Memorandum submitted by Highbury College

 

1. Highbury College

 

1.1. Located in Portsmouth, Highbury College has over 45 years teaching and learning experience, and takes pride in its commitment to equality and diversity, supporting students of all abilities from all backgrounds. With over 12,000 students, the College is the top-performing general further education college in Hampshire and the Isle of Wight in terms of its 2007/2008 student success rates and in the top 6% nationally. Highbury was judged to be 'outstanding' in its approach to educational and social inclusion in the 2007 Ofsted inspection.

 

1.2. The College supports the strategies outlined in both the DCSF's Children's Plan and NEETs Strategy. The importance placed by Highbury on increasing the engagement and success of young people is clearly expressed in its Vision Plan 2008-10:

 

Key Priority 1 - Success and standards: "Our top priority is the success of our students. At Highbury, students can realise their career goals, future ambitions and aims. We raise aspirations and increase participation of all our communities..."

 

Key Priority 2 - Outstanding provision and support: "...Engaging disadvantaged and under represented groups in learning so that they can develop their potential and make a contribution to the economic and social prosperity of Portsmouth..."

 

 

2. Local Context

 

2.1. Portsmouth is the most densely populated district outside London (48.8 persons per hectare), with a population of almost 196,400. The city has an unemployment rate that is above the regional average. Approximately one quarter of the adult population suffers from poor numeracy and literacy, which is high for both the region and sub-region. Overall, it is estimated that 39% of Portsmouth's residents are sub-level 2 qualified. Therefore, the city has a major challenge to achieve government skills targets and compete in the knowledge economy. (AFL, 2008 pp.2)

 

2.2. The number of 16-18 year olds not in employment, education or training (NEET) in Portsmouth rose from 9.6% in 2008 to 10.4% in 2009 (as of 31 March 2009). The Local Strategic Partnership for Portsmouth has placed a high level of importance on tackling issues relating to NEETs; one of the Local Area Agreement's (LAA) 2008-11 main priorities is to, "improve achievement in education, skills and lifelong learning" part of which involves increasing the educational attainment of young people, helping them into better paid jobs and improving their quality of life. This priority is complimented by one of the LAA's flagship issues; the employability of young people (LSP, 2009).

 

3. How the college views NEETs

 

3.1. From the College's experience, NEETs are a heterogeneous group of individuals which loosely fit within the DCSF statistic for young people who are considered NEET. Each young person who is NEET at a particular moment in time has become so for their own contextually diverse reason. The following examples of the various circumstances of the College's students, who were previously NEET, provide a good example of the diverse range of circumstances that contribute to a young persons NEET status:

Young mothers returning to education for the first time.

Young people who have dropped out of other learning courses between September and January.

Longer term NEETs; dropped out of school with no clear direction.

Young people flitting between education and employment with no clear direction or aspirations yet.

Young people still residing at home and being pushed by their parents to take up education again.

Young people with Asperger's Syndrome.

Young people who come from a family environment of worklessness and low aspirations.

Young people who have come from local communities that have experienced long term deprivation and associated issues.

Young people with various levels of prior educational achievement from entry level 2 through to full level 2.

 

4. What the College is doing to tackle issues associated with NEETs

 

4.1. Identifying and engaging with potential NEETs

 

4.2. Highbury College has worked closely with schools through a 'Personalised Learning' sub group of the Portsmouth 14-19 Consortium. The purpose of this group is to develop an alternative curriculum offer to retain harder to reach students and to meet the needs of young people at risk of becoming NEET.

 

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

 

4.4. For young people 14-16 the College has worked with schools on Foundation Learning and developed compacts for progression. The College has also developed a whole college approach to initial advice and guidance, interviewing and initial and diagnostic assessment.

 

4.5. Flexible Learning for young people

 

4.6. For young people 16-18 at college who are at risk of leaving or failing, the College has developed a 'Support to Achieve Strategy' which is based on early intervention and intensive mentoring. This is aimed at particularly vulnerable young people, such as 'Looked after Children', young mothers and those on probation. Effective partnership working with external agencies results in students at risk of becoming NEET being identified prior to starting their college course.

 

4.7. A range of flexible learning opportunities that are responsive to the varied needs of young people who are at risk of becoming NEET have been developed. The programmes can be grouped into the following broad categories:

 

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

 

Prince's Trust programme

 

4.8. Highbury College is participating in an initiative funded by Portsmouth City Council's Children, Families and Learning Directorate's, Learning and Achievement Service. The College has provided a modular Foundation Learning programme for up to 40 young people in Portsmouth who are not in employment, education or training (NEET). The programme is run in partnership with Connexions, Learning Links and other local agencies to reengage young people and provide progression pathways to further study or work. The 'Jump Start' transition programme provides vocational tasters with a core of Literacy and Numeracy, personal development, employability and work skills offered from entry level to Level 2. Students study for 12 hours a week for 6 weeks and have the opportunity to select two vocational areas of study as part of the programme.

 

4.9. In addition, the College provides multiple entry points to programmes 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, Youth Opportunities Team, Social Services, local advice and guidance projects and voluntary groups has been essential to a holistic support process.

 

4.10. Incorporating work related and social enterprise activities within the curriculum has resulted in the raising of student confidence and self esteem. Providing young people with the opportunity to make a contribution to the College and their local community whilst simultaneously building capacity for qualifications offered at different levels within programmes, giving them both the opportunity for early achievement and the building up of credits.

 

4.11. Adult and family learning

 

4.12. A key factor in raising the aspirations of young people is raising the aspirations of their families. Highbury believes that positive learning experiences are central to this. The specific purpose of the College's Community College has been to engage adult learners and communities in lifelong learning. The College had its highest ever number of enrolments during 2009 with more than 7,500 local people taking Community College courses. The range of first-step courses was extended in 2009 and taster events were held at a wide variety of venues throughout the year. Many asylum seekers have benefited from attending courses at outreach centres in the city. The Community College helps to build confidence, communication skills, employability and promotes active citizenship.

 

5. Highbury College's recommendations:

 

6. Strategies for the identification of young people at risk of falling into the "NEET" category:

 

6.1. The College argues that further partnership working needs to take place between schools and vocational providers. In addition, schools should place a greater emphasis on the value of vocational routes and qualifications. This could be supported by target setting for schools that is linked to the numbers of young people that progress to further education.

 

6.2. The College believes that effective engagement with young people at risk of disengaging needs to take place at a much earlier point in their lives. Engagement can be initiated at an early age by a number of external agencies including colleges, learning providers and groups from the voluntary sector. Colleges have at their disposal excellent resources which can be used to engage young people. However, it is vital that the partners work together effectively and the sharing of intelligence is an important aspect of this.

 

6.3. Tackling disengagement effectively requires an understanding of what it is that children and young people themselves find engaging (Sodha & Guglielmi 2009, pp.22). The College believes that a greater focus needs to be placed on engaging young people at different levels. One way of doing this is to provide recreational and fun activities with a vocational link to potential future careers; for example, model making can be an effective way to hook a young person in and provide a gateway into a variety of relevant training activities such as construction skills, engineering and art and design.

 

6.4. Becoming disengaged does not mean that young people are devoid of aspiration. In fact evidence suggests that young people are realistic regarding the types of job they aspire to, but their underdeveloped social skills makes it difficult for them to be successful (Ducket & Grainger in LSN, 2009 pp.2). Whilst many schools try to offer good advice to young people, they are often constricted by their own assumptions; for example, automatically offering construction to males and hairdressing to female students. Attitudes need to be changed and a greater focus placed on identifying and supporting, where reasonably possible, an individual's goals. In support of this it is crucial for young people at risk to receive 1-to-1 support from an impartial buddy/mentor at an early age.

 

7. 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".

 

7.1. Evidence suggests that the greatest influence on a young person's attitude towards education comes from informal relationships within communities and their families; the most positive effect that agencies can have may be through facilitating this. Therefore, an awareness of the needs of those at risk of disengaging from learning is not only a 'NEETs' issue, but a key principle of the learning and family agenda. (CSJ & LGA, 2008 pp.24-35)

 

7.2. Using this broader perspective, the critical role played by Adult learning is clear. Adult learning is an effective way to provide parents with a positive learning experience. These activities not only facilitate the development of tangible skills, which can lead on to further educational opportunities or employment, they also allow both the parent and child to see the importance of learning. The 10% reduction in funding rates for 25+ Apprenticeships, on top of the 3% overall reduction, will have a significant impact on the ability of the college to provide Apprenticeships to adults. In addition, there are indications that funding for adult further education may be cut by as much as 10% during 2010/11. Reducing available learning opportunities will have an impact on the aspirations of parents and children and reduce their options for having positive learning experiences.

 

8. The effectiveness of the Government's NEET strategy

 

8.1. The College argues that the term NEET is a deficit term and is therefore unhelpful. This standpoint is supported by both the Centre for Social Justice and Local Government Association's 'Hidden Talents: Re-engaging Young People' report and the Engaging Youth Enquiry, (2008 pp.6) which states that NEETs terminology leads to a deficit model where young people are viewed as a problem rather than a potential asset. This hinders the development of a broader and longer term focus on supporting sustainable routes into continued learning and stable employment.

 

8.2. The College believes that NEET data is problematic. The NEET statistic does not take into account the dynamic and rapidly changing lives of young people; some young people are so called, 'long-term NEET', whilst others move in and out of being NEET (known as the 'churn' effect), others are only NEET for a brief period and are 'transitional NEET' (Hayward et al.2008 pp.6). This dynamic viewpoint highlights the need for the development of a range of initiatives and support that meets the varied requirements of these different groups.

 

8.3. The College argues that a gap develops for some vulnerable young people from the age of 19. This is highlighted by the fact that whilst Connexions support continues until the age of 21 for people leaving care and 25 for those young people with learning difficulties and or disabilities, it continues up to 19 for all other young people (CSJ & LGA, 2008 pp.20). A need still exists for further targeted support for some other groups of vulnerable people beyond the age of 19.

 

8.4. The sharing of information between relevant organisations needs to be improved. For example, it is currently very difficult for FE Colleges to get access to school data regarding potential NEETs. Another example is provided by Highbury's current January start campaign, for which flyers will be distributed through the postal system via Connexions. If Connexions were able to provide the College with contact details of local young people who are NEET, then it would be possible to use a more effective phone campaign; talking to young people individually about the services on offer.

 

8.5. There is a need for an effective multi-agency approach across the statutory, voluntary and private sectors. This is an important point, as the effort required to join up the different agencies can be a powerful distraction from focusing on the needs of individuals (CSJ & LGA, 2008 pp.24). At the moment, there is often a sense of conflict between the numerous agencies providing services.

 

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

9.1. Current DCSF 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 and success, 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.

 

9.2. Raising the participation age will not tackle NEETs issues unless we get the curriculum right. A range of options are required if we are to attract young people who have previously been failed by the school system.

 

9.3. Work experience opportunities play a crucial part in the required range of options. Therefore, employers have a vital role to play in providing apprenticeships, work experiences and volunteering opportunities for young people. Portsmouth has a high number of Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs). In order to encourage their participation there should be a facility for giving public recognition to companies who support local young people by offering such opportunities.

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

 

10.1. The transfer of commissioning and funding for 16-19 education to sub-regional groups of local authorities provides an opportunity to engage in effective locally planned approaches which involve linked partners. Central to its success will be how commissioners identify and tackle those most at risk at a very early stage. Clear and transparent processes need to be put into place for this vital task. Within this environment colleges will be a viable option for reengagement.

 

10.2. Local authorities will need to offer a broad range of appropriate provision which responds to the needs of those young people most at risk of being NEET. There needs to be the opportunity for 14-16 provision to be offered in a much more flexible way which addresses the holistic needs of young people as follows:

 

Full-time school programmes

School/college mixed programmes

College programmes

 

11. Conclusion

 

11.1. One of Highbury College's primary goals is to promote educational and social inclusion, viewing it as a central component of an equitable society. Tackling NEETs issues are an important aspect of this. The associated costs to society include disengagement, worklessness, crime, poor health and wasted potential and far outweigh the price of taking further action. From the College's experience, there are a number of clear themes that emerge when considering effective strategies; the importance of raising the aspirations of families and young people, early identification of potential disengagement and the provision of a holistic and flexible range of provision which engages vulnerable young people and supports their individual needs. Strong local partnerships and the sharing of information are crucial to the success of these strategies. The transfer of commissioning and funding for 16-19 education to local authorities provides an excellent opportunity to engage in effective locally planned approaches with strongly linked partners. Within this environment colleges will have a crucial role to play as a viable option for engagement with young people and their families.

 

December 2009

 

References

 

AFL (Adult Family Learning), (2008). AFL Plan August 2008 to July 2011. Portsmouth City Council.

 

LSP (Local Strategic Partnership), (2009). LAA 2008-2011. April 2009 refresh.

 

Sodha, Sonia & Guglielmi (2009). A stitch in time: tackling educational disengagement, interim report.

 

Duckett, Ian & Grainger, Paul (2009). Introduction pp.1-2 In: LSN, (2009). Tackling the NEETs problem. Supporting Local Authorities in reducing young people not in employment, education or training.

CSJ & LGA (2008). Hidden talents: re-engaging young people.

Hayward, G. Wilde, S. & Williams, R. (2008). Rathbone/Nuffield Review, Engaging Youth Enquiry, consultation report.