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MPs sound alarm over data on teenagers

22/01/15

Local authorities lack information to support new duty to track teenagers

Photography by Paul ClarkeMore than 100,000 teenagers have fallen "off the radar", MPs warn today, despite government pressure on town halls to track school-leavers.

The House of Commons Public Accounts committee (PAC) raises the alarm over the lack of data on whether 16 and 17-year-olds are in education or training - or have dropped out.

Local authorities were handed a new duty to measure whether young people are still in learning, ahead of the raising of the threshold to 17, from 2013, and then to 18.

But a Department for Education (DfE) study found startling variations in the proportion of teenagers unaccounted for in local authority records - with poor IT systems thought to be to blame.

Ministers then wrote to a swathe of councils to demand action, including Poole, Derby, Waltham Forest, Herefordshire and Derbyshire - some of which then upped their game.

Today's report finds that, across England, the activity of 7% of young people is still unknown, a proportion rising to 20% in some - unnamed - areas. It warns: "If the activity of young people is unknown to the local authorities where they live, they are unlikely to receive targeted help if they need it, for instance support from the Youth Contract."

Margaret Hodge, the committee's Labour chairman, said: "Too many young people simply disappear from all the relevant public systems. 100,000-plus young people are off the radar in that some local authorities do not know whether they are participating in education or training or not.

"If the activity of young people is unknown to the local authorities where they live, they are unlikely to receive targeted help."

Mrs Hodge also said it was "common sense" that the main reason for the recent fall in the number of 'NEETs' - young people not in education, employment or training' - is the requirement for them to carry on studying until their 18th birthday.

She added: "It is difficult to show that any other interventions, such as careers advice, have been effective."

The DfE told the committee it recognised it could do more and work with local councils to identify and share good practice on tracking young people's activity.

David Simmonds, chairman of the Local Government Association's Children and Young People Board, said: "Councils urgently need more legal powers to ensure partners share vital information as quickly as possible. Too often, the challenging task of reducing teenage disengagement is made far more difficult when schools, colleges, JobCentres, national schemes and UCAS [the university admissions service] do not provide the information needed to identify those in need of help."

Public Accounts Committee's report published on Thursday 22 January 2015

Pictured: Young Rewired State by Paul Clarke © | paulclarke.com

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