A LEAP in the number of the region’s teenagers kept from “a life on the scrapheap” was hailed by ministers yesterday (Wednesday, March 26).

However, they also admitted much of the increase was down to local authorities finally “tracking” what happens to 16 and 17-year-olds in their areas.

The Northern Echo:

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Across the North-East and North Yorkshire, the proportion in education or training rose in nine of 12 areas, over the 12 months to December 2013.

Only Stockton-on-Tees (down 0.1 per cent), Hartlepool (no change) and Gateshead (down two per cent) bucked the trend.

The biggest increases were in Darlington (up ten per cent) and North Yorkshire (up 13.5 per cent), the department for education (Dfe) figures showed.

Darlington Borough Council welcomed the figures, and paid tribute to the town's Foundation for Jobs, an award-winning scheme led by The Northern Echo, the council and a partnership of public and private sector organisations, which aims to create apprenticeships and tackle youth unemployment.

A council spokesperson said: “Our early intervention teams have been working with young people providing targeted support to encourage them to enter into further education or training.

"Through our excellent local partnership arrangements with key employers in the town, we initiated ‘Foundation For Jobs’ which has facilitated 250 apprenticeships over the last 12 months.

"We work with young people to tailor programmes around their needs and interests and have found this kind of support to work really well.”

Yesterday's statistics – showing a rise of 35,482 in the number of 16 and 17-year-olds in education or training, across England – came as a big relief to ministers.

They have been fiercely criticised for stubbornly high levels of long-term youth unemployment, risking a 1980s-style “lost generation”.

But both Darlington and North Yorkshire have previously recorded very high figures for 16 and 17-year-olds classed as “current activity not known”.

In Darlington, that proportion stood at 11.4 per cent in December 2012 and it was an extraordinary 20.2 per cent in North Yorkshire – more than one in five.

A year later, those figures have fallen dramatically in both Darlington (2.5 per cent) and North Yorkshire (six per cent).

A Dfe spokesman said: “Both local authorities have recorded significant reductions in the proportion of 16 and 17-year-olds they are not tracking, which may provide an explanation.”

And a North Yorkshire spokeswoman agreed that better tracking “accounts predominantly for the significant rise in 16 and 17 year olds recorded in education and training”.

She added: “This improved tracking means we are better able to target and support our young people post-16.”

Nevertheless, Matthew Hancock, the skills minister, insisted Government measures were also reaping rewards, including new traineeships and an expansion of apprenticeships.