Memorandum submitted by Barnardo's (E&S 03)

 

January 2008

 

1 Introduction

1.1 Barnardo's works directly with over 115,000 children, young people and their families every year. We run 394 projects across the UK, including counselling for children who have been abused, fostering and adoption services, vocational training and disability inclusion groups. We use the knowledge gained from our work with children to campaign for better policy and to champion the rights of every child. With the right help, committed support and a little belief, even the most disadvantaged and vulnerable children can turn their lives around.

 

1.2 Over two-thirds of our services have an educational component. Barnardo's alternative education services work with young people who have been excluded from or rejected school, helping to address underlying difficulties and giving them

the opportunity to re-engage with learning. Barnardo's also provides vocational training and work-based learning, working in partnership with local employers, colleges and schools.

 

1.3 This memorandum draws on research carried out in summer 2007 with 30 young people in several Barnardo's alternative education and training services in the North East. The young people spoke candidly about their experiences of school, how and why they left and then came to re-engage through Barnardo's provision, as well as their views on raising the participation age.[1]

 

 

2 Barnardo's summary position on the Bill

2.1 Barnardo's welcome the proposal to raise the age of participation in education or training to 18, which represents an important opportunity to improve provision for the many young people who leave school at 16 with few skills and poor long-term prospects. Young people from disadvantaged backgrounds are among the least likely to stay on, perpetuating the cycle of poverty from one generation to the next.

 

2.2 Barnardo's will concentrate on briefing to Parts 1 and 2 of the Bill. There are four key areas where we will seek changes:

i. Compulsion - the enforcement process

ii. Sufficiency and diversity of provision

iii. Support for young people - enabling participation

iv. Financial support

 

3 Compulsion - the enforcement process

3.1 "Choice is best" was the clear message from the young people consulted in Barnardo's alternative education and training services: they felt that choosing to participate was critical to their motivation to attend and achieve.[2]

 

3.2 However, if steps are taken to find the right course for a young person and to put in place the necessary support, then it is fair to expect them to participate - if necessary, through some system of enforcement, including powers for local authorities to prosecute as a last resort.

 

3.3 Barnardo's accepts the need for an enforcement process, as proposed in Chapter 5 of the Bill; however we will be seeking safeguards to ensure:

The level of the Penalty Notice (cl.47 - to be set in regulations) is set at an amount that reflects the level of financial support available to the poorest young people; and that the fine will not increase if not paid within the specified time limit. Barnardo's is concerned that escalations in fines for non-payment are most likely to be incurred by those least able to pay;

Advocacy is available, where needed, to enable a young person's voice to be heard at an Attendance Panel at every stage in the process especially for those with learning or communications difficulties. (Clause 46(6) states that in deciding whether to commence court proceedings under cl.45 the attendance panel must invite the young person to make representations);

Young people failing to participate (i.e. receiving a court ordered fine, or subsequent penalty for breach - court proceedings under cl.45) are not left with a criminal record which could jeopardise their future employment prospects. Barnardo's believe this should be expunged from the Police National Computer by the young person's 19th birthday;

Breach for failure to pay a court ordered fine should never, in any circumstance, result in a custodial sentence

 

4 Sufficiency and diversity of provision

4.1 In 2006, over one-fifth of 16-18 year olds in England were not in education or training, including one in ten who were 'NEET' - not in education, employment or training.[3] Young people who have rejected or been excluded from school do not want 'more of the same'.[4] Stronger vocational pathways for 14-19 year olds are needed, in particular an expansion in:

work-based learning (WBL - including apprenticeships and pre-apprenticeships) for the many young people who are not motivated by the traditional school environment. WBL has more than halved in the last two decades: in 1987, 17% of 16-18 year olds were in WBL, compared to just 7% by the end of 2006.[5]

alternative provision including Entry to Employment (E2E) and Foundation Learning Tier (FLT) programmes, funded on a stable basis, to re-engage young people and support their transition back to 'mainstream' learning.

provision for young people with learning difficulties and disabilities, with meaningful opportunities for progression.

 

4.2 To drive such an expansion, Barnardo's would like to see an amendment to the Bill to require local authorities to audit the sufficiency and diversity of provision. We also recommend that Ofsted should report to Parliament on progress towards the goal of an appropriate learning place for every young person.

 

5 Support for young people - enabling participation

5.1 Some young people face significant barriers to participation in education and training - such as poor basic skills, low self confidence, financial hardship, early parenthood, mental health problems, substance abuse or homelessness.

 

5.2 Barnardo's believes that Attendance Panels must consider the extent of support provided by the LEA in assessing whether a young person has a 'reasonable excuse' for not attending (Clause 47(1)). The types of support (e.g. transport, childcare, learning support etc) expected to be available should be set out in guidance, and take account of existing best practice.

 

5.3 While the Bill places clear duties on young people to participate, it is less clear about the responsibilities of others including schools, colleges and employers in enabling participation. Barnardo's believes that learning contracts should be introduced to support the transition back to education or training for all disengaged young people. These are already used to good effect in several Barnardo's services; and similar provisions (Activity Agreements) are currently being piloted by the Government.[6] Learning contracts would set out the roles and responsibilities of all parties including:

the young person's support needs and how they will be met;

expectations on the young person to attend and learning goals;

role of the LEA, parent and provider or employer in supporting this.

 

5.4 "I didn't have no-one, like I didn't, couldn't feel like going up to other teachers and talking ... to them about the pressure and all that." Young person in a Barnardo's project

 

5.5 Many of the NEET population effectively cease to participate long before they reach 16 - through exclusion, persistent truancy or simply not engaging when they are in school. We need stronger support structures in school to ensure that the challenging circumstances in which some young people grow up do not undermine their education and future life-chances. Key workers (or similar) can play an important role in providing practical and emotional support - giving young people someone to talk to in confidence, who can help them to access support if needed.[7] Barnardo's supports the recommendations of the recent Children's Plan 14-19 Expert Group that there should be "a key worker, or similar, in every school or college".[8]

 

6 Financial support

6.1 "We think the EMA should be increased because for some people who live by themselves it's harder ... some people have got their food, clothes and that to buy, so your money is practically gone straight away." Young person in a Barnardo's project

 

6.2 The requirement to participate in full-time education or training must not result in any young person living in poverty. Financial incentives are a key lever to encourage participation - conversely, financial hardship is a key reason why young people drop out. The proposed restructuring of financial support for young people[9] must ensure -

 

a minimum income guarantee for young people aged 16-18 living independently, who are particularly vulnerable to financial hardship;

parity of financial support across different routes - so that learning choices are not influenced by differing levels of benefits/allowances, as at present;

more efficient processing and payment of the Education Maintenance Allowance (EMA). Our projects report many problems with the operation of both EMAs (re. complicated forms, need for parental cooperation, loss of full week's payment for non-attendance) and benefits (re. forms and inefficient processing of applications by call centres, delayed payments for young people who have no other source of income).

Examples from Barnardo's services

Unequal rewards: Three young people supported by a Barnardo's project all work in the same factory. One is on a modern apprenticeship, receiving around 70 a week. One is doing an NVQ and on a full-time work placement, receiving 30 a week EMA. The third is employed on a temporary contract (no training) and receives the minimum wage.

EMA difficulties: Peter was doing an NVQ course in bricklaying. His relationship with his parents was so poor that they refused to complete the EMA application. Peter therefore did not receive an allowance and dropped out to seek an unskilled labouring job.

 

January 2008



[1] Their views and experiences are captured in a 10 minute DVD called 'Staying On' and a research summary, available on the Barnardo's website: http://www.barnardos.org.uk/books_and_tools_school_and_education.htm. Over the coming year, we will be doing more research to explore the barriers to participation faced by vulnerable and 'hard to reach' young people and what works in re-engaging them in education and training, leading to a report in Autumn 2008.

[2] Barnardo's, September 2007, School's out, or is it? Young people's views on staying on in education or training to 18

[3] DfES, SFR 22/07. In 2006, 22.7% of 16-18 year olds were not in any education or training, including 10.3% of the age group who were 'NEET'.

[4] Barnardo's, September 2007 (as above).

[5] DfES, SFR 22/07.

[6] Activity Agreements are for young people aged 16-17 who have been NEET for 20 consecutive weeks, are being piloted by the Government in 8 Connexions Partnerships from April 2006-March 2008. The Activity Agreement is a contract to guide a young person through tailored development and skills building activities, in order to engage them in education, employment or training. Allowances are paid to the young person for taking part. http://www.yourroutes.co.uk/article.aspa?PageId=892&NodeId=289 ;http://www.connexionslive.com/yp/jobs/activityagreement/; http://www.gmrb.org.uk/aa/index.php

[7] Barnardo's, September 2007 (as above).

[8] DCSF (2007) Children's Plan 14-19 Expert Group Report, Para 5.5 http://www.dfes.gov.uk/timetotalk/documents/7384-DCSF-14-19%20plan.pdf

[9] DfES (2007) Raising Expectations Green Paper, See paragraphs 5.23-5.30.