Memorandum submitted by the 157 Group

The 157 Group consists of 27 of the largest General FE Colleges in England, all of whom are graded good or excellent for leadership. Together they have a combined turnover of over 1.5 billion; they educate 650,000 students and employ almost 40,000 staff. The group was formed following the recommendation of Sir Andrew Foster in his report on the future of FE that principals of large, successful colleges, with the capacity to do so, should have a greater influence in building the reputation of the sector. Current patrons include Sir Andrew Foster, Sir David Melville, Sir Mike Tomlinson, Baroness Sharp, Baroness Wall and Baroness Perry. The group meets regularly with ministers, civil servants, national agencies and key influencers to help shape and implement policy. It gives evidence to select committees and produces policy papers as well as acting as a peer network to disseminate excellent practice across the sector.

 

Introduction

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 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, there would be a system in place to engage many more young people in learning and work.

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.

"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.

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.

There are key emerging policy challenges which will impact significantly on 14 to 19 providers, funding and commissioning agencies and awarding bodies. These challenges include: a larger provider base and more competition (e.g. new builds, new Academies); a declining 16 to 18 cohort; public spending pressures; a more costly curriculum delivery base (e.g. implementation of 17 diploma lines by 2013 and the movement of E2E to a unitised foundation learning model).

 

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

FE Colleges are highly experienced in working with partners in identifying, targeting and engaging disaffected groups but the more they develop their activities to support these group the more costly the engagement activity and subsequent additional learning support.

Many Colleges have established an evidence base, endorsed by other national findings (Drivers and Barriers to Educational Success, DCSF, April 2009) which pinpoint the key determinants of disaffection: home lives; school environments; and deprived neighbourhoods. For instance analysis of NEET learner profiles shows that they:

- are more likely to grow up in a lone parent household

- go to schools of lower quality

- are less likely to enjoy school

- have less positive relations with their teachers

- have lower aspirations for their future (often linked to lower parent aspirations)

- are more likely to experience bullying at school

- do not feel that their future economic destiny is within their own locus of control

- have access to fewer educational resources such as private tuition, computer or internet access

Consequently this work requires more intensive support and is more expensive to deliver than standard mainstream programmes due to additional curriculum units, more intensive partnership working and recording of progress.

157 Colleges work closely with schools, often through a 'Personalised Learning' sub group of the local 14-19 Consortium. The purpose of this group is broadly to develop an alternative curriculum offer to retain harder to reach students and to meet the needs of young people at risk of falling into NEET. We would strongly recommend that a requirement for such a focussed committee is established within 14-19 consortium arrangements.

In addition to working with schools on the 14-19 Diplomas, colleges continue to offer vocational pre- 16 programmes for those students whose personal learning needs are not met by a more academic approach.

It is important to align this work with other key city wide initiatives such as the apprenticeship guarantee scheme. Vulnerable groups such as care leavers, teen parents, ex-offenders, etc will be more at risk during the economic downturn and it is therefore important to explore the potential of "ring-fencing" apprenticeship opportunities in the public sector to these groups. It is vital that any discussions about NEET as a priority group include how they receive mainstream funding.

 

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.

For young people aged 14-16 many 157 Colleges have started to work with schools on Foundation Learning and the development of compacts for progression. Colleges have also developed a whole college approach to initial advice and guidance, interviewing and initial and diagnostic assessment. A range of flexible learning opportunities that are responsive to the varied needs of young people who are at risk of becoming NEET have/are being developed.

Using the work of Highbury College Portsmouth as an example, programmes can be grouped as such:

A 'Moving On' programme which incorporates personal development, work skills, Literacy and Numeracy and vocational units in at least two sector subject areas; this programme provides opportunities for students to gain qualifications at entry through to Level 2

A 'Back on Track' programme designed for students with mental health issues and run in partnership with the local NHS Trust; this programme has a strong focus on developing confidence through the 'Get Connected' curriculum, as well as providing opportunities for students to gain credits/qualifications at entry through to Level 2

 

Vocationally specific programmes at Level 1 and 2, supported by Literacy, Numeracy and employability skills

 

Highbury College Portsmouth is participating in an initiative funded by the Learning and Achievement Service for a modular Foundation Learning programme for up to 40 young people in Portsmouth who are not in employment, education or training. The programme will be run in partnership with Connexions, Learning Links and other local agencies to re engage young people and provide progression pathways to further study or work. The 'Jump Start' transition programme will provide vocational tasters with a core of Literacy and Numeracy, personal development, employability and work skills offered from Entry Level to Level 2. Students will study for 12 hours a week for 6 weeks. Students have the opportunity to select two vocational areas of study as part of the programme.

 

In addition the College is working towards providing multiple entry points throughout the year and a flexible college curriculum framework to support progression. Close partnership working with a broad range of external agencies e.g. Connexions, Headspace, the Youth Opportunities Team, Social Services, local advice and guidance projects and voluntary groups is essential to a holistic support process.

 

Incorporating work related and social enterprise activities within the curriculum results in the raising of student confidence and self esteem and provides them with the opportunity to make a contribution to the College and their local community whilst

building capacity for qualifications offered at different levels within programmes gives both the opportunity for early achievement and the building up of credits.

 

 

The effectiveness of the Government's NEET strategy

 

The term NEET is a deficit term and is unhelpful

'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.

A problem arises in that there is a need for targeted support - a gap develops for some vulnerable young people from the age of 19 due to the funding regime.

There is a general issue around the sharing of information which needs to improve.

There is a need for a multi-agency approach across the statutory, voluntary and private sectors

NEET data is problematic - there has to be a range of initiatives and support to meet the requirements of different groups e.g. some young people are long term NEET and others move in and out of NEET at any one time

 

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, so there should be an even stronger emphasis on partnership working with Connexions and other providers of support.

 

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 opportunities 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.

 

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. 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 signpost the financial support available.

 

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.

 

At West Nottinghamshire College 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, 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 so a creative, flexible framework is needed to engage their interest and which can be tailored to their own personal needs and aspirations.

 

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 so it is crucial that there are incentives to remain in education or training.

 

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

 

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.

 

 

The raising of the participation age

 

Current progression pathways are not sufficiently flexible to respond to the broad range of complex needs of young people who are NEET. Due to the complexities of funding the unitisation of curriculum for students aged 14-19 cannot be fully developed prior to 2013. In 2013 we will have detailed proposals of how the 14-19 qualifications will be moved onto the Qualification Credit Framework which is essential to the delivery of flexible programmes.

 

Raising the participation age will not tackle NEETS unless we get the curriculum right, regardless of age. A range of options is required if we are to attract the young people back who are probably not going to school anyway. Work experience opportunities play a crucial part in the required range of options.

 

 

The opportunities and future prospects

 

There is no doubt that government policy over the past two decades has truly attempted 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.

 

Perhaps the single most important question we should ask 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.

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.

 

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.

 

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".

 

 

 

 

 

The 157 Group would like to acknowledge the contributions of Asha Khemka, Principal of West Nottinghamshire College and Sue Ward, Head of Centre, Skills for Life and Work at Highbury College Portsmouth made in drafting this submission.

December 2009