Memorandum submitted by UK Youth and Teeside University, Social Futures Institute


Executive summary

Research by Teesside University demonstrates that providing young people with alternative learning opportunities to gain confidence and self belief is essential to achieve real progress in attainment and inclusion and to make a difference to NEET statistics.





UK Youth is the leading national youth work charity supporting over 750,000 young people, helping them to raise their aspirations, realise their potential and have their achievements recognised via non-formal, accredited education programmes and activities. UK Youth exists to develop and promote innovative non-formal education programmes for and with young people - working with them to develop their potential.


Social Futures Institute has a long established record in undertaking academic research on youth transitions, including longitudinal studies over ten years by Professor Robert MacDonald. More recent work has focused on evaluations of a range of interventions including the two studies for the Connexions services in County Durham and Tees Valley, family mediation services, UK Youth's Youth Achievement Awards and most recently, the YSDF funded Youth Achievement Foundation programme, also led by UK Youth. We have also worked with UK Youth and National Youth Agency to undertake a national feasibility study for the development of the young people's workforce, funded by Children's Workforce Development Council.


Social Futures Institute of the Teesside University was commissioned by UK Youth to embark on a three year-long study of YAFs. Its aim was to explore the impact on young people's lives and to assess the efficacy of the intervention.



Despite numerous policy initiatives, the number of young people not in education, employment or training (NEET) has remained stubbornly high over the past decade. About 10% leave secondary education with fewer than five GCSEs of any grade, 30,000 young people annually leave school with no formal qualifications and 10% of our young people are known to be NEET (not in education, employment or training).The latest monthly figures reveal that nearly a million young people are NEET. Most experts predict that the situation will worsen as the recession continues. The Prince's Trust, for instance, warns that the number of young people applying for Jobseekers Allowance is likely to double if the current economic trend follows previous recessions. One in five of this year's GSCE takers could be on the dole by the age of 21 if trends follow those of the 1980s recession.



Government's main response has been to start a Future Jobs Fund of about 1 billion aimed at creating 150,000 jobs, mainly for the young. Government also laid out plans to create 400,000 apprentices by 2020 but so far the result has been just over 1,000 appointments. Youth charities, such as UK Youth, have voiced their concern over the entry requirement for the Apprenticeship Scheme, a level two NVQ, which put the scheme effectively out of reach for those who could gain the most: disadvantaged young people who are excluded or at risk of becoming excluded from school. Data from the Labour Force Survey (2008) suggest that around one in four 19-year-olds lack NVQ2 or equivalent and one in twelve have no qualifications at all. Although a half of young adults have not obtained NVQ2 or equivalent at age 16.

Re-engaging young people with education


Schools are clearly the point at which to identify those young people who are likely to become NEET if they are not offered appropriate learning pathways. This can be achieved early in their secondary school life after the transition from junior school and where the mis-match of expected outcomes can be diverted.


The challenge is not identifying these young people but rather sharing the information with parents and professionals in order that the young person can be offered the most appropriate curriculum and learning pathway for them to be able to realise their full potential, rather than for them to become frustrated and disengage from an education system that works for many but significantly not for all.


As Howard Williamson commented in Children and Young People Now (July 2008):

We are talking here about young people with a deep scepticism of the world. They are not convinced it has much to offer [..] Their past experiences are of being kicked from pillar to post (metaphorically, if not literally), of being betrayed by family, sometimes friends, and certainly professionals.


He urges national and local policy makers to provide more rungs on the ladder for these young people: providing them with an environment in which they can feel relaxed, which encourages communication and engagement, are essential first rungs to foster small levels of confidence and self-belief. Without these first small steps, Williamson argues, these young people will never move to the next step in the process of learning, achievement and inclusion which is the primary goal of the many government initiatives, and 'will be condemned to the floor forever'.


UK Youth takes a more positive stance and believes that all young people have the potential to achieve success and desperately want to achieve recognition. It is often a question of style of learning that prevents this from happening.To support this we can do no better than quote the latest book by Professor Guy Claxton - "What's the Point of School?: Rediscovering the Heart of Education (2008)"



Young people are inveterate and enthusiastic learners. They will work hard to pursue their projects and will spend hours practising their dance steps or their guitar chords, their joke telling, their make-up or their computer gaming skills. They love the feel of energy, absorption and satisfaction that such learning delivers (and many are acutely aware of the lifeless quality of much of the learning that they are required to do in school).



UK Youth's seven stage curriculum approach seeks to address this gap and is central to their Youth Achievement Foundations which are specifically developed for working with vulnerable young people. UK Youth has been funded through the YSDF to develop 10 Youth Achievement Foundations (YAFs) across England. YAFs are small independent schools that provide an alternative learning curriculum for disadvantaged young people. The curriculum is vocational and activity based and aimed at personal and social development for vulnerable young people who are at risk of exclusion. The Foundations deliberately target the hardest-to-reach and operate without any entry requirements.


The programme combines UK Youth's long-established Youth Achievement Award, an innovative approach to alternative learning provision for young people and successfully applied by 7KS Enterprise College in a working pilot over the last 6 Yrs, and an awards winning Community Mentoring Programme designed by BLGC.

Alternative learning: Youth Achievement Foundations



Based on Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs, which maintains that actions are dominated by deficiency motivation and that lower needs need to be met before higher ones can be addressed. Applied to a school setting, this means that once the PHYSIOLOGICAL and SAFETY needs have been met (and they may not be for some students), a minimum level of BELONGING and SELF-ESTEEM must be reached before academic achievement in terms of COGNITIVE, AESTHETIC and SELF-ACTUALISATION can begin. Hence the importance of personal development to achieve a minimum level of self-esteem and social skills that lead to a sense of belonging and ownership of learning. In other words: the beginnings of empowerment and taking control of their lives.


UK Youths Youth Achievement Awards provide a framework to enable this to happen within. Around 20,000 young people participate in the Youth Achievement Award (YAA) programme each year. The YAA was developed by UK Youth, and is an accredited, non-formal education programme which aims to help young people develop their social and personal skills, and build resilience and confidence. YAA are a mode of non-formal learning that provides a viable alternative route for young people who do not do well in formal learning and are not suited to conventional school environments.


The flexibility of the YAA can allow for the delivery of non-formal learning in many contexts and to students with different levels of confidence and ability. YAA are designed to encourage progression beginning with very basic individual life skills, to team working and the complex planning and achievement of personal challenges.YAAs are accredited by ASDAN, so allowing students to demonstrate achievement and accumulate credits to allow them access to education, training and employment.



Youth Achievement Foundations provide a structured setting for this approach. The focus is on a vocational and practical activity/issue based curriculum, to provide relevance & motivation together with addressing identified personal needs and a sense of belonging and ownership of their learning. Students take increasing responsibility for their activities, their learning, themselves and others, with planned personal development, including priority and other social skills leading to employability, accreditation based on the Youth Achievement Awards, leading to Wider Key Skills, Key Skills, and ASDAN Awards, especially COPE, and Others, with ongoing support to ensure students do not become NEETs.


Key to the approach is a personalised curriculum and appropriate support. This is achieved through Learning Mentors, who deliver information advice and guidance and are the brokers for young people disengaged with mainstream education to re-engage with learning. In addition and recognising that many of the issues faced by these young people happen outside of the standard school day, the Foundations offer a community mentoring scheme which helps support the young people at the times they may need it the most.


UK Youth has found in its work in similar programmes that great benefits can be gained if a youth worker or mentor is working with a young person to assist them make informed life choices. People undertaking these roles can occupy a space between school, parents, social workers, peers and others who can and often do provide IAG to young people.


Currently six Foundations are operating across England (Cheshire, Gloucestershire, Hampshire, Tees Valley, Derbyshire and Bristol, with at least four more Foundations opening in September 2010.


Figure 1. Map of Youth Achievement Foundations


To date 165 Young People are registered to attend across the 6 Foundations with a further 80 students attending the pilot Foundation in Scunthorpe.


These relatively small steps signify major leaps for the young people in the Foundations. Average attendance rates, for instance, have improved significantly, with the majority of Foundations achieving above 75% while their attendance rates were often very poor in previous schools. Many young people were sceptical when the Foundations opened their doors and engaged in challenging behaviour to test the boundaries of staff and neighbours. Over the course of the year incidents with young people have decreased considerably in each Foundation, testifying to the success of staff (and the training they received) in dealing with aggression and engaging the young people in the curriculum of the Foundations. It has to be acknowledged that simply showing up and attending lessons without disruption is a massive achievement for these young people and a first rung on the ladder to personal development and non-formal learning.

Establishing and maintaining relationships


Local authorities displayed scepticism towards the Foundations. Although in each area the Local Authority expressed an interest in the Foundations, they were generally reluctant to commit longer-term funding at an early stage until they felt that the Foundation had been bedded in and had proven themselves. However, during the first year of operation, all three Foundations were able to secure the support from Local Authorities and agreements were drawn up for the referral of students to the Foundations. Although the level of agreement varied; some Local Authorities had a preference for a part-time provision while other Authorities referred students on a full time basis. One of the key lessons learned during the first year was that establishing partnerships and good working relationships required continuous attention from the Foundations. The research found that it was beneficial for Local Authorities to be fully involved from the start so that clear operational criteria and agreed outcomes could be negotiated for student referrals.


Since the start in September 2008 significant progress has been made. The initial reluctance of Local Authorities to commit to longer term funding has in most cases been replaced by increased levels of support, which can be witnessed in the increased number of referrals made by Local Authorities and schools to the Foundations at the start of the second academic year.


In sum, the Foundations have made a promising start by establishing themselves in their local areas, securing pupil referrals and encouraging young people to attend and engage with the lessons and activities, designed to increase their responsibility and confidence. In doing so, the YAFs provide the essential first rung on the ladder of learning for disengaged young people, which are often overlooked by national and local policy makers.


Recommendations for action


National and local policy makers need to provide more rungs on the ladder for vulnerable young people who are at risk of exclusion and becoming NEET. Providing these young people with a non-formal educational setting in which they can build confidence and self-esteem are essential first steps in the process of learning, achievement and inclusion to prevent them becoming NEET.


The Youth Achievement Foundations provide structured settings for these first rungs on the ladder by offering an accredited vocational and activity based curriculum utilising UK Youth's seven stage curricular approach that is aimed at personal and social development. Initial results demonstrate that the Foundations are successful in reengaging the vulnerable young people with education and in achieving accreditation.


It is very important to accredit the achievement of those young people who achieve higher levels of learning so that doors are opened for further training, education or employment. Work yet needs to be done to encourage gatekeepers to recognise the value of non-formal learning. However, policy makers should not expect too much too soon in accreditation terms of the least prepared or motivated for learning. Our research shows that 'small steps' can actually represent 'giant leaps' in achievement terms.


Government interest in long-range social mobility is laudable, but for many 'getting on' in life means getting a decent job, a good place to live in a safe neighbourhood, and the ability to plan for the future. Too many young people from the poorest backgrounds are destined only to 'get by' rather than 'get on' because they are more likely to be 'tripped up' by barriers or be affected by 'critical incidents' in their own lives. It is important to direct intensive support for low-achievers into adulthood.


The strong government emphasis on equivalence of 'performance' in qualifications undermines the importance of recognising individual 'achievement'. Therefore, Government should give more attention to alternative methods of learning in relation to the formal educational system. In our view non-formal learning occupies the space that separates formal and informal learning and permeates both these arenas, when utilised by skilled and expert practitioners.


UK Youth supports education that knits together academic, practical and vocational learning appropriately for each individual. UK Youth believes in education that invests in the development of social and emotional competencies of young people, as well as intellectual and knowledge based development. It is these competencies that are a major part of the Foundations that allow every young person to learn effectively and contribute positively to their own development and attainment and the development of a decent society.


December 2009




Guy Claxton, G. (2009) What's the Point of School? (2009?)

Labour Force Survey (2008?)

Van der Graaf, P., Chapman, T. and E. Bailey (2009), An Evaluation of Youth Achievement Foundations: alternative curriculum provision for disadvantaged young people, Middlesbrough: Social Futures Institute.

Van der Graaf, P., Chapman, T., Bailey, E. and C. Iles (2009) Small Steps and Giant Leaps: an evaluation of Youth Achievement Awards, Middlesbrough, Social Futures Institute, University of Teesside.

Williamson, H. (2008) More Rungs on the Ladder. In: Children and Young People Now (July 2008).