Hugh Reilly: Neet response to fear of independence

Picture: PA
Picture: PA
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AS WILLIAM Wallace braced himself on the butcher’s block waiting to be diced and his head placed in pole position at London Bridge, it probably occurred to the arch-separatist that he hadn’t properly thought the unionist argument through.

For example, he had failed to factor in the possibility that the cost of communications in a Longshanks-free Scotland would increase, with town criers asking for more money to wander to and from settlements, demanding so-called roaming charges.

Fast forward 700 years or so and thankfully, Jo Swinson, UK consumer minister, has made aghast folk aware that the cost of freedom may add tuppence or so to the price of a postage stamp. I am certain that for previously undecided voters, the East Dunbartonshire MP’s perspicacious intervention is something of a clincher in favour of remaining part of the United Kingdom.

Away from the puerile, scaremongering, screeching from the foaming mouth of Scotland’s very own Cassandra, government figures this week revealed that the educational gap between poor kids and their wealthy peers has narrowed. Almost 82 per cent of vulnerable children found “positive destinations” after leaving school, compared to 95.2 per cent of those least deprived, a difference of 13.3 per cent (down from 18.3 per cent).

Positive destinations are classed as employment, training and post-school education but, as with most things, the devil is in the detail. For example, no distinction is made between a bright kid in a housing scheme taking a low-paid job in Tesco and a lad from a leafy suburb securing a high-salary career at the local bank. Further, a place in a new university, such as Napier, is granted equivalence with studying at one of the nation’s prestigious traditional universities.

I found it heartening that there has been a significant decline in the number of looked-after children leaving school at the earliest opportunity, down from 88 per cent to 79 per cent. (This has to be tempered by the fact only 30 per cent of all school students leave at 16). Maybe I was just unlucky but in over 30 years of teaching I never encountered a looked-after youth in any of my upper school classes. Sadly, due to their often horrific experiences, many of these cared-for kids did not attend regularly or suffered broken education as a result of moving from school to school. It is to our education system’s credit that these young people are no longer invisible, although clearly much work needs to be done in this area.

It’s remarkable that these record-breaking statistics have been achieved against a background of cuts and high youth unemployment.

There is a view that the financial crisis, in some ways, works in favour of young people. From a bottom line perspective, youngsters are cheaper, hence a hotelier, when hiring a chambermaid at the minimum wage rate, may opt to recruit a 16-year-old girl at £3.68 rather than take on a woman at £6.19. This would help to explain why all hospitality and retail workers look young to me (come to think of it, police officers have acquired a callow appearance these days).

Named and shamed by their propensity to produce gross amounts of Neets (Not in Education, Employment or Training), some hair-shirted local authorities have pressurised their education directorates to devise strategies to improve the lot of those most at risk of becoming criminals and single mums. In days gone by, a careers office in a school was somewhat low-profile, hidden in the bowels of the building, usually neatly sandwiched between a disused jotter cupboard and the boiler room. Today, there is a phalanx of professionals on hand to advise youngsters: guidance staff, social workers, youth workers. In addition, some colleges have outreach programmes that raise awareness of their existence and pupils are given the opportunity to peruse software programmes that assist in matching them with possible future occupations.

It will not have escaped Ms Swinson’s attention that at 15.2 per cent, Scottish youth unemployment is much lower than the UK rate of 19.5 per cent. I feel an overwhelming desire to print off that stat, stick in an envelope and mail it to her Westminster office before the price of a stamp rockets.