School leavers can’t take any more cuts

GCSE students have worked hard to achieve their results – the government now needs to protect their opportunities


Hundreds of thousands of students have received their GCSE results today, and will be looking forward to moving into sixth form or college in September.

But there is a risk that this generation could be hit by the ‘double whammy’ of spending cuts to the 16-19 phase of education and a difficult jobs market. These students have worked hard to achieve their results – and the government now needs to act to protect their opportunities.

This group of students will be entering the only part of the education system to have received substantial cuts in the last parliament – spending on 16-19 education was cut by around 12 per cent in real terms under the coalition (unlike spending on schools which was protected), and many colleges are already reporting severe financial difficulties.

What’s more, the 16-19 budget has once again been left ‘unprotected’ in the Department for Education budget, meaning the chancellor could be planning more cuts in his autumn Spending Review. IPPR are calling – at a minimum – for the chancellor to extend the same protection to 16-19 funding as he has done for schools. This is something he could easily afford to do while still meeting his commitment to a surplus budget by the end of the parliament.  

The second hurdle facing this generation of students will be a tough jobs market. While the economic recovery has helped to reduce the number of young people who are NEET in recent months – (today’s statistics show a welcome fall in the headline rate) – the plight of young people in the jobs market is a long term problem that runs much deeper than the current recession.    

As the graph below shows, the number of young people out of work has been rising steadily since the early 1990s (relative to the number of over 25s). Even during the boom years of the early 2000s, young people were struggling to find work and benefit from economic growth to the same extent as workers over the age of 25.

ippr graph

Source: ONS Labour market statistics. Click to zoom

These problems are deep rooted and can’t be easily fixed. Current plans to introduce tougher benefit sanctions on young people, and tinkering with apprenticeships, certainly won’t be sufficient to fix it.

That is why IPPR has called for an overhaul of the youth benefits system, including a backstop of guaranteed work at the minimum wage, combined with a long term plan to put 16-19 education funding on a more equal footing with schools.

Jonathan Clifton is an associate director at IPPR. Follow him on Twitter 

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