Young people take part in an employability class. Photo: Getty
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Young people need more help moving from education into work

The latest NEETs figures show that many of the children receiving their GCSE results today won't have a smooth journey from education into work.

The release of the latest figures for the number of young people (aged under 25) in the UK who are not in education, employment or training (NEET) is a reminder that many of the young people receiving their GCSE results today will not make a smooth transition from education into the world of work.

Although there has been a welcome fall in the number of young people who are NEET – down 20,000 from the previous quarter and 138,000 from a year earlier – there are still 955,000 who find themselves in this position: more than one in eight of all young people. Around half of these are looking and available for work and are classified as unemployed (with the rest counted as economically inactive).

A long period without work, while young, can have a long-lasting effect on a person’s life chances, leading to a higher future likelihood of unemployment and lower future earnings. Policymakers should make it a priority to bring the proportion of NEETs in the UK down to the rates seen in those countries in Europe that perform best in this respect: Germany, Austria, Denmark and the Netherlands all have NETT rates that are least than half the rate in the UK.

In a recent report, we analysed the experience of young people across Europe and found that - for those who do not go to university -a strong workplace-based vocational education and training system, with high employer involvement, contributes more to a smoother transition from education to work and a low risk of being NEET than anything else. A number of steps will need to be taken to bring the UK’s system into line with the best in Europe.

Employers will need to be more involved in young people’s training to ensure that they develop meaningful, useful skills. One way to increase their engagement would be to make them take a financial stake through the introduction of a youth apprenticeship levy to be paid at a national rate by all firms above a certain size, with the proceeds used to fund vocational education and training for young apprentices.

At the same time, vocational education in England will need to be reformed so that it is held in higher esteem by employers and young people. This will require a greater focus on employability. Higher level vocational education should be seen as a valid alternative pathway into work to a university education.

Apprenticeships will also need to be improved. The coalition government has taken some welcome steps make them better but more needs to be done. Apprenticeships should be seen by students and employers as a high-quality vocational route into work for young people. No one aged 23 or over should be allowed to start an apprenticeship (except in exceptional circumstances) and few apprentices should be aged 25 or over. All apprenticeships should be at level 3 and above and should last for a minimum of one year. Traineeships should be developed into pre-apprenticeships. And apprentices should spend at least 30 per cent of their time doing off-the-job training.

Careers education and guidance play a crucial role in ensuring a smooth transition from education to work in those European countries that have low rates of youth unemployment. Careers education should be embedded in the curriculum from primary school onwards and for pupils in Years 7, 8 and 9 should involve a greater degree of contact with local employers. Careers guidance – and some careers education – should be provided by specialist advisers, not teachers and every secondary school should be required to appoint a full-time Careers Officer responsible for careers education and guidance and for liaison with local employers.

Finally, a distinct work, training and benefits system should be established for young people with a youth allowance available to all young people aged 18 to 21 years old in further education and training or who are actively looking for a job; a job guarantee, which would provide paid work experience to any young person aged 18 to 21 years old who has been out of work and looking for a job for six months; and a personal adviser who would help young people to find work or to identify the most appropriate further education and training opportunities.

Tony Dolphin is Chief Economist at IPPR

Tony Dolphin is chief economist at IPPR

John Moore
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The man who created the fake Tube sign explains why he did it

"We need to consider the fact that fake news isn't always fake news at the source," says John Moore.

"I wrote that at 8 o'clock on the evening and before midday the next day it had been read out in the Houses of Parliament."

John Moore, a 44-year-old doctor from Windsor, is describing the whirlwind process by which his social media response to Wednesday's Westminster attack became national news.

Moore used a Tube-sign generator on the evening after the attack to create a sign on a TfL Service Announcement board that read: "All terrorists are politely reminded that THIS IS LONDON and whatever you do to us we will drink tea and jolly well carry on thank you." Within three hours, it had just fifty shares. By the morning, it had accumulated 200. Yet by the afternoon, over 30,000 people had shared Moore's post, which was then read aloud on BBC Radio 4 and called a "wonderful tribute" by prime minister Theresa May, who at the time believed it was a genuine Underground sign. 

"I think you have to be very mindful of how powerful the internet is," says Moore, whose viral post was quickly debunked by social media users and then national newspapers such as the Guardian and the Sun. On Thursday, the online world split into two camps: those spreading the word that the sign was "fake news" and urging people not to share it, and those who said that it didn't matter that it was fake - the sentiment was what was important. 

Moore agrees with the latter camp. "I never claimed it was a real tube sign, I never claimed that at all," he says. "In my opinion the only fake news about that sign is that it has been reported as fake news. It was literally just how I was feeling at the time."

Moore was motivated to create and post the sign when he was struck by the "very British response" to the Westminster attack. "There was no sort of knee-jerk Islamaphobia, there was no dramatisation, it was all pretty much, I thought, very calm reporting," he says. "So my initial thought at the time was just a bit of pride in how London had reacted really." Though he saw other, real Tube signs online, he wanted to create his own in order to create a tribute that specifically epitomised the "very London" response. 

Yet though Moore insists he never claimed the sign was real, his caption on the image - which now has 100,800 shares - is arguably misleading. "Quintessentially British..." Moore wrote on his Facebook post, and agrees now that this was ambiguous. "It was meant to relate to the reaction that I saw in London in that day which I just thought was very calm and measured. What the sign was trying to do was capture the spirit I'd seen, so that's what I was actually talking about."

Not only did Moore not mean to mislead, he is actually shocked that anyone thought the sign was real. 

"I'm reasonably digitally savvy and I was extremely shocked that anyone thought it was real," he says, explaining that he thought everyone would be able to spot a fake after a "You ain't no muslim bruv" sign went viral after the Leytonstone Tube attack in 2015. "I thought this is an internet meme that people know isn't true and it's fine to do because this is a digital thing in a digital world."

Yet despite his intentions, Moore's sign has become the centre of debate about whether "nice" fake news is as problematic as that which was notoriously spread during the 2016 United States Presidential elections. Though Moore can understand this perspective, he ultimately feels as though the sentiment behind the sign makes it acceptable. 

"I use the word fake in inverted commas because I think fake implies the intention to deceive and there wasn't [any]... I think if the sentiment is ok then I think it is ok. I think if you were trying to be divisive and you were trying to stir up controversy or influence people's behaviour then perhaps I wouldn't have chosen that forum but I think when you're only expressing your own emotion, I think it's ok.

"The fact that it became so-called fake news was down to other people's interpretation and not down to the actual intention... So in many interesting ways you can see that fake news doesn't even have to originate from the source of the news."

Though Moore was initially "extremely shocked" at the reponse to his post, he says that on reflection he is "pretty proud". 

"I'm glad that other people, even the powers that be, found it an appropriate phrase to use," he says. "I also think social media is often denigrated as a source of evil and bad things in the world, but on occasion I think it can be used for very positive things. I think the vast majority of people who shared my post and liked my post have actually found the phrase and the sentiment useful to them, so I think we have to give social media a fair judgement at times and respect the fact it can be a source for good."

Amelia Tait is a technology and digital culture writer at the New Statesman.