Memorandum submitted by Community Matters

 

1. Introduction

 

Community Matters is the national federation of community associations and similar organisations, with more than 1200 members across the UK. For 60 years we have promoted and supported action by ordinary people in response to social, educational and recreational needs in their communities.

Our vision is for active and sustainable communities in which everyone is valued and can play their full part. Community Matters pursues this vision by supporting and developing the capacity of community organisations and representing their interests at a national level.

We believe

In the importance of community, in a world where so many people are isolated and marginalised.

That racial, religious and social diversity (or difference) adds value to our society, and that everyone has the right to equality of opportunity.

That democratic community organisations help to empower individuals and contribute towards a cohesive and vibrant society.

In the value of voluntary activity: including formal and informal volunteering, mutual organisations and self help groups.

In the distinctiveness of the community sector as a part of the wider voluntary and community sector.

In the value of community development as a process which gives confidence and skills to people to exercise greater power in their everyday lives.

In working in partnership with organisations that share similar values in order to maximise resources and influence

 

Although we have members of all sizes, most of the organisations we represent are small, independent, community-led and democratically-run groups that work at neighbourhood level. Many are based around a community-owned or -managed space, but our membership also includes second-tier organisations, housing associations and Local Authorities

 

2. General Comments

 

The government has introduced a range of measures to deal with youth unemployment. In January, Gordon Brown announced 35,000 apprenticeships to help young people gain a footing on the career ladder, and reiterated his commitment to raising the school leaving age to 18. Meanwhile the government is rolling out the New Deal, with the aim of further supporting the long-term unemployed.

 

Apprenticeships are not necessarily a response to NEET as young people NEET are unlikely to be able to compete for Apprenticeship opportunities and apprenticeships are more likely to be suited to more work-ready young people rather then NEET young people with multiple problems. NEET young people are less likely to have qualifications and personal skills at entry level for apprenticeship schemes. We recommend that holistic, community-based learning opportunities are specifically targeted at those who are most vulnerable or isolated, and that pre-EET gateways into more formal education are maintained as valuable in their own right. We also believe that community and voluntary organisations are an essential part of addressing the needs of these people and providing a route to formal education, employment and training.

 

3. Response to Specific Questions

 

3.1 The likely impact of raising the participation age on strategies for addressing the needs of young people not in education, employment or training

 

There is an argument that raising the age of participation in these strategies can postpone the problem of youth unemployment rather than solve it. If an initiative to extend these strategies to a wider age range is to be delivered consistently and have real benefit then there will need to be a wide range of participation options. Some of these will need to offer maximum flexibility to engage young people who may be most vulnerable or at risk of non-participation. The Community Sector could contribute significantly to this flexibility by providing less formal, less intimidating spaces in local communities where young people live.

We believe that a tailored, flexible and holistic approach is the most effective method in supporting vulnerable NEET young people into the labour market. The community sector is more likely to be in a position to provide a personalised and differentiated service to meet individual needs, and have an emphasis on enabling young to take incremental, sustainable steps into the workforce.

 

In general, there has been a lack of strategic engagement of the community sector in both the early identification of young people vulnerable to becoming NEET and also in delivering services to those already NEET. Our members experience is that the community sector could play a key role in both of these areas. For example, community organisations are firmly rooted in their localities and are well placed to understand needs within families and communities. They are well trusted and many are already engaging with vulnerable families in a variety of ways. These links and deep rooted understanding could be better used strategically to indentify families in which, for example there is long term generational unemployment, in which young women have been teenage parents or in which older young people have been involved with the young justice system. These factors, amongst others, are more likely to be linked to young people being vulnerable to becoming NEET, and the community sector can play a key role in early identification of these and other risk factors.

 

In the same way, the community and voluntary sector should be engaged strategically in the delivery of programmes for young people already NEET, as they are more likely to be able to supply a non-stigmatised, less formal, more accessible offer which young people NEET may feel more able and motivated to access.

Case Study 1: Chester-le-Street Partnership for Community Learning and Inclusion

The Chester le Street Learning Partnership was historically a Teenage Parents Working Group, part of a Local Strategic Partnership for the now-defunct District Council. With the demise of this local authority this partnership has became a NEET working group, funded by the PCT and New College Durham, and has now been subsumed into the local Children's Board, with an emphasis on economic wellbeing for children. Provision for teen parents has increasingly fallen between health provision and children's provision in the restructured area and their funding streams. It is also one case where support that spans school and post-16 ages are essential for young NEET people who have had their schooling interrupted for significant amounts of time are essential.

 

Young parents are referred to the Partnership's programmes in the first instance by the midwife attached to the Sure Start centre. This process usually starts with a home visit with a parental engagement worker, followed up by a drop-in service which offers wellbeing support for babies and creative arts activities for young mothers. There is also intensive one-to-one postnatal support for mothers intended to act as a gentle reintroduction to structured activity for new mums, providing an opportunity to make a book for their babies, learn about healthy eating for kids and leading on to introducing other skills and economic wellbeing as an extension to these earlier activities.

 

Eventually this leads into engaging teenage parents back into some form of formal learning or training, often building upon the soft skills they have learned through the Partnership's work. Improving teenage parents' educational outcomes and helping them find long-term employment is an important part of the Sure Start centre's work in breaking generational cycles of underachievement. However, the Partnership's Lifelong Learning Coordinator Jo Forster considers becoming a teenage parent a potentially very stressful and isolating experience which can make it even harder for young people who have left school early to get back into formal learning.

 

"We have serious issues in Durham at the moment," she explains. "There is funding for teen mums in schools, and at home and in hospital, and there is money for F.E. provision. If they go to college that's fine, but there's a huge number in the communities not engaged with any of these things who need training and who need to be introduced to learning more gently. There is a huge gap in funding for community learning; the post of Sure Start midwife might be lost in March for example. She is currently the bridge between isolation and participation".

 

As a recent paper from the Partnership for Community Learning and Inclusion Teen Parents Working Group says, "As the commissioning process for the County Durham Teenage Parent Every Child Matters Theme Groups does not appear operational at present and as there is no evidence of the LCB Economic Wellbeing Group having called for tenders on the NEPO Website for the delivery of provision to teenage parents, there appears to be a gap emerging in how sustainable funds can be obtained for this valuable work to continue. This may not just be a local issue but also a county issue".

 

 

3.2 The effectiveness of the Government's NEET strategy

 

The national NEET strategy has generally been delivered within Local Authority and LSC services without a clear strategic role for the community sector. Agency-led approaches are often driven by outputs and the need to move a set number of people from point to another point within a set timeframe. This can often leads to less sustainable long-term outcomes for the 'beneficiary'. Despite considerable progress since the introduction of Connexions and general acknowledgment that NEET is shared issue across local authorities, there remains a stubborn cohort of young people NEET. Many local authorities are struggling to make further real progress. Our members' experience is that it has been very difficult or impossible for them to 'break into' and make the valuable contributions to work with NEET young people which they are well placed to make.

 

In practice, this means two things: working across providers to harness the expertise of the community voluntary sector and working across issues to ensure that problems to do with unemployment, access to education and training are tackled together.

 

Case Study 2: Trinity Community Arts, Bristol

Trinity Community Arts are a community association that run the Trinity Centre in Lawrence Hill, Bristol. They provide a high-spec space for modern performance art and community education in the heart of the most deprived ward in the South West. For several years they have held a training contract with Bristol City College to work with NEET young people aged 16 to 18, engaging with them through a variety of flexible activities including music production and performance, often with one-to-one support from a tutor. This leads on to autonomous projects and employability skills work.

 

This year their contract has shifted from an emphasis on outcomes - specifically moving young people on into more structured education, training or employment - to delivering a set number of hours support for a set number of young people over a set period of time (in this case 250 hours for 65 young people during this school year). This, says Trinity's Activities Coordinator Emma Harvey, misses the point of involving the Third Sector in this type of work.

 

"The interesting thing about the funding this year is it's not about moving them on into employment or formal training that they are enthusiastic about. We can do all 250 hours with them but they haven't necessarily moved on at all, they can still be in the same place as before. In fact, they quite like being here so they don't necessarily want to move on."

 

Harvey feels that this shift to a more class-like structure is driven by a move away from providing pre-EET "gateways" to funding formal outputs-based learning, but that it ultimately will not benefit the most difficult and vulnerable NEET cases. "It doesn't make any sense to try and emulate the classroom in a community setting. We work with people who aren't involved in any other services; we literally recruit them from off the street. The tutors will set them work that responds to where these young people are at - each young person is really different and they drop out for different reasons. Nine times out of ten it's a matter of confidence; sometimes no-one's ever told them they're good at anything. We don't put a lot of pressure on them to begin with, but we tell them that what they've produced is really good, then start introducing them back into work or education when they're able to handle it. We must be there for people when they need us, which isn't necessarily at the start of the academic year."

 

She underlines the need to recognise the value of the gateways to learning and employment that community organisations can be for those most in need of support. "Contracts need to be built on the people who are working with young people and what they actually do with them. Being more outcomes-focussed is much better. Our work is holistic and we need to respond to their needs; the main focus should be on moving them on and getting them into work."

 

 

3.4 Services and programmes 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"

 

There is a sub-group of the NEET cohort who are willing and able to engage but who have possibly dropped out of FE realising that full time education is not the right option for them. Given the scarcity of employment, the only realistic option is E2E. These provisions are often perceived as lower quality, stigmatised offers which lack appeal to young people who are NEET. There needs to be a more flexible range of EET options, in different locations delivered by a wider range of providers. The delivery market needs to be opened up so that it is accessible to a wider range of providers, including voluntary and community organisations.

3.5 The opportunities and future prospects in education, training and employment for 16-18 year olds

 

Vulnerable young people NEET would benefit from being able to 'build up' 'EET hours' flexibly across a range of provision and be able to reach EET by doing so (and therefore claim EMA). This approach could draw in a wider range of expertise in terms of providers, provide acknowledgement where young people are taking part in positive options and integrate things like work experience or volunteering.

 

Local authority -led approaches to social problems can often struggle to engage and earn the respect of their client group. Voluntary and community organisations generally have greater credibility with their beneficiaries as a result of their bottom-up community roots approach and their 'real work' environments.

 

Voluntary and community led solutions for young people who are NEET could be more widespread and more effective. However this will require a step-change in policy support for the sector's contribution.

 

December 2009