100,000 teenagers 'off the radar'
Tens of thousands of teenagers have fallen off the radar with no information available on whether they are in education or training, a cross-party group of MPs has warned.
Councils and the government must do more to identify youngsters that simply disappear from view, according to the Commons Public Accounts committee (PAC).
In a new report, the influential committee said there was a duty on local authorities to track the actvitiy of 16 to 18-year-olds in their area.
But some did not know whether or not these young people were in education and training.
Figures suggested that nationally, 7% of young people's activity was unknown, and in some areas this rose to 20%.
"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," the report said.
The Department for Education (DfE) recognised it could do more and work with local councils to identify and share good practice on tracking young people's activity, it added.
The committee also called for the DfE to state what it would do if the careers advice offered by a school was found to be poor.
And it raised concerns that many local councils did not help 16 to 18-year-olds with the cost of travelling to school or college, which could disadvantage some youngsters.
"Local authorities must have a transport policy setting out what arrangements they have to support 16 to 18-year-olds in accessing education and training," the report said.
"This policy does not have to include providing financial assistance and, in 63 local authorities where transport costs are relatively high, young people do not get help with these costs.
"Local authority decisions on support for transport costs will impact on the participation rates in education and training.
"If young people cannot afford the travel costs they may drop out."
Committee chair Margaret Hodge said: "There are 148,000 out of two million 16 to 18-year-olds in England who are not in education, employment or training - or NEET - and whilst the number is thankfully improving, the UK is still behind other OECD countries when it comes to reducing NEETs.
"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.
"It would seem common sense that the main reason the number of NEETs is down is that the law has changed to require young people to continue in education or training until at least their 18th birthday.
"It is difficult to show that any other interventions, such as careers advice, have been effective."
David Simmonds, chairman of the Local Government Association's Children and Young People Board, said: "Councils are committed to identifying and supporting all youngsters to realise their full potential and have actually reduced the number of 'unknown' 16 to-18-year-olds by 14% since 2012 as well as leading the reduction of disengaged teenagers to an all-time low.
"To build on this success, 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 do not provide the information needed to identify those in need of help."
He added: "Councils know that transport costs can be a real barrier to post-16 education for young people.
"Despite not being legally required to do so, many councils have dug deep to try to fund travel costs for young people to get to college."