It is that time of year again when young people all over the country wait in anticipation to receive exam results. They wait to hear what opportunities lie ahead and to see if their hard work over the past few years has paid off.

Similarly, as the LSC comes to an end and we work as an organisation to prepare for the forthcoming changes, it is a time to reflect on what we and the sector have achieved for young people and their learning.

The range of options and outcomes for young people has improved enormously in recent years and the number of young people continuing in learning is at its highest ever level. More colleges, schools and training providers are demonstrating just how well a flexible and responsive Further Education system – LSC and providers working together - can deliver, with success rates up 20% in seven years.

These improvements mean participation in learning continues to rise. Our focus in the past year has been on increasing the number of young people who stay in learning after the age of 16, and on continuing to increase those achieving both Level 2 and Level 3 qualifications. We have been successful; the proportion of young people in learning and training aged 16–18 stands at 79.7%, the highest level ever. The Government’s target for Level 2 at 19 has been achieved a year early.

We must continue to focus on those who are Not in Employment, Education or Training (NEET). Real progress has been made; the proportion of 16 year olds NEET is 5.2%, the lowest figure for a decade, and the proportion of 17 year olds NEET is falling for the third consecutive year. The lack of jobs however, account for the increase of 18 year old NEETs. This underlines just how significant the extension of the compulsory participation age is. But in order to work on these rising numbers it is important to focus on a concerted cross-government response with all the key departments working together.

Although there is much more work still to be done, I think the LSC has played an important role in the progress that has been made. Peter Lauener, Chief Executive designate of the Young People’s Learning Agency (YPLA) reminded us at the recent launch of the YPLA Committee, that it was the LSC’s Young People’s Learning Committee, which first called for education and training for 100% of young people. It has taken time to become law, of course, but from 2013 all young people in England will be required to continue in education or training to age 17 and in 2015 they will continue in education or training to 18.

It is reassuring to see that such positive progress continues, especially during these difficult economic times. Raising the participation age is also beneficial at a time when it is more difficult for young people to find jobs. They will now be able to stay in education or work-based learning, such as an Apprenticeship. Young people must continue to have the support they need to access these opportunities, including good quality information; advice and guidance; financial help; and support for young people facing additional barriers.

Part of our commitment at the LSC involves ensuring everyone has the opportunity to learn. This year, to date, over 570,000 young people have been financially supported through Education Maintenance Allowance. EMA is a programme that has made a huge difference to the lives of young people in low-income households. At the same time, the September Guarantee promises that, by the end of September, every 16 year old who wants one will have an offer of a place in learning. The Budget in 2009 also announced additional funding of £655m over the next two years to support delivery of the guarantee. These measures are a true investment in our young people during a period of economic difficulty.

The proportion of those achieving qualifications is also increasing. Overall figures show the country has a higher proportion of qualified 19 year-olds than ever before and the percentage of 16- to 18-year-olds in learning who achieve a Level 2 is greater than ever, at 76.7%. Quality too, has continued to rise. Of 113 Further Education colleges inspected this year, 32% were classed as outstanding, with 7 out of 10 deemed good or above. Findings in the recent research on the benefits of Further Education for out-of-work learners were also positive. An impressive 93% of people reported lasting benefits from participation in Further Education, which show how people believe Further Education increases opportunities, employment choices and overall success.

The last year has been difficult in some important respects. Our budget for learning has been under severe pressure from unprecedented demand from young people and indeed adults. And our Building Colleges for the Future programme and its high expectations ran into well publicised difficulties. We have moved swiftly to implement the findings published in Sir Andrew Foster’s report and despite the problems encountered, we remain committed to ensuring that the capital programme makes maximum contribution to improving services for learners across the country.

The LSC is also looking forward to the new organisations that will, subject to the passing of legislation, replace it in April 2010. The YPLA will fund and support local authorities in their new duties to secure enough suitable learning places for young people aged 16–19, as well as their continued duties to support learners aged 19–24 who are subject to a learning difficulty assessment and children and young people subject to youth custody. The YPLA will also have an important role to fund and support Academies once they are up and running.

The Council welcomes the new YPLA Committee, which was launched last month. Chaired by Les Walton, the Committee will enable him, as the Chair designate of the YPLA to have a formal role in influencing the way in which the LSC exercises its functions within the current legal framework until they are transferred. It will also help facilitate the transition to the new arrangements and allow for an increased focus on young people.

Young people’s learning has come a long way, But there is certainly more to do.  We must all continue to be ambitious for the young people of this country. Young people need to have a range of options and effective guidance and support to enable them to reach their potential and achieve their goals; this is essential not only for their success, but for the future prosperity and economy of this country. The LSC has achieved much since its establishment 8 years ago and I am confident that young people will continue to see yet more opportunities, commitment and support in the future. Because putting young people first is investing our future.

Chris Banks is chairman of the LSC, which exists to make England better skilled and more competitive

 

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