Memorandum submitted by the Association of Panel Members

 

1. Introduction

The core business of AOPM is ensuring that children are diverted from the criminal justice system, whilst recognizing that education is a primary protective factor against the risk of reoffending. As individuals, community Panel Members are unable to effectively address this issue in their Youth Offending Teams: the Association is therefore grateful for the opportunity to comment on this consultation.

 

1.1 The key impact of the NEET strategy is welcome recognition by the government that the inevitable effect on individuals is to increase their likelihood of resorting to anti-social and criminal behavior, and that tacit acceptance of incarceration as the fallback position for addressing these young people's needs, is unacceptable. It also recognises a significant opportunity to improve the lot of a hard-core of disenfranchised members of society, entrenched in exclusion - perhaps through generations of failures to engage with the education system - and to partly close their 'revolving door' relationship with the criminal justice system.

 

1.2 Strategies for increasing the number of young people accessing employment, education or training (including the 2007 Targeted Youth Support Program to increase compliance from those who do not attend school) only really access those who have the ability and motivation to take advantage of them. Those who must be targeted more effectively are the low achievers who are permanently excluded from school before the age of 16, and not offered a return to full time education. This group will need one-to-one support to gain the confidence to go further and achieve; they also need motivation through concrete activities/exercises which are within their grasp. Provisions should include one-to-one support in the form of learning mentors, Basic Skills teaching in small groups or through the Connexions Service.

 

2. Strategies for the identification of young people at risk of falling into the "NEET" category

NEET young people have generally been excluded, either temporarily or permanently, from school. A strategy could be developed whereby a young person (of whatever age) permanently excluded, 'informally' excluded, or with one or more temporary exclusions, from either Primary or Secondary schools, could be flagged at the time of the first exclusion. This would have the twofold benefit of early identification of possible future numbers and providing opportunity to put strategies in place.

 

3.Services and programs to support those most at risk of becoming "NEET", and to reduce the numbers and address the needs of those who have become persistently "NEET"

3.1 Re-education of the children's workforce is necessary towards recognition that although poor behaviour is unacceptable, it is often a manifestation of a child's struggles to deal

with out-of-school contextual circumstances, for which the child is entirely unprepared. Moreover, the classic institutional approach which characterises the child approaching Exclusion as 'undeserving' of access to universal sevices, should be systematically challenged, since 'Everything Stops' at Exclusion, in terms of personal and educational support.

3.2 There appears to be little recognition from statutory services of the invaluable support provided to children and families by VCS Crisis management agencies working with eg Domestic Violence/Rape victims, Asylum Seekers, Lone Parents, Bereavement and Post-Natal Counselling, also ATD-4th World in support of those in abject poverty. These agencies should be encouraged to share information with CSF services - in both directions - to ensure that statutory universal services are properly targeted.

3.3 Primary School

Closer relationships between Housing, Health, Fostering, VCS and schools are required, so that children from struggling families can be identified more clearly than via the traditional Free School Meals indicator. Therapeutic provisions should be made available through schools eg speech therapy, hearing and sight tests.

 

- More effective assessment of complex needs and identification of clear early interventions are necessary for children with challenging behaviour, SEN, and mental or physical health issues

- Withdrawal groups should focus on 'soft skills' for developing a child's strengths, building confidence and emotional resilience instead of addressing deficits, enabling them to learn to identify pressure points in socialisation and to develop coping strategies. Resillience building programmes will allow schools to move beyond simply labeling certain children as being 'at risk' and should be interspersed with short, do-able 3r's sessions, on a one-to-one basis.

 

3.3.1 Children at risk of becoming NEET are generally 'Off the Radar' in schools - but not only in the interests of confidentiality, since they also provide hard evidence of schools' failure. High Risk children may be already the subject of FIPs or YISP interventions. In addition to exhibiting social nuisance or disruptive behaviour, children with complex, undiagnosed needs might demonstrate an inexplicable failure to thrive, a history of interrupted and non-attendance, may change schools frequently, or simply refuse to attend.

 

3.3.2 By the end of Y6 all children unable to read and write fluently must be clearly identified to receiving schools, for development of supporting transition plans (as per Withdrawal Groups above) for secondary transfer. Similarly for those who have received one or more temporary exclusions, or permanent exclusion.

 

4. Secondary Transfer

Within small, low headcount primary schools and taught all day by a single teacher, children who are unable to keep up with their peers may, with the aid of supportive parents, attract additional support., Where parents do not value or recognise a lack of academic progress, or if a child is in state/third-party care, the child's inability to engage with the curriculum becomes compounded in the transition to large-scale secondary schools with multiple teaching staff and minimal pupil-teacher contact.

 

 

 

4.1 A 'zero tolerance' approach to permanent exclusions before age 16, would encourage schools to prepare pupils for undertaking apprenticeships, diplomas or higher national vocational qualifications up to age 18.

 

4.2 Pastoral support teachers should be trained to define a structured 25 hour support program overlapping with FIPs and Youth Inclusion programs, for 'at risk' pupils, delivered both within and outside the school for mentoring/overseeing by a learning mentor or a member of staff acting as personal tutor.

 

4.3 The Nuffield Review (2009) report 'Education for All: The future of education and training for 14-19 year olds' calls for 'strongly collaborative local learning systems' involving schools, colleges, work-based learning providers, the youth service, voluntary organisations and employers. Secondary schools should therefore be encouraged to increase contact with local businesses and community groups to promote dialogue and develop student placements for work experience.

 

5. Transition Y7-8

The well-established practice in primary schools of inviting parents and volunteers to support emerging reading and writing skills, should continue for pupils identified as struggling at Y6, and those newly assessed to be in need of basic skills support, since this is the critical period for defining a child's continued engagement with learning. Emotional literacy and resilience building programs should continue alongside curriculum teaching directed towards attainment of 5 A-C GCSEs, including the 3 Rs. Where Alternative curriculum subjects are offered these should be independently assessed for GCSE equivalence, in partnership with representatives from commerce and others, in order to improve transferability (eg a McDonalds level 3 Hospitality apprenticeship or Duke of Edinburgh Gold Award, equivalent to 'A' level or.)

 

6. Y9-11

Once a yp is identified as at risk of becoming NEET, educational input should emphasise future employability including pre-arranged work-experience sessions through established local business partnerships. Trained volunteer mentors should provide, on school premises, one-to-one help in Basic Skills, making applications for jobs or education courses (along the lines of the outdated, but relevant, Adult Literacy Scheme), or in small business management.

 

Connexions services could be accessed earlier than is currently the case, with Y9-11 'at risk' pupils addressed in small groups, instead of individually, to receive help in understanding the world of work and its implications.

Pupils unwilling to undertake study beyond age 16 should not receive financial state benefit support, unless they are a parent.

 

7. For Y12-13 pupils, the EMA should be extended to enable access to work experience via local businesses, in exchange for 'payment' equivalent to the EMA.

 

8. Conclusion

The over-riding imperative underlying all measures should be to avoid the yp resorting to street-life and becoming untraceable, if he/she disengages from school. Resilience programs should therefore provide copious information on how and where to access Youth Rights services.

 

Disclaimer: The contents of this response do not necessarily reflect the views of all Panel Members

 

Sandra Beeton

Chair

December 2009