Memorandum submitted by West Nottinghamshire College

 

 

1. POLICY DRIVERS

1.1 The NEET Strategy published by DCSF in 2008 was designed both to make sure that the 'frictional' group who are NEET for a short period of time are re-engaged as quickly as possible; and to make sure that there is intensive action to address the problems of the long term NEET group. By delivering this strategy, the Government hoped that the number of young people classed as NEET would sharply be reduced by engaging young people and keeping them engaged in education and training until they are 18, with a smooth onward transition to further education or employment. This was to ensure that ahead of 2013, when the age of participation is raised to 17 years old, there would be a system in place to engage many more young people in learning and work.

 

2. THE FACTS

2.1 Analysis of the latest NEET Quarterly Labour Force Survey shows that the overall proportion of the 16-24 Cohort with NEET status rose from 16.2% for the third quarter in 2008 to 18.0% for the same period in 2009. This corresponds to a total number for the third quarter of 2009 of 1,082,000.

 

3. THE ISSUE

"We urgently need a more relevant education system - with more vocational options for young people who are not suited to narrow, academic learning".

Martin Narey Chief Executive Barnardo's - The Guardian June 2009.

 

3.1 Being NEET has a negative impact on future outcomes for young people, and is also costly to society. The measurement of NEET status runs from age 16 to 24, but the underlying causes can start much earlier. Impending educational policy changes should better prepare all young people to make successful transitions to adulthood, and should mean that there will be no 16 to 18 year-old people NEET. However, there is a risk that the problem will just be delayed until age 19 to 24. As youth unemployment hits the 1 million mark, there is increasing attention on what can be done to make a difference to these young people. It is essential therefore that the potential of the nation's young people is maximised.

 

 

4. WEST NOTTINGHAMSHIRE COLLEGE - A RESPONSE TO THE LOCAL NEET POPULATION

4.1 The term 'NEET' suggests a homogenous group whereas in reality, the reasons why young people are NEET are as diverse as young people themselves. Even the most outspoken and seemingly confident young person can feel an overwhelming anxiety when faced with the decision of walking through the doors of a busy college environment. That's not to mention the young people who may have been bullied, told by their peers that education does not matter, suffer from undiagnosed dyslexia, or have caring responsibilities and need flexibility within their courses.

 

4.2 All of these situations can leave a young person feeling unable to cope and not ready to make a decision; often they decide not to engage in any type of education, employment or training and become a 'NEET' government statistic. To this end, In November 2006, the West Nottinghamshire College investigated the feasibility of developing the Ashfield Project, a centre specifically set up to re-engage and support young people who are, or at risk of becoming, NEET.

 

4.3 On completion of the feasibility study and approval from the College Executive Team, a Project Manager was appointed to develop and oversee the project. It was agreed that there would be six vocational subjects offered, including Level 1 Motorcycle, Childcare, Business Administration, Fashion and Clothing and Interactive Media. Entry 2/3 Pathway to Employment with vocational taster options would also be offered. In 2008/09, the curriculum offer was extended to include Hair and Beauty and a new hair and beauty salon was established to deliver the curriculum.

 

4.4 The Project is located at one of the College's smaller sites, providing a specialised facility with a key focus on the NEET group and smaller class sizes ensure students receive the attention and support needed. Each vocational area is allocated workshop and classroom space; themed to reflect the occupational area. Teaching staff are from the College's Schools of Learning, thus ensuring that all provision is supported by the College internal quality assurance processes. Learning is through practical activities and workshops with essential skills embedded into the vocational programme; the provision also includes aspects of social responsibility through volunteering.

4.5 Also on offer is access to a free bus service to and from College, a free breakfast before 9.00 am and counselling/health and wellbeing clinics. Learners attend half and full day visits throughout the year to the College's other campuses to meet learners on similar courses to help them gain an insight into other College sites and support them in aspiring to continue their studies at a higher level at a different location. All learner admissions are dealt with directly through the centre rather than the central admissions process, removing the barrier of having to go to a main College site to complete their individual assessment and interviews.

 

4.6 The 'wrap around' support services at Ashfield are delivered by the Learner Coach and Learner Support Coordinators. Experience has proved that these roles are crucial to the success of the learners and the activities offered have acted as motivators to challenge learners to achieve in order to attend. Holistic development around social and personal responsibility and raised levels of self-esteem and aspiration are all evident in the young people who have attended. Learner Voice activities also provide learners with a forum to feedback on their experience and empower them to contribute to the development of their centre and feed into the self assessment and quality improvement process. Ofsted inspected the Ashfield provision as part of the WNC inspection conducted in May 2008 and found the provision to be outstanding.

 

"The College's response to educational and social inclusion is imaginative and highly effective."

 

"The Ashfield campus, which caters exclusively for learners who did not succeed at school, is an excellent example of the College's imaginative and highly effective response to community needs."

Ofsted Inspection Report: July 2008

 

4.7 In the first year of the Project, (2007/08), 79 young people were referred to WNC Ashfield; 63 enrolled and 49 successfully completed their programme. Currently 125 learners attend the Ashfield Centre, 133 are expected and the target was 120. There is good progression for learners at the centre and 8 learners from the first cohort are now studying at level 3. The Centre is well resourced with specialist staff including a specialist e2e advisor on hand to give advice and guidance. The Centre plans to run a young parents' group to help both male and female students in parenting skills and the team have introduced crew points this year that enable students to accumulate points that can then be 'spent' on trips as a reward for good behaviour. Termly celebration of achievements are held to reward progress. For the first time this summer, the team also offered a summer school to enable young people to get used to the centre. This will be expanded and developed for summer 2010. Plans for the future include the development of a second centre within Mansfield and site options are currently being explored with the hope that the centre can be open for September 2010.

 

4.8 External dissemination has already started with colleagues from colleges within and outside of the vicinity together with representatives from the Home Tutoring Service visiting Ashfield to share good practice in providing for the NEET group. Internally, the success and lessons learned from Ashfield have been shared, leading to a greater understanding of the issues of meeting the needs of those classed as NEET. It is more difficult to evidence the journey of personal growth that learners have experienced. Many have surpassed their initial aspirations and now realise that they have the opportunity to experience a wider world. All have developed the confidence to move out of their comfort zone and progress to further courses or employment.

 

5. LESSONS LEARNED

5.1 Engagement

5.1.1 Although recent reforms in education are providing new opportunities for young people to stay in some form of education or training, the high percentage of those classed as NEET shows that traditional routes of engaging students will not work for some therefore there should be an even stronger emphasis on partnership working with Connexions and other providers of support.

 

5.1.2 It is also important to engage with parents. A home where barriers to a better quality of life, such as a lack of social networks, affordable childcare, and limited employment offers can restrict any aspirations that a young person may have for the future. It can be especially difficult to engage with parents if they themselves have had a negative experience of education. Therefore there should be services and programmes available to support parents alongside their children.

 

5.1.3 Perhaps the biggest challenge is to engage schools. Young people likely to be NEET can often be identified in Years 9 or 10 therefore early intervention is needed to address problems such as disruptive behaviour which can lead to a pupil being excluded. Therefore learning social and inter-personal skills should be an important part of the curriculum. Teachers should also be able to provide their students with up-to-date guidance on the requirements needed for chosen career paths and the financial support available.

 

5.2 Resourcing

5.2.1 Advice and guidance for young people on how to progress is often of variable quality and not provided face-to-face therefore, to help the most vulnerable to access education and its associated external services, a joined-up, holistic service is required. However, effective contracting and management of a wide range of providers, who between them are able to provide a comprehensive set of activities, support and learning will be resource-intensive and current funding is insufficient for the wraparound services that would be needed.

 

5.3 A Different Approach

5.3.1 The Ashfield Project has shown that disaffected young people are better suited to learning in a smaller, more intimate environment with a critical mass of around 125 students, and where staff are aware of the values that are crucial to the project's success. Motivation is one of the biggest barriers to learning therefore creating an interest in learning is a major challenge. A standard curriculum will not necessarily work for all learners therefore a creative, flexible framework is needed to engage their interest and which is tailored to their own personal needs and aspirations.

 

5.4 Enabling Transition

5.4.1 Poor advice and guidance can lead to potential students making the wrong choices about which subjects to study, making unrealistic applications or not applying at all. While disadvantaged young people are aware that their poor educational achievement holds them back, they do not fully understand the long-term implications of leaving school without qualifications until they are much older and therefore it is crucial that there are incentives to remain in education or training.

 

5.4.2 Enabling transition is not simply about getting young people off the street. Interventions need to provide the necessary stepping stones to allow them to move on to mainstream learning and work. Intervention measures also need to provide confidence and self-esteem boosting activities to allow young people to feel a real sense of achievement - in some cases this will be for the first time. This is crucial to enabling previously disaffected young people to make a successful transition to education, employment or training. Key interventions to enable a smooth transition to sustained positive destinations should include features such as:

learning experiences which engage and motivate all young people, and encourage them to attend;

appropriate and relevant curricular pathways, personalised to meet individual needs;

positive and supportive relationships with staff;

recognition of, and respect for young people;

planned development of skills for employability;

nurturing of personal qualities such as confidence and resilience;

listening to young people, taking their views seriously and responding positively where possible;

close tracking and monitoring of the progress of all learners and

recognising and celebrating individual achievements within a wide range of contexts and communicating these to young people themselves and to potential employers

5.4.3 Finally, the measure of success should not be how many young people are taken off the streets and put into education, training or employment but how many move into sustainable continued or further education or employment and rich, fulfilling lives.

 

6. THE WAY FORWARD

6.1 There is no doubt that government policy over the past two decades has gone all out to redress the NEET problem but despite a range of initiatives designed to tackle the problem, such as the Connexions service, more still needs to be done.

6.3 Perhaps the single most important question we should ask ourselves is why allow a young person to become NEET in the first place? Future policy should look at how we prevent the problem as well as build on successful strategies for engaging young people post-16. Prevention means identifying the multiple and complex issues that may lead a young person to become NEET early. This means that primary and secondary schools as well as other agencies need to be engaged right from the start. The mechanisms, infrastructure and funding need to be an enabler of this process.

6.2 Against a backdrop of the current economic downturn, coupled with the machinery of government changes over 16-19 funding, local areas face significant challenges therefore there is the risk that the NEET group as a priority may be overlooked. Raising the participation age should enable all young people to make a successful transition into adulthood and reduce the numbers who are NEET, however there is a risk that this will only delay the problem until age 19 to 24.

 

6.3 The Government has committed itself to investing in unemployment programmes but education still needs to be the preferential route to improving opportunities. Throughout the country there are good examples of effective engagement by the 14-19 age group in a flexible curriculum and public funding for projects such as the Ashfield project should be a consideration when weighing up costs - both economic and social. A recent study found that the 157,000 young people aged 16-19 who were classed as NEET in the UK population in 1999 would accrue additional lifetime costs of around 7bn in resource terms and 8.1bn in additional public spending. The per head equivalents are 45,000 in resource costs and 52,000 in public finance costs.

 

6.4 For the Government's policies to succeed, education providers must continually find ways to engage those not in education, employment or training. As one young man summed it up whilst talking to The Chair of the British Youth Council - "I'm not hard-to reach; I'm just easy to ignore".

 

 

December 2009