A new report from the think-tank Demos makes the important point that: “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”.

And the report recognises the challenge is not at 16 but starts at a much younger age:

“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.

In terms of recommendations the report proposes a series of measures such as radical reform in supporting children with special educational needs, and the system of exclusion from school for children with poor behaviour. It also recommends a ‘toddler pupil premium’ for Sure Start centres and nursery education – which would mean higher levels of funding for children from poor background.
However, perhaps of most interest is its recommendation regarding screening, where it says:
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.

This proposal deserves a lot further discussion as it implies the development of a universal parental advice and support service with targeted interventions. There is also scope to use peer to peer approaches which are more likely to create wider social norms to support improved parenting skills in less resilient communities.

Whilst there is need to support the NEET’s of today, a preventative strategy seems eminently sensible to tackle the challenges of the NEET’s of tomorrow and there is increasing consensus across the mainstream political spectrum to address this.

We cannot abandon 16-18s but we desperately need more resources for the under 10’s, which is why projects like Total Place are important, not just for protecting current frontline services, but also freeing the resources to develop today, those services we will need to prevent some of the potential problems of tomorrow.

Charlie Mansell is Research and Development Officer for the Campaign Company

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