Connexions – NEETer than ever

January 30, 2009

We haven’t talked about Connexions for a long time, but were prompted to do some number-crunching by an item on the BBC site today.

The number of young people in England not earning or learning is increasing, figures suggest.

People aged 16 to 24 not in work, education or training went up by 94,000 to 850,000 between 2003 and 2007.

The reason that the Connexions service was set up in 2001, with an annual budget of around £6 billion, was to reduce the number of ‘NEETs’ – the official acronym for young people not in education, employment or training. So has it worked?

Skills Minister David Lammy insisted that the figures are unreliable because they include youngsters who care for parents or children, people on gap years, the independently wealthy who own their own properties, disabled people and those with mental health problems.

“Strip those young people out and actually the numbers are going in the right direction,” he told the BBC.

We downloaded the DCSF NEET statistics for the past 14 years from their website – if you like spreadsheets, you can find them here – and compared the NEET figures for 2000 (the year before Connexions began) with the most recent ones for 2007. The came out looking like this:

Total % of NEETS aged 16-18
2000: 8.7%
2007: 9.4%

% 16-18s in education
2000: 76.5
2007: 78.7

% of 16-18s in employment
2000: 14.8
2007: 11.9

The Government has cited an increase in education participation as evidence that their strategy has worked, but this is actually more than cancelled out by the decline in employment. The figures have simply shuffled across from one category to another, and in fact there has been an overall increase in NEETS of 0.7%. In other words the underlying problem has not in any way been resolved by the introduction of Connexions.

Given that the Connexions profiling and information-sharing model was the dummy-run for the whole ‘Every Child Matters’ agenda, what exactly is the evidence base for expanding its principles to the whole of the child population, and setting up Contactpoint and eCAF?


You looking at my tax data?

January 28, 2009

It seems that some local authority employees have been using the Department for Work and Pensions’ Customer Information System to carry out their own private research. Not that it appears to be a big deal – the following security notice is tucked away in a regular DWP bulletin:

Security notice – CIS access to HMRC and DWP data

LAs access customer information through DWP’s CIS. From July 2008 this has included access to Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs’ (HMRC) tax credit data. Desktop access to CIS has helped to significantly improve service delivery to customers. However, DWP and HMRC customer information is shared with LAs on the understanding that only authorised access is permitted.

DWP’s Local Authority Support Team (LAST) carries out checks on a sample of system-generated Test Checks, which LAs have conducted. In addition, DWP and HMRC interrogate CIS to carry out independent data matches and checks of accesses made by both LA and DWP staff.

These checks are carried out to provide assurance to DWP and HMRC that accesses to CIS are appropriate and that information obtained is used correctly.

Regrettably checks have identified some LA staff are committing serious security breaches.

To be absolutely clear, and by way of reminder to all LA users accessing CIS, users should not

• access their own records or the records of friends, relatives, partners, or acquaintances
• make enquiries on behalf of colleagues in respect of their friends, relatives, partners, or acquaintances
• share their system, Government Gateway or other identity password with their colleagues
• access CIS for any unauthorised purpose

Not very reassuring at all, is it?


January 28, 2009

I should think everyone has seen the grand announcement of the ‘launch’ of Contactpoint by now. Actually, it’s not really a launch at all. It’s simply that DCSF is giving access to two members of staff from each local authority in the hopes that they can sort out the godawful mess that is ‘shielding’.

Regular readers will remember that plans to get Contactpoint up and running last September were thwarted, at least partly because it hadn’t occurred to DCSF that records would be unshielded but accessible on the system – in some cases for months.

The bad news is that shielding still isn’t sorted out, mainly because too many local authorities don’t seem to understand that the threat from domestic violence can persist for years after separation. Here’s a typical excerpt from a local authority’s reasons for shielding a child’s Contactpoint entry:

one or more individual(s) are likely to cause significant harm to the child/young person and/or their parent/carer; and therefore the child/young person and/or their parent/carer are being, or will be, protected at a location that is not known to the individual(s) posing the threat

So what about those who aren’t being ‘protected’? When ARCH members pointed out to their local authorities that they wouldn’t even know about a fair number of those who are in hiding, they were assured that ‘significant publicity work’ would be undertaken to make sure that people contacted the LA to request shielding.

We did a quick straw poll of members just before Christmas and, from Cornwall to Cumbria, nobody had seen any publicity whatsoever. A couple of weeks ago, children were being sent home from school with ‘Fair Processing Notices’ about Contactpoint, so if any parent didn’t read the FPN carefully and immediately realise its significance, they probably missed their chance to have their children’s details shielded.

Meanwhile, the other night we were told by someone who had worked on Contactpoint (but who wishes to remain incognito because they want still to have a job next week) that the shielding is being done by ‘flagging’ the files that need to be kept hidden, and the database is in fact searchable by flag. It doesn’t exactly inspire confidence in the security of the system. Perhaps the DCSF would like to confirm or deny whether this information is correct?