Memorandum submitted by the Association of School and College Leaders

 

Introduction

1 The Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL) represents over 15,000 members of the leadership teams of secondary schools and colleges throughout the UK.

2 ASCL members are in the forefront of developing and providing opportunities for young people to continue with study and training and are pleased to share their experience with the Children, Schools and Family Committee.

3 The evidence below cites many examples of good practice and ASCL members would welcome the opportunity to expand on these if required.

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

4 Schools and colleges have a range of sophisticated strategies which they employ to identify those in danger of NEET.

5 These include 'at risk' registers that are maintained by pastoral tutors. Based on a selection of common characteristics of learners that do not complete courses, including socio-economic, prior achievement, health, distance to travel to study factors, these records are used sensitively and confidentially by personal tutors to monitor 'at risk' learners.

6 Regular individual tutorials are held and additionally when required in order to allow tutors to support learners in danger of leaving a programme before its completion.

7 Colleges and schools have also established central student databases that are available for all teachers to access confidentially in order to monitor progress of learners across all their activities. These automatically highlight repeated unexplained absences, problems with submitting work for assessment or, with the learner's permission, personal circumstances that could affect the commitment of a learner to his or her course.

8 East Ayrshire authority has developed a Secondary School database system that uses data already collected to identify those students that may need additional support to settle on transition from primary to secondary school.

9 Schools in the Tower Hamlets Local Authority use their excellent working relationship with Connexions to benefit from information obtained in interviews with learners in planning individual support.

10 ASCL members will be pleased to demonstrate examples of these tools, including a college system that has received an AoC Beacon Award, to the committee.

11 There is evidence to suggest that young people make their decisions about the future at a far earlier age than was traditionally recognised. The work of such universities as Kent and Salford Young People's University is designed to encourage young people to aspire to higher education, thus avoiding becoming NEET.

12 Other good examples of university links with schools include Plymouth University through the Widening Participation agenda, Oxford University working with primary and secondary schools in Banbury and schools in Stoke that have good working relationships with Staffordshire and Keele universities. These initiatives raise aspirations and encourage learners from families that would not otherwise have considered progression to Higher Education.

13 ASCL members are keen to emphasise their support for the work of the Aim Higher programme, which has had a sustained effect in supporting attempts to raise aspiration and provide opportunities for young people.

14 The work of Action on Access, which is described at www.actiononaccess.org is a successful national example of strategic action to encourage young people to remain in education and ASCL is represented on its advisory board.

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

15 In curriculum terms, secondary schools and colleges have developed programmes that are designed to encourage young people to achieve, ensuring that their offer includes opportunities at all levels.

16 Many local partnerships have developed curriculum that is shared between schools and colleges - for example in Horticulture and Information and Communications Technology (ICT). Teaching is shared and carefully selected work experience is included in the offer. Individual programmes are often developed to meet the needs of students and this can include tailored on-line learning where the student has fallen behind his or her peers.

17 The introduction of Diplomas was intended to provide vocational opportunities for young people in danger of non-engagement. The progress so far has been slow, with concerns that Diplomas may be insufficiently 'hands on' to engage the hard to reach, particularly at level one.

18 Other concerns stem from the need to ensure that Diplomas are offered in 'bite sized chunks' so that learners may move in and out of study as their personal circumstances dictate.

19 ASCL members believe that Foundation Learning will be a useful pathway for these students but again this pathway is now under development and it will take some time for it to be available to all beyond the pilots.

20 Up to now, courses and qualifications aimed at students working below level two or students who are hard to engage have been short-lived, particularly in terms of funding and it has been difficult to plan ahead.

21 The Increased Flexibility programme is a good example of a programme that was successful in retaining students and encouraging them to remain in learning post-16, but almost impossible to offer to students in advance as funding was decided at a very late stage.

22 ASCL members hope that a similar fate will not befall Foundation Learning. We need to be able to make clear offers to students and offer qualifications and pathways that are clearly explainable and relevant to employers.

23 The offer to young learners should be widely differentiated from 14 years onwards, allowing for the full range of interests and abilities that exist in the cohort.

24 ASCL members would also welcome more opportunities for young learners to enter for qualifications early and bank their results, thus enabling them to stretch themselves.

25 There are concerns that many young learners leave their programmes at age 17, having studied chosen programmes for one year and not completed their qualification. In order to ensure that learners gain benefit from interrupted study, the speedy introduction of unitised accreditation in a wide range of subjects and at varying levels through the Qualifications Credit Framework (QCF) is essential.

26 Many colleges successfully use flexible starting dates throughout the year as a means of encouraging prospective NEETs to commence education or training, fitting in with the other aspects of the young person's life.

27 Examples of good practice in supporting young people in danger of leaving programmes include the co-location of services in schools and colleges, where Connexions, Social Services specialists and pastoral tutors work together to support individuals.

28 Further funding for enhanced individual tutorial support and mentoring is required to assist in the most difficult circumstances. Specialist support workers from a variety of backgrounds, not necessarily in teaching, are required to work with those young people in danger of missing out on their education and/or training.

29 This level of support obviously has budgetary implications, but if the government is to take its responsibility to improve the NEET situation seriously, these cannot be avoided. Indeed, an investment at this stage will contribute significantly to improving the country's future overall economic situation.

 

The effectiveness of the Government's NEET strategy

30 The Government's NEET strategy is centred on four key themes:

Careful tracking to identify those that are or at risk of NEET

Personalised guidance and support for young people to tackle barriers to learning

A flexible mix of learning provision both pre and post 16

An emphasis on rights and responsibilities in order to provide clear incentive.

31 There is a wealth of advice and guidance available on the DCSF website, including a useful NEET Toolkit which has been welcomed by members.

32 ASCL members approve the opportunity that is offered for horizontal progression through Foundation Learning and its attendant funding. This will allow for young people to build confidence as they progress to the next level.

33 However, if the progress demonstrated in implementing this strategy is to be continued, guaranteed future funding must be in place.

34 This includes funding to support individual learners (through Educational Maintenance Allowances (EMAs) and Discretionary Learner Support (dLS)) as well as funding to incentivise employers to provide employment with training and funding for providers to establish and deliver relevant programmes.

35 As guidance and support is such an important feature of the NEET strategy, related services like Connexions should also be assured of funding.

36 It is important to recognise the effect that the current recession has had on prospective learners and their families. Not only has it caused shortage of family funds to support further learning, but it has also cast doubt on the value of gaining qualifications in order to obtain employment that may not exist.

37 Funding that follows the learner and is devolved to the provider will provide the most economical and targeted means of supporting young people to become trained and contribute to the improvement of the national economic situation.

 

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

38 As many of the young people that will be included in the Raising of Participation (RPA) measures for 2013 are likely to be those who would otherwise have been NEET, attention to the composition of the cohort is required.

39 There is likely to be unwillingness from some young people to 'stay on'. Therefore the manner in which the requirements of RPA are communicated is very important. Emphasis should be given to the employment with training aspects as well as the improved opportunities for vocational training and education that are offered through RPA.

40 Information and guidance should be carefully designed to ensure the compliance of the cohort involved.

41 In theory, if the offer to these young people is correctly designed to meet their needs and interests, there will be little need for compulsion in relation to RPA. The points made above on curriculum design and unitisation are therefore central to the success of any curriculum offer.

42 It is however important that the public is aware that RPA is not simply 'staying on at school' but that it encompasses training at work. ASCL members do not believe that this message is yet fully understood.

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

43 ASCL's recently issued Manifesto includes a call for the development of a general diploma along the lines of the current Welsh Baccalaureate, which incorporates a wide range of academic and vocational qualifications. This is currently under discussion and members will share progress if required.

44 Employers also have a responsibility to engage with new curriculum through their Sector Skills Councils and to accept the qualifications that arise from it as suitable for their needs and those of their future employees.

45 The proposed new arrangements for commissioning across local partnerships will provide opportunities for joint approaches between schools, colleges and other providers, and these should be further explored in relation to NEETS.

46 Robert Hill's Achieving More Together: Adding Value for Partnership, which was written in 2008 as part of a year-long ASCL project, includes many examples and case studies of partnership and the successful application of principles formerly used in other public services to schools and colleges.

47 ASCL is pleased to enclose a copy of this book to inform its submission and would welcome a further opportunity to expand on the evidence submitted, as its members are completely committed to improving opportunities for young people who are not in education or training or are in danger of becoming so.

Malcolm Trobe

Policy Director

December 2009