Education ministers should consider intervening in local transport policy if it is a ‘significant barrier’ to 16- to 18-year-olds staying in education, employment or training, an influential group of MPs has said.
The Public Accounts Committee raised concern over the fact ‘many local authorities do not help 16- to 18-year-olds with the costs of travelling to school or college, which can lead to some young people being disadvantaged’.
Published today, its report states in England 148,000 out of 2 million 16- to 18-year-olds are not in education, employment or training – termed NEETs – making them on average more likely to be unemployed in future life, have lower paid jobs, have addictions or go to prison.
It also found 63 local authorities - where transport costs were relatively high - that did not help young people with transport costs for education or training, which impacted on participation rates the cross-party MPs warned.
Local authorities’ transport policy must outline plans to support 16- to 18-year-olds in accessing education and training, however this does not have to include financial assistance.
‘Many local authorities do not help 16- to 18-year-olds with the costs of travelling to school or college, which means some young people are disadvantaged. This variation in local policy reduces access and choice for some young people and creates a potential postcode inequity, and the Department [of Education] accepts that it does not know enough about these policies’ impact on participation,’ the report said.
It went on to call for government to ‘examine the impact of variation in local authority transport policies on its objective to increase participation and should review whether and how to intervene where this is a significant barrier to participation’.
Committee chair Margaret Hodge highlighted that the number was improving, however she said the UK is still behind other OECD countries and added that ‘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’.
Students who left year 11 in summer 2014 will be the first to continue until at least their 18th birthday, however the Government has decided not to bring the enforcement provisions into effect, preferring to rely on persuasion.
‘It is difficult to show that any other interventions, such as careers advice, have been effective,’ she added.
Cllr 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 per cent since 2012 as well as leading the reduction of disengaged teenagers to an all-time low.’
Cllr Simmonds called for more legal powers to ensure partners such as schools, colleges, Jobcentres, share information teenage disengagement as quickly as possible with councils.
‘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,’ he said.
'Funding for the concessionary fares scheme for elderly and disabled residents has reduced by 39 per cent during the life of this Parliament. This means vital post-16 transport services can no longer be protected and councils are forced to take difficult decisions to scale them back.’
A Department for Education spokesperson said: ‘We recognise that the travel costs associated with getting to and from school or college can be an issue for some young people. Councils are responsible for setting local transport policies and they are required to make appropriate decisions with the needs of young people in their area in mind.
‘Most young people, including those who live in rural areas, have access to discounts or concessions on local buses or trains, either from their council, schools or colleges, or from transport companies. In addition, our £180m Bursary Fund, available to schools and colleges to meet the needs of disadvantaged young people, is often used to help with transport costs.’