Another rise in A-level pass rates – but no jobs and no uni for thousands of young people

Martin Allen 

Despite a further increase in A-level pass rates – the 29th year in succession, a lack of jobs and a shortage of university places means prospects continue to be bleak for large numbers of young people.

Unemployment for 16-24 year olds is now 949 000 – up from 917 000 last month. In addition 727. 000 16-24 year olds ‘not in full-time education’ are now ‘economically inactive’ suggesting youth joblessness is more like 1.5 million. (1 in 5 of all young people) The Office for National Statistics (ONS) figures also show that over a quarter of unemployed 18-24 year olds have been out of work for more than 12 months.

 Government and many media sources have suggested the increases in unemployment (the jobless rate as a whole is now back up to almost 2.5 million) are ‘unexpected’ but economic data shows that even if the economy is not yet officially  back into recession, it is going to ‘flat line’ for a considerable period. As it takes time for unemployment to work its way through the system and for employers to shed surplus labour it is almost inevitable that youth unemployment will increase further, possibly hitting the million mark by early 2012.

Neither can the increases in unemployment be explained by ’what’s going on in the markets’ as George Osborne maintained – the ONS figures for August are based on the three month period from April to June. Public sector redundancies are starting to kick in however – hence the record number of women heading for the dole queue.

Record numbers have applied for university this year, yet it’s estimated that at least 150 000 will miss out on higher education. With fee increases looming, the majority of those participating in the UCAS ‘clearing’ scheme will not have the option of applying again next year – if they can’t find the place they want. They won’t be comforted by Labour Party research findings that employers would rather hire school leavers with two years work experience, than graduates. (Guardian 17/08/12) They know that this will probably be irrelevant if it isn’t possible to get a job in the first place! For the moment at least, graduates continue to earn much more than non-graduates, though it is likely this graduate premium will get smaller.

Nor will many consider gaining a place on an apprenticeship to be a satisfactory alternative unless it’s on one of the hugely oversubscribed blue ribbon schemes like BT and Rolls Royce. Even though the Coalition claims to have met its targets for increasing apprenticeships, the increases include those for older workers many of whom are already in employment. The number available for teenagers has increased by much less. (Guardian 15/08/11)

While criticism grows over the severity of the sentences melted out to the small minority of young people involved in last week’s riots – the needs of the vast majority of young people continue to be largely ignored. Rather than making it even harder to score top marks in the education system as David Willets proposals for differentiating between A-levels will do, urgent measures and new economic policies are needed if this part of the lost generation is to be able to begin to find its way.

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