With the new academic year well underway, some might consider this to be the dawning of a new era in children’s services as the first group of young people required to stay on in some form of education or training until the age of 17 take the next steps on their journey into adulthood.
There is little doubt that the progress of these youngsters will be under a bright media spotlight as they make their way in the world. And authorities across the UK will be watching closely too.
But this initiative is part of a much wider agenda to cut the number of children who end up Neet (not in education, employment or training) at 16.
A great deal of work has been going on behind the scenes over a number of years in many local authorities. Staff have been working closely with schools and delivering effective early help to prevent children from following a pathway into joblessness.
Barnsley Council’s targeted youth support service and partners developed a vulnerability matrix designed to identify young people in the borough whose background and circumstances put them at greater risk of falling out of education, employment or training.
One of the key challenges was that staff needed to collate and analyse a huge amount of data. This included details of a child¹s ethnicity, historical information on their attendance, achievement or any exclusions from school, whether they were in care or were teenaged parents.
All this information had to be manually pulled in from multiple databases, making the job so labour intensive that it could only be tackled annually.
However, with the introduction of a piece of software, the authority can now gather the wealth of information needed to create a report with the names of young people most at risk of becoming Neet in about an hour.
The team can run the software every month, which automatically screens young people using up-to-date information. Staff say they simply wouldn’t have the capacity to carry out regular data analysis on that scale without it.
With factors like school attendance changing all the time, technology has a critical role to play in helping authorities to intervene sooner and prevent vulnerable children and young people from falling through the net. Staff will be automatically alerted if a child suddenly starts coming into school less regularly rather than the authority only finding out once they are truanting regularly.
I would be interested to hear about some of the information related challenges other councils have overcome in response to the agenda on raising the age of participation. They might well help other authorities tackling similar issues in their area.
Phil Neal is managing director at Capita Children's Services