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Birmingham’s ‘Lost Boys (& Girls)’: Council chief executive tells Minister “we’ve temporarily ‘lost’ 2,500 young people”

Birmingham’s ‘Lost Boys (& Girls)’: Council chief executive tells Minister “we’ve temporarily ‘lost’ 2,500 young people”

🕔21.Nov 2013

Just when it seemed that things could hardly get worse for Birmingham’s children’s services …..they have. The city council has lost track of 2,500 youngsters aged 16 to 17 and is unsure whether they are at school, on training courses or unemployed.

Problems with computer-based record keeping and an “unusually high frequency” of similar sounding names among young people from ethnic minority backgrounds have been blamed by council managers, who are now engaged in “data cleansing” in an attempt to establish the whereabouts of the missing students.

City chief executive Stephen Hughes has written to Skills Minister Matthew Hancock alerting him to “a number of specific unanticipated issues” which means that the council has been unable to complete an Annual Participation Survey – a Government requirement setting out how many post-16 students are in training or education.

Mr Hughes added in the letter that the council was experiencing difficulties in securing data returns from post-16 providers of training places.

The admission comes at a difficult time for Birmingham children’s services. The department’s social services arm has been judged inadequate and under special measures for more than four years.  Speculation has mounted recently that responsibility for running social care may be taken away from the council and handed to an independent trust.

In his letter dated November 4, Mr Hughes admits that the exact whereabouts of 2,556 young people remains unconfirmed. Of that figure, the council believes 500 may be in education or training in neighbouring local authorities, and a further 170 have moved from Birmingham.

The letter continues: “The extent of the umatched data in our data set is particularly high as a result of the specific demographic of our population for whom there is an unusually high frequency of different spellings or arrangements of names, compounded by a lack of unique pupil identification on records between year 11 and year 12 students.

“We expect to ‘find’ at least a further 800 young people who are confirmed enrolled in education or training or employment, through communication with schools and colleges and manual matching of year 12 data back to our cohort records.”

Participation figures from across the country are used by the Government to calculate the number of post-16 children classified as NEET – not in employment, training or education.

Mr Hughes’s letter concludes: “We will be working intensively to confirm the status of the majority of the remaining young people through the same communication process and anticipate at least 400 of the young people to be confirmed as NEET, reducing our genuine not known cohort to in the region of 600 young people by December 1.

“From that point we will then continue to implement measures to locate the remaining not known young people and ensure they are supported to access appropriate opportunities.”

A spokesman for the council stressed that Mr Hughes’s letter was not an apology, but “part of on-going communication with the Department around the issue of tracking and verifying the status of young people”.

The spokesman added: “To clarify, no records have been lost. The letter refers to the Annual Participation Survey, which is a secure data collection exercise between schools, colleges, training providers and neighbouring local authorities to verify the status / circumstances of young people who are resident in Birmingham. It is the responsibility of schools, colleges and providers to ensure that young people have a post-16 destination and to share this information with the relevant local authority.

“The letter states that as of 1 November, we are still working to verify the last 2,500 of last year’s Year 11 leavers (out of a cohort of 13,500 young people).  This has now reduced to 1,600 young people. Steps are in place to ensure that data from neighbouring authorities and colleges and schools comes in, to ‘match’ to the resident population of 16-19 year olds.

“One of the challenges that Stephen refers to in the letter, is the context and specific demographic of the population and an unusually high number of different spellings for the same name, and different arrangements of names.

“What this means is practical terms is that when data is securely shared between schools, colleges and training providers, the database system is not able to automatically ‘match’ all young people. This is a national issue, but is more profound in Birmingham, given our demographics and a large transient population.”

Cover Image: ‘Lost Boys’ Disney Wiki

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