Rise in youngsters in post-16 learning

THE number of Suffolk youngsters who are now in some form of post-16 learning is the highest it has been for 10 years, it has emerged.

Craig Robinson

THE number of Suffolk youngsters who are now in some form of post-16 learning is the highest it has been for 10 years, it has emerged.

Education bosses welcomed the news but also warned that the current economic downturn has caused a rise in the amount of young people who are unemployed.

According to the figures, of the 21,400 16-18 year-olds in the county 75% (approximately 16,050) were still in some form of learning at the end of last year.

However, they also show that 7.9% (just over 1,600) are classed as Not in Education, Employment or Training (NEET) - a 0.5% rise on 2007.

Judith Mobbs, area director of the Learning and Skills Council in Suffolk, said this was a direct result of the current economic climate because - although more youngsters decided to carry on with their studies - there were not enough jobs available for those left.

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She said teenagers were also leaving school and going into jobs without training - which made them more vulnerable to changes in the economy.

“I'm not surprised that there's been a downward trend,” she said. “One of the challenges we have in Suffolk is that young people aged between 16 and 18 go into employment without training.

“They therefore go into low skilled jobs - such as retail, manufacturing or hospitality - which are vulnerable in an economic downturn such as the one we are experiencing.

“It's difficult because when they are made unemployed they don't have any qualifications and therefore find it hard to get another job. This is made worse because at the moment there are not enough jobs available.”

However Mrs Mobbs said she was pleased to see the number of youngsters who decided to stay in learning had increased from 70% to 75% - a figure that had remained static for the last 10 years.

“It's really good news,” she said. “It's really important for young people to carry on in some form of learning and gain more skills and qualifications because it offers them greater protection from an economic downturn.

“It doesn't mean you have to stay at school or college - there are a whole range of vocational courses and apprenticeship schemes available.”

She said there were a number of measures in place to try and ensure youngsters stayed in education including a varied curriculum, a “safety net” scheme to support young people who were thinking of dropping out of college, European Social Funding to help vulnerable teenagers and one to one mentoring.

Pauline Henry, head of profession at Suffolk Youth and Connexions Service, added: “We have been more successful in supporting people to stay in full time education beyond their compulsory school age.

“The NEET figure has risen very slightly because of the economic downturn and the impact on young people looking for work - there are not enough jobs.”