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By nacro

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It’s crunch time for the levelling-up agenda

Yesterday, the Social Mobility Commission (SMC) released their ‘State of the Nation’ report putting disadvantaged young people at the centre of the recovery plan.

Nacro is pleased to see the commission continue to support the call for an extension to the pupil premium for 16-19 year olds, digital access for all and the work to remove barriers for the long term disadvantaged.

These calls are echoed in our campaign, Learn Without Limits, calling on the Government to remove barriers to education for disadvantaged young people.

Nacro supports thousands of the most disadvantaged young people so we have first-hand experience of how the right support can ensure that those most at risk of becoming NEET (not in education, employment or training), can achieve the qualifications that they need and fulfil their full potential.

We want to see a fairer education system which supports young people to learn and progress. Almost one in five young people are not achieving the equivalent of five good GCSEs by the age of 19. This figure is more than one in three when applied to those eligible for free school meals and has risen sharply over recent years.

Yet, we are worried that the Government will narrow the choices and pathways young people can take to achieve. Just last week the Government proposed to streamline qualifications from 2023 at Level 3 so that apprenticeships, A levels and T levels are the main routes.

But their own assessment recognises that this will disproportionately impact on the most disadvantaged young people. One example is that the majority of T level providers require five GCSEs, locking out many of our most disadvantaged young people. We are worried this limiting of choice will be replicated for Level 2. This would risk constructing new barriers for disadvantaged young people instead of removing them.

Like the SMC we are calling for more funding to be available for disadvantaged 16-19 year olds. Currently, there is a divide between pre-16 and post-16 in terms of funding. The Pupil Premium stops at 16, yet the issues young people face which prevent them from succeeding in education don’t just go away.

A Pupil Premium for the 16-19 age group will allow for specialised wraparound support both academic and practical as well as targeting wider non-academic barriers to learning – creating support for every pupil in need.

SMC rightly highlight the need to urgently close the digital divide. We know the effect digital exclusion has on learning, 60% of our learners didn’t have data or their own device at the start of COVID-19.

It is clear from the SMC and our reporting that the government needs to address the growing inequalities now if they have any hope of levelling up.