Memorandum submitted by Careers South West

 

1. Executive Summary

 

1.1 Careers South West Ltd delivers the Connexions Service across Cornwall and Devon and the nextstep adult advice service across the south west region. In addition the company delivers Education Business Partnership services and has developed the widely recognised Investor in Careers award.

 

1.2 Many young people spend only a short time NEET but some are NEET for an extended period or move frequently in and out of NEET status, unable to sustain engagement.

 

1.3 Whilst our local NEET rates have generally been between 5.5% and 6.5% over the last year the proportion of young people that enter NEET status at some point within two years of completing compulsory education is much higher. 14.3% of 2007 leavers had been NEET by June 2008 and 23.4% by June 2009.

 

1.4 Identifying those most likely to become longer term or repeatedly NEET is a process best carried out during compulsory education. As a universal service schools are well placed to identify those at risk and Connexions are well placed to support and track progress.

 

1.5 Risk factors have been accurately identified in national and local research and include poor achievement, poor attendance, exclusion from school, being looked after by the local authority, being involved with the youth justice system and being a young carer or parent.

 

1.6 Once out of the compulsory education phase Connexions tracks the progress of young people but some partner agencies need to notify Connexions more quickly when young people are at imminent risk of becoming NEET.

 

1.7 Young people who are home educated are currently more likely to fall through the net because Connexions does not always know who or where they are.

 

1.8 Programmes and support for NEET young people should be flexible and individualised. Often one organisation cannot supply all that a young person needs so the best programmes are often co-ordinated by one organisation but involve provision being purchased from several.

 

1.9 A 'gradually sloping ramp' to engagement is often needed for those who have been disengaged from education and training for extended periods.

 

1.10 A trusted and supportive adult, but one that is also prepared to challenge when appropriate, can be very important to successfully re-engaging NEET young people.

1.11 NEETs are getting older and the NEET rate for 16 year olds has fallen in the last year, despite the recession. The reverse is true for 18 year olds. The evidence suggests young people are choosing to remain in learning for longer but are sometimes struggling to find work when they do enter the labour market.

 

1.12 Transitions from education to the labour market are becoming more extended for young people and they need excellent careers advice and careers education to navigate their way through complex choices. Good and impartial careers advice for all, differentiated according to need, is essential to reducing the level of NEETs and ensuring young people maximise their potential.

 

1.13 It is essential that the right mix of flexible learning provision is in place as we move towards the raising of the participation age. Currently many FE courses still only have a single start date in September. Young people dropping out of courses but wishing to start an alternative full time course often have to wait for a significant amount of time.

 

1.14 A proportion of NEET young people are not available as opposed to unemployed, for example teenage mothers and other young carers. Their needs will need to be considered carefully as the raising of the participation age is approached.

 

2. Introduction

 

2.1 Careers South West Ltd delivers the Connexions Service in the far south west on behalf of the local authorities of Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly, Devon, Plymouth and Torbay. The company also holds contracts to deliver Education, Business Partnership (EBP) work in Devon and Torbay and the 'nextstep' adult information, advice and guidance service across the south west region. In addition we developed the widely respected and used Investor in Careers quality mark for excellence in the delivery of careers education.

 

2.2 We have very extensive experience of working with NEET young people and those at risk of becoming NEET and have built up significant expertise in this area. We have very successfully piloted activity agreements and been contracted (mainly through the LSC) to co-ordinate and deliver a number of additional programmes aimed at helping NEET and at risk young people. We have conducted our own research studies into NEETs and have built up considerable insights into what works.

 

 

3. Strategies for identifying young people at risk of becoming NEET

 

3.1 The DCSF's NEET strategy rightly identified that many young people become NEET for only a short period, quickly re-engaging in learning or work, and only a small proportion are continuously long term NEET. Our experience, however, would indicate that in addition to the continuously long term NEET there is another group of young people who 'churn' around the system and who have multiple spells spent NEET, finding it difficult to sustain their engagement. Our own research found that, of those who became NEET within two years of completing compulsory education just over 61% had a single NEET spell, whilst approximately 25% had two spells spent NEET. The remainder, just under14%, had three or more NEET periods and it is this group who often require as much help as the continuously long term NEET.

 

3.2 The effect of churn also means that a significant proportion of all young people are likely to have at least one short spell spent NEET within two years of completing compulsory education. Our local research found that of those who completed compulsory education in 2007 14.3% had been NEET by the summer of 2008 and 23.4% by the summer of 2009.

 

3.3 It is important, therefore, to differentiate between those young people who may have a short spell spent NEET because they decide they have made a wrong choice and those who are much more likely to remain NEET for a long period or repeatedly re-enter the NEET group. The former group are often willing and able to quickly re-engage and are much less likely to become unemployed as adults, whilst the latter group are of much greater concern and often need much more intensive support. In some ways the measure of NEETs is something of a blunt instrument since it fails to differentiate between these very different groups.

 

3.4 Identification of those more likely to become long term or repeatedly NEET is a process best carried out whilst young people are still in their compulsory education phase, and the earlier the better. There has been much national and local research which has clearly identified the characteristics and circumstances that increase the risk of subsequent (longer term) NEET status. These include poor educational attainment, being looked after by the local authority, have a learning difficulty/disability, being involved with the youth justice system, having a record of truancy, being excluded from school, being a young carer and being a teenage parent.

 

3.5 The youth cohort study bulletin[1] published in June 2008 found that of 16 year olds with 5 or more good GCSEs only 2% were NEET whilst this rose to 28% of those with between 1 and 4 D - G grades and 36% of those with no qualifications. 27% of persistent truants were NEET compared with 5% of those with no record of truancy. 16% of those entitled to free school meals were NEET compared with 7% of those not entitled. Those whose parents were in professional occupations were much less likely than others to be NEET.

 

3.6 Taking all of the risk factors outlined above into account it is our view that schools are particularly well placed to make an initial early identification of young people at risk of becoming NEET. As a universal service schools have contact with the huge majority of children and young people and often know of home circumstances. Connexions services also deliver a universal service to young people and work across school and post 16 provider boundaries. Working with schools, Connexions organisations are ideally placed to offer additional support to those at greater risk of poor post 16 outcomes, particularly at key transition points. As the agency that is responsible for tracking the progress of young people up to the age 19, Connexions also has a vital role to play in identifying those young people who subsequently become NEET.

 

3.7 Once a young person has completed compulsory education other providers have an important role to play in identifying young people who are at imminent risk of NEET status. These include FE colleges, training providers and employers. We are pleased that post 16 learning providers are now required to notify Connexions of early leavers but would point out that this is not always done as swiftly as we would like.

 

3.8 Connexions comprehensively follow up all 16 year olds at the end of their compulsory education to verify their education and training status. The service then continues to keep in touch with young people but, because of the scale of the task, it is essential that other agencies, including those in the third sector, are encouraged to notify Connexions (with appropriate consent from the young person) as soon as they know of a newly NEET young person. Swift action to identify newly NEET young people is essential to ensure that they can be quickly re-engaged in learning and work before becoming demotivated.

 

3.9 Young people that are home educated are at much higher risk of falling through the net than those educated in a more formal setting. We are pleased that the DCSF has recently consulted on proposals to tighten up the system with regard to registration and monitoring of this growing group of young people. Connexions services are not always aware of all those who are home educated and this is situation which should be rectified.

 

 

4. Services and programmes to support NEET young people and those at risk of becoming NEET

 

4.1 A recurring theme throughout the research literature on NEET young people is that they are not a homogenous group. Each NEET young person has their own set of individual circumstances and needs and it is therefore essential that provision to support them is individualised. Programmes that offer a 'one size fits all' approach are less likely to be successful than those that are tailored to the individual needs of each young person.

 

4.2 Some young people need packages of learning and support that cannot be provided by a single organisation. Our experience of co-ordinating a national Activity Agreement pilot and other specialist locally designed provision is that it is very helpful to buy in provision from a number of providers for a single young person. For example, a young person may need help with basic skills from a specialist provider, but they may also need help with anger management, confidence building, motivation and personal issues. In these circumstances it is highly unlikely that a single provider could supply all that is required and it may be necessary to broker a package from 4 or 5 different organisations.

 

4.3 A trusted adult can also be an important factor in ensuring that those with greater barriers remain engaged. Whilst the young person may benefit from a range of provision such as that described above, an adult who oversees the whole package and keeps regularly in touch with the young person is often an important source of support, advice, challenge and motivation. In our own Activity Agreement and 'New Leaf' (for those aged 14+) provision it is generally the Connexions Personal Adviser that will play this central role of support to the young person, co-ordinating the provision and, where necessary, challenging poor attendance or an apparent lack of motivation.

 

4.4 Excellent and universally available careers advice, differentiated according to need, is essential to reducing the level of NEET young people. It is also helps to ensure that all young people maximise their potential and make successful transitions across education, training and work.

 

4.5 For some young people a 'gradually sloping ramp' to engagement is necessary. It may be realistic in the first instance to expect only a few hours per week of activity. Subsequently this can be built upon with the aim of eventually engaging the young person in full time, mainstream learning or work options. It is vital to ensure that activities that will help to motivate the individual are identified and built in to programmes. Some young people may rarely have felt any sense of achievement so building in activities where they can succeed can be a very important motivator and boost to their self esteem.

 

4.6 For those still in statutory education but at risk of disengaging a more flexible curriculum with links to outside providers can be effective. A more flexible, vocationally centred curriculum with links to FE and the world of work can be effective for those who struggle with a more traditional approach.

 

4.7 There needs to be more flexible entry to many FE courses. Too many courses still have a single September entry point so that young people who discontinue a course at Christmas, but wish to start an alternative full time course may have to mark time until the following September. In the meantime they may struggle to find suitable and relevant employment and/or training in the interim, risking the demotivation that can accompany an extended NEET spell.

 

 

 

5. The effectiveness of the Government's NEET strategy

 

5.1 There is much to be commended in the Government's NEET strategy and further progress has been made since its publication, despite the economic recession. National and local evidence supports the view that NEET rates have fallen amongst 16 year olds. For 18 year olds, however, the situation is less positive and this seems likely to be directly related to the current economic situation.

 

5.2 In the south west the NEET rate for 16 year olds fell by 9% between June 2008 and June 2009. Across England the equivalent rate was down by 3%. Over the same period, however, the rate for 18 year olds rose by 25% in the south west and 10% for the whole of England. The percentage of 16 year olds choosing to remain in full time education has risen consistently over the last 10 years.

 

5.3 What appears to be happening, therefore, is that young people are delaying their entry to the labour market. For those who do not progress to higher education though, prospects at 18 have deteriorated significantly over the last 18 months. The current version of the national NEET strategy (as at 8 December 2009) does highlight the fast tracking of young people to New Deal at 18 where they have previously been NEET. It fails however, to make any links to the adult information, advice and guidance services (IAG), currently provided under the 'nextstep' brand. We feel this is an important omission.

 

5.4 Increasingly, transitions for young people from school to the labour market are becoming extended and there needs to be greater coherence between services for children/young people and services for adults.

 

5.5 It is clear that public services are likely to experience significant efficiencies and cost saving measures over the next few years. To devote insufficient resources to front line services working to engage more young people in learning and work, however, is likely to be counter productive. Cutting back on high quality IAG, learning and support provision is likely to lead to increased NEET rates, not just amongst 16 - 18 year olds but also amongst young people in their twenties.

 

 

 

6. The likely impact of raising the participation age on strategies for addressing the needs of NEET young people

 

 

6.1 It will become even more essential to ensure that the right mix of flexibly configured learning provision is in place from 2013 to support the first phase of the raising of the participation age. Currently at least a part of the NEET churn phenomenon is due to young people making choices which they later regret, causing them to drop out of courses or other provision. Some are NEET for a short period and may then mark time by finding a temporary job (without formal learning) until they can start another full time course the following September. Once the participation age is increased we assume a job without training would no longer be acceptable, unless the young person also participates separately in qualifying learning.

 

6.2 Where a young person moves to a work based route such as an apprenticeship at 16, but is subsequently made redundant, they will similarly need an appropriate alternative which is readily available.

 

6.3 In these circumstances it is vital that young people are assisted to make the right choice first time through a combination of excellent careers education, individual careers advice and appropriate taster opportunities during school years 7 to 11. We welcome the entitlement to an apprenticeship place for every young person who is appropriately qualified from 2013. We have some concerns though, about those young people who may not be suited to further full time education and who do not have the appropriate qualifications for an apprenticeship.

 

6.4 A proportion of NEET young people are currently classed as not available for education, training and employment as opposed to unemployed. Amongst these are teenage mothers and others who may have caring responsibilities. Often it is much more difficult for them to attend formal learning provision for a set number of hours. Careful consideration will need to be given to their needs in the run up to raising the participation age.

 

 

December 2009

 



[1] DCSF/National Statistics Statistical Bulletin: Youth Cohort Study and Longitudinal Study of Young People in England: The Activities and Experiences of 16 year olds: England 2007. On line version available at:

http://www.dcsf.gov.uk/rsgateway/DB/SBU/b000795/index.shtml