and social costs are enormous- the costs to society are estimated to be in the region of £4.6bn a year.
Too often, it is assumed that all the answers lie in post-16 services and jobs. Of course, these are important. But our new report published today reveals how some children are being failed by the system long before they turn 16.
Our analysis reveals that just over one in ten children – 11.5 per cent – are starting school with behavioural issues that impact on their ability to concentrate and to form relationships with their friends and teachers – and to get the most out of school. And in some deprived areas, up to half of children are starting school without the speech and communication skills they need. Later on, 8 in 100 children leave primary school with literacy and/or numeracy skills below those of an average 7 year old.
These are children who face an uphill struggle throughout their school lives to catch up their peers. They are, in effect, set up to fail before they've even begun. We need to rethink how early years services and schools support these children to fulfil their potential.
Our report sets out a range of recommendations spanning early years and parenting services and schools. In the early years, too many children’s needs go undetected despite the fact there are very simple screening tools that could be used to direct the children and families to the extra support services that they need, like speech and language therapy, mental health services and parenting services. We therefore recommend universal, light touch screening of all children in the years before school.
We also recommend a ‘toddler pupil premium’ for Sure Start centres and nursery education – which would mean higher levels of funding for children from poor backgrounds.
With respect to schools, the current education system is poorly serving children at the bottom of the attainment spectrum. The report therefore calls for radical reform to our systems for supporting children with special educational needs, and the system of exclusion from school for children with poor behaviour.
Unless we rethink how the government supports schools and families in giving some of our most vulnerable children a decent start in life, there will be a generation of children waiting in the wings to take the place of current NEETs.