Memorandum submitted by Bury Council

 

1. Executive Summary

 

1.1 Since the publication of the NEETs Strategy in 2007 there have been many welcome developments in tackling this issue including the September Guarantee, the introduction of targeted youth support and 14-19 curriculum changes.

 

1.2 Early identification processes have improved in recent years but further statutory or contractual measures may be required to ensure maximum effectiveness.

 

1.3 The role of Connexions and the CCIS database is crucial in tackling NEET.

 

1.4 The current 14-19 entitlement for young people requires further development if the needs of all young people are to be met and to support the raising of the participation age from 2013. This includes the need to review current benefit arrangements for key groups.

 

1.5 The need to develop the Apprenticeship market and also provide sufficient incentives to employers to enable young people to access learning has never been greater given the impact of the economic climate on training and employment opportunities for young people.

 

1.6 Flexibility is the key to local commissioning arrangements with the transfer of responsibility to local authorities from the LSC in 2010.

 

2. Submitter Details

 

2.1 This submission is made on behalf of Bury Council by Mark Sanders, the Chief Executive. Bury Council is currently the lead authority within the Association of Greater Manchester Authorities (AGMA) with respect to 14-19 Commissioning and previously led on Greater Manchester Connexions arrangements on behalf of AGMA.

 

3. Factual Information

 

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

 

3.1.1 Early intervention was a primary principle of the Connexions Strategy. The process of identifying those most at risk of becoming NEET using a range of indicators has been successfully adopted by the Connexions Service from Year 8 onwards.

 

3.1.2 Schools have a statutory responsibility to give "careers advisers" (i.e. Connexions Personal Advisers with careers guidance training) relevant information on pupils to support early intervention (Education and Skills Act 2008) though the effectiveness of these arrangements varies.

 

3.1.3 Learning providers are required to ensure that Connexions Services are informed about a young persons intention to leave provision or that they had already left within 5 working days of this happening. Connexions are then required to ensure swift intervention when notified of someone leaving and also to notify learning providers immediately if they find out a young person had left learning provision when no formal notification had been received. These provisions, originally part of the NEET Strategy 2007, have been implemented but the response from providers especially in the training sector with regards to timely information sharing has been inconsistent.

 

3.1.4 Connexions providers are required to have cross border arrangements in place for the sharing of data on young people as they move between areas or return to their home area from external provision. Current cross border protocols within Greater Manchester are highly effective in identifying those young people entering or returning to each area that require immediate access to additional support.

 

3.1.5 The introduction of the September Guarantee for all 16 year olds has helped to support additional early identification activities for those due to leave compulsory education but still uncertain about their future career goals.

 

3.1.6 The introduction of Targeted Youth Support will enhance early identification processes. Whilst arrangements for this initiative have been fully implemented in most local authorities in England, further work is required before these arrangements are embedded in day to day practice.

 

3.1.7 The recently published IAG Strategy announced a range of measures that should lead to greater early identification of those at risk of disengaging from learning at a younger age. These measures include plans to pilot approaches to careers education in Key Stage 2 and the provision of a personal mentor for each young person in Key Stages 3 and 4.

 

3.2 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"

 

3.2.1 National performance indicators for NEET, in learning and the September Guarantee demonstrate the positive impact of the Connexions Service on those at risk of becoming NEET and those in the NEET group itself.

 

3.2.2 The Activity Agreement Pilot, led by Connexions providers in eight areas of England, has proved to be very effective in engaging the hardest to reach in the NEET group through the offer of a weekly allowance to young people and/or parents and a programme of personalised activities over a 20 week period. The progression and retention rates in to education, employment and training from this initiative have been good - in Bury running at over 60% after 3 months in a placement - and funding has recently been extended until March 2011. This initiative is resource intensive however so future costs for such an approach would need to be considered.

 

3.2.3 Other NEET or early intervention programmes, for example European Social Fund and Key Stage 4 Engagement, are in place and are proving successful in providing a range of pre entry activity across the 14-19 age range and supporting progression. The key issue remains that the funding for such programmes is often short term in nature which can put their sustainability at risk if mainstream funding is not available.

 

3.2.4 The Learning Agreement Pilot, which ran from 2006-2009, had some success in encouraging young people in jobs without training to take up learning opportunities, enhance their employment prospects and as a result reduced 'churn' back in to the NEET group. Current Raising the Participation Age pilots, including Greater Manchester, are seeking to explore how to use the evaluation findings from this Pilot to inform future policy with regards to those in low skill employment; however, the balance between offering small and medium sized employers in particular the right incentives to release staff for training, and legal enforcement of rights to such training for employees still needs more consideration if further progress is to be made.

 

3.3 The effectiveness of the Government's NEET strategy

 

3.3.1 The Connexions Client Information System (CCIS) has proved to be an extremely effective tool for tracking young people both within geographical areas and across borders. The use of CCIS data has grown over recent years and has provided invaluable intelligence to support a number of initiatives including the September Guarantee. It is envisaged that CCIS data will also provide essential support for the planned implementation of Common Application Process by 2011 and the commissioning of provision for the 16-19 age group. The Memorandum of Understanding between the National Apprenticeship Service and local authorities recognises the fundamental role played by CCIS data in supporting apprenticeship provision and planning. (NEET Strategy 2007, 'Careful tracking')

 

3.3.2 The Connexions Service has provided both targeted and universal support for young people based on need and have been the main providers of the personalised support and guidance envisaged for this client group. The Government's policy of developing Targeted Youth Support has helped to enhance multi agency working in recent years to support those in the NEET group or at risk of becoming NEET, though it is recognised that these arrangements are still some way from being fully embedded.

 

3.3.3 The development of 14-19 Prospectuses and Common Application Processes are to be welcomed but the lack of a national model for this has hampered progress in some respects and made both initiatives too open to market forces.

 

3.3.4 The development of a variety of financial support models for vulnerable young people, including Care 2 Learn, and the widening of access to the Educational Maintenance Allowance are welcome. However, too many young people still have little financial incentive to take up learning, for example, those in supported housing face the withdrawal of all or part of their housing benefit if they enter an Apprenticeship, and these issues need to be addressed if further progress is to be made (NEET Strategy, 2007,'Personalised support and guidance')

 

3.3.5 The 14-19 curriculum reform programme has already begun to improve the range of learning opportunities available for young people, for example Diplomas, though it is still too early to fully judge the impact of these changes. The roll out of the Foundation Learning pathway from 2010 will provide greater coherence to the learning offer below NVQ Level 2 and greater access to important opportunities such as supported employment.

 

3.3.6 It is unclear whether or not the delivery methodologies and accreditation pathways within Foundation Learning will meet the needs of all young people and especially those with major barriers to learning and/or severe learning difficulties.

 

3.3.7 The range of personal development opportunities for young people has grown in recent years helped by the introduction of Positive Activities and other programmes such as the Activity Agreement; however, the impact of these is not given enough kudos, for example, young people involved in such activities are still classed as NEET when they are actually undertaking an important first step towards engagement in learning opportunities. (NEET Strategy, 2007, 'Flexible Learning Opportunities')

 

3.3.8 The September Guarantee for 16 and 17 year olds has provided an effective focus on progression at key transition points and has begun to impact on performance. Questions remain as to how responsive the opportunities market is to issues raised through the Guarantee process, for example commissioning new provision to meet demand, and it is unclear how the new arrangements for the commissioning of 16-19 provision from April 2010 will impact of this situation.

 

3.3.9 The Activity Agreement Pilot and other similar programmes have proved very effective at engaging the hardest to reach and helping them to progress, however as stated previously, such provision is very resource intensive. (NEET Strategy, 2007, 'Rights and Responsibilities')

 

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

 

3.4.1 The 14-19 entitlement covering Apprenticeships, Diplomas, Foundation Learning and general qualifications such as A Levels, alongside accredited employment will provide a relevant learning route for the majority of young people. Experience shows however that these routes will not address the needs of all young people and especially those in the more vulnerable groups, for example, entry requirements for Apprenticeships are already prohibitively high for many young people considering vocational pathways.

 

3.4.2 Various programmes and approaches have been piloted in recent years to engage the hardest to reach across the 14-19 age group including the Activity Agreement and Invest to Change with considerable success. The maintenance of such 'pre entitlement' programmes will be essential if the plans to raise the participation age are to be fulfilled and should therefore become part of the 14-19 entitlement.

 

3.4.3 The Learning Agreement Pilot demonstrated that engaging young people in jobs without training in learning through the offer of incentives to both the employer and employee was only partially successful. The incentives offered to employers to recruit young people and ensure that they can exercise their rights and access learning are crucial. There is a risk that small to medium sized employers will decide that recruiting young people is simply not economically viable if they are required to release young people for training with insufficient compensation.

 

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

 

3.5.1 CCIS management information in the last 12 months indicates large decreases in the number of employment and training opportunities available for young people as a result of the economic downturn. This illustrates the inherent fragility of these routes for young people entering the post 16 opportunities market. The development of Apprenticeship opportunities with the formation of the National Apprenticeship Service is to be welcomed though it is too early to judge impact.

 

3.5.2 The increasing breadth of further education opportunities, allied to the growth in provision such as foundation degrees are welcome. From an information, advice and guidance perspective however there are growing concerns that young people are entering further education because this is seen as the only secure route to progression in the current volatile employment and training market rather than because this is their preferred choice. This increases the likelihood of drop out from learning post 16 which is a potential risk to NEET levels unless the level and range of the training and employment opportunities for young people can meet potential demand.

 

3.5.3 The transfer of the responsibility for commissioning 16-19 provision from the LSC to local authorities from April 2010 is a major development that will require time to embed. This development will only support the future prospects of all young people in areas if there is genuine flexibility to commission local provision to meet identified needs alongside the expected commitments to sub regional commissioning and the maintenance of a large proportion of existing provision.

 

3.5.4 The IAG Strategy rightly highlights the fundamental role of high quality, impartial information, advice and guidance to enhancing prospects, ensuring that young people make informed decisions about future choices and that they raise their aspirations. This Strategy is a welcome development, however indications that IAG funding may be devolved to schools rather than invested in high quality, specialised IAG services such as Connexions may undermine this role especially given the concerns raised in this Strategy and accompanying Statutory Guidance about schools delivery of careers education and guidance over a number of years.

 

4. Recommendations for action

 

4.1 Provide more detailed statutory guidance to schools regarding the information they are required to share with other services to ensure that early identification processes are as effective as possible.

 

4.2 Enhance current contractual arrangements with post 16 providers to ensure the comprehensive and timely sharing of information to support the early identification of leavers, the September Guarantee and targeting of support activity.

 

4.3 Further develop the 14-19 Entitlement to include a 'pre entitlement' option or 'fifth pathway' covering more individualised provision for those with major barriers to learning such as the Activity Agreement.

 

4.4 Review current benefit arrangements to ensure that identified groups of young people are not financially penalised by taking up learning opportunities, for example those in supported housing.

 

4.5 Review incentives offered to employers to enable young people to access learning based on the national evaluation of the Learning Agreement Pilot.

 

4.6 Review the classification of those engaged in personal development opportunities as NEET.

 

 

 

December 2009