Memorandum submitted by Centrepoint

 

 

Summary:

Homeless young people are disproportionately likely to be NEET. Two-thirds (65%) of young people are NEET when they arrive at Centrepoint.

Homeless young people face a myriad of barriers to successfully engage in education and employment. It is crucial that all strategies around NEETs are integrated with youth support services to help young people overcome any such barriers, such as housing and financial crises and mental health problems.

Flexible learning opportunities must be offered to allow young people to take part at their own pace. Centrepoint is creating a 'College Without Walls' which will allow young people to learn in their own way and at their own pace, not bound by an academic year or single institution.

Life skills and non-formal education will be an important part for engagement and learning support. IT literacy and online learning will be a critical component for engagement, support and flexibility in learning, as well as employment and life skills.

Centrepoint believes that ensuring there are opportunities for young people post 19 will be imperative if the raising of the compulsory participation age is to be successful, otherwise it may simply delay young people becoming NEET and cause them to become disillusioned with learning.

 

Introduction

 

1. Centrepoint is the leading national charity working with homeless young people aged 16 to 25. Established almost 40 years ago, we are a registered social landlord, and have over 30 supported housing and floating support services across London and the North East.

 

2. Homeless young people are disproportionately likely to be not in employment, education of training (NEET). In 2008/9, two thirds (65%) of young people who came to Centrepoint were NEET on arrival (55% of 16-19s and 76% of 20-25s). This is far higher than the national averages of one in ten 16-17 year olds (9.6%) and one in six 18-24s (17.6%)[1].

 

3. Centrepoint has an in-house learning team that works across all Centrepoint services. It provides ongoing specialist support to young people, offering learning and work advice, basic skills and IT training, financial literacy support, sports and leisure support, mentoring and befriending, work placements and vocational guidance. This intensive support greatly improves participation rates while young people are at Centrepoint. A snapshot measure taken at the end of September showed that less than a third (30%) of young people at Centrepoint were NEET whilst at our services, compared to two thirds (65%) on arrival.

 

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

 

4. Even before becoming homeless, the experiences of many of the young people Centrepoint works with will have increased their chances of becoming NEET. For many, homelessness is a symptom of wider problems and deep-rooted support needs. Young people at risk of becoming NEET can be broadly defined into two main categories:

i. those whose background (both familial and personal) puts them on a trajectory to becoming NEET; and

ii. those who are disadvantaged by a significant single event such as a bereavement.

 

5. Each group requires a different approach to support in order to prevent them becoming NEET in the long-term. Young people who fall into first group may have experienced long-term abuse or spent time in the care system. This can lead to long-term problems. Many such young people develop mental health problems due to a lack of self worth which all too often leads to a lack of engagement with improving their prospects for the future. The key to helping these young people is early intervention to ensure support is provided before long-term psychological barriers and low aspirations develop.

 

6. Those in the second group are in need of intensive support after the event to give them the emotional and practical help they need to reengage with their personal development and avoid falling into a destructive cycle.

 

7. Being homelessness is in itself a major factor in contributing to a young person's chance of becoming NEET. Until housing issues are resolved, homeless young people are typically unable to sustain a work placement, education or training. It can be difficult to commit to attending a specific place of learning on certain days at certain times, and some may need extra support to help them get the most out of education, for example where English is not their first language.

 

8. Some young people will simply not be ready to go to school or college or take a job that includes training, instead needing extra support and care to deal with personal issues and concerns first. Some may not have had a good experience at school or college, or not had the encouragement and support they needed in their education, and are therefore not interested in continuing to participate. They may come from a background where their family and acquaintances have little or no experience of work or further education. Financial barriers to learning include a possible loss of benefits when a young person undertakes education and training, and the challenge of meeting the costs of studying compared to earning money now from a job. Young people may simply not have the money to travel to college or enough food to eat and concentrate on studies.

 

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"

 

9. It is important that those at risk are not viewed as a static group. Many young people, particularly vulnerable young people with support needs, tend to drop in and out of education and training.

 

10. For those studying, poor living conditions, no space to study or a lack of support and encouragement, are steep barriers to overcome. Incomplete advice or not having the right course at the right time or in an accessible place can restrict their opportunities. Sometimes chaotic lives and fractured transitions can make it difficult to integrate into a structured programme of further education, itself driven by a funding regime bound by an academic year, completion rates and key performance indicators based around qualifications.

 

11. It is therefore important that young people do not fall off the radar as soon as they enter education and employment. For many young people, their first few experiences of such activities may be unsuccessful, but this should not disadvantage them in terms of future support or opportunities. Young people need stable services who provide a constant source of support throughout their journey in and out of education and employment, similar to the role Centrepoint support workers play for young people during their stay with us.

 

12. Centrepoint believes in giving young people the opportunity to try new experiences that could lead to education, training and employment. In 2007, Centrepoint launched Lifewise, a programme to give young people increased confidence about living on their own. It provides a range of life skills training, including debt management and healthy living, and is accredited by the Assessment and Qualifications Alliance Awards (AQA). For many young people that take part in Lifewise courses, these are the first formal qualifications they have achieved, and can therefore be an important step towards increasing confidence and engaging with mainstream education.

 

13. Most education services and training initiatives are about creating routes and access for young people within current provision. However, simply re-doubling efforts within the same forms of provision risks re-doubling rejection and failure, and therefore innovation is needed. Centrepoint is therefore working with Learndirect to support online learning and flexible routes whereby young people can access, benefit from and progress at schools, colleges and universities, with training providers and at work.

 

14. The aim of the College Without Walls is to support homeless young people to learn at their own pace, in their own way that best suits them with a wide range of opportunities for learning. Not bound by an academic year or single institution, learning will be designed with the active involvement of young people and in partnership with educational institutions and employers.

 

15. College Without Walls will need to provide a flexible curriculum where young people can engage on their terms when they are ready. It will work within the 14-19 curriculum framework as well as provision for young adults post-19. IT skills and non-formal education will be an important part for engagement and learning support.

 

16. People will remain enrolled in College Without Walls as students, even when they may have dropped out of, or been rejected by, other institutions. They must be able to 'fail' in formal terms, but stay involved in learning. This will require:

i. Learning staff equipped for diagnostics and tutorials 'at home' and online

ii. Magnet courses and programmes to engage in learning

iii. Access courses, tasters and credits to carry forward to college - getting a head start

iv. Face-to-face and online learning, within a credit framework

v. Credit portability but also funding portability, breaking the dependency on course completion

vi. Managed learning environment online with individual learning accounts

vii. Buddy/mentors in person and online

viii. Personalised IAG (information, advice and guidance)

ix. Spaces to study, online learning and 24 hour access to computers

 

The effectiveness of the Government's NEET strategy

 

17. Although the NEET figures have remained stubbornly high, the economic situation has severely hampered the effectiveness of the Government's NEETs strategy. In fact, the Government's strategy has led to a number of positive developments for at risk groups such as homeless young people.

 

18. The introduction of diplomas has represented a big step forward by creating a more varied set of educational options for young people, taking account of the different skill sets of different individuals. The recognition of practical skills as well as academic ability can be extremely valuable to those who struggle in traditional classroom settings. In addition, the ability to start at the level that matches their ability is very positive as it helps to prevent young people from becoming disillusioned with learning by covering ground they have already mastered. The involvement of employers in the schemes is also hugely beneficial as it gives young people an insight the world of work and provides links with potential employers which can be useful in securing work at the end of the course.

 

19. Building on these close working relationships with employers will be integral to effective long-term plans to reduce the proportion of young people who are NEET. It is crucial that the government ensures that employers have (or expect to have) jobs in a particular sector before young people are given training in the necessary skills. If young people commit to training courses only to find there are no jobs available at the end, it is likely they will become disillusioned which may risk their level of future participation in education and training.

 

20. Alongside this work with employers, preventative work targeted towards at risk groups is crucial. It is therefore important that funding for such work is not drained during the recession, particularly as it should reap big savings to the public purse in the long-term. This work must include initiatives for the hardest to help as well as those already close to education or work. As the economy improves, it is likely that there will be a curve in the reduction of NEETs with the low hanging fruit moved back into education or work first. It is important that this progress does not lead to the harder to help being left behind.

21. Given that local authorities will hold responsibilities for local 14-19 strategies, it is crucial that they properly integrate these services with other local services. Full participation of local 14-19 teams in the Children's Trust will therefore be key. This will help integrate learning opportunities with youth support services such as Connexions and voluntary sector support groups. While these links are already operating well in some areas, it is far from universal so more should be done to make this kind of integrated support consistently available.

 

22. It is also crucial that local strategies include better tailoring and subsiding of transport for young people. Young people in education often have to survive on extremely low incomes, particularly homeless young people who do not receive any support from their families. Creating affordable and convenient travel options will be crucial in enabling young people to take up EET opportunities. While travel subsidies work quite well in some areas, they are not consistent. DCSF and the Department for Transport therefore need to ensure a consistent approach to travel discounts across all local authorities to bring educational and positive activities within reach.

 

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

 

23. It is crucial that strategies around raising the participation age consider those who are vulnerable and have support needs, particularly homeless young people. A fifth of the young people Centrepoint works with are 16 or 17 who will be required to be in some form of education or training. Given the chaotic lifestyles which many young people lead, traditional learning environments will not be suitable for them.

 

24. Presenting as homeless will be considered a special circumstance to exempt a young person from compulsory participation (although support services and programmes to engage in learning will be triggered). But it is important that homeless young people who are not ready to learn at 16 or 17 years of age, are not lost to the system at 18. Rather, flexible learning opportunities must be established, such as Centrepoint's proposed College Without Walls, whereby young people can be registered with College Without Walls and, when ready, learning can be triggered even if this is post-18. This must be linked to intensive support for those that need it to make sure young people are ready for a formal system.

 

25. The raising of the participation age will only help to reduce the NEET figures if there are enough post-19 opportunities or it will simply delay them becoming NEET. Turning 18 does not necessary mean young people are ready for the next step. Homeless young people often have a gap in their education due to crises in their lives, and may therefore need as much support as younger people to continue education or training post-18 and achieve the qualifications and skills they need for their future.

 

26. The raising of the participation age provides an opportunity to pilot flexible, intensive education support, such as the College Without Walls, which if successful, could act as a valuable model for potentially NEET young people of all ages.

 

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

 

27. When considering what opportunities should be available, it is essential to ensure that other statutory systems operate in such a way that assist rather than act as a barrier to young people taking up these responsibilities. Financial barriers all too often prevent vulnerable young people from taking up opportunities that could improve their future prospects. It is integral that young people over the age of 18 are also considered as many homeless young people will have had their education put on hold due to psychological distress, problems at home, and the disruption of frequently moving. Income support for 16-19 year olds in full-time education who are estranged from their parents is a key lifeline to the young people who receive it, and we believe it is one that should be extended to all young people up to the age of 25.

 

28. IT literacy and online learning will be a critical component for opportunities in education and employment, including engagement, support and flexibility in learning. In addition, access to many public services, work and leisure time activities is increasingly moving online, meaning online literacy will be necessary for a range of young people's future prospects.

 

29. As well as financial support and IT literacy, emotional support is crucial. Vulnerable young people need a caring environment like that offered at Centrepoint to help them boost up their confidence and aspirations so they are in a psychological state to actively pursue their education. It is crucial to start from where young people are, help them decide where they want to go and enable them to take steps towards this. This intensive support then needs to provide bridges to the mainstream system so they can get the qualifications they need to help them in wider world.

 

Conclusion

30. Many homeless young people have support needs which cannot be seen in isolation from their education and employment status. Any strategy aimed at reducing the number of young people who are NEET must be underpinned by a wider system of support that helps vulnerable young people progress to a point where they are ready to engage with education and employment. To this end, it is also crucial that education and training opportunities are flexible and personalised, as proposed in Centrepoint's College Without Walls, to allow young people to gain skills and qualifications at their own pace. Specialised support of this kind could then be extended into the mainstream to ensure that all young people who are NEET receive the full range of support they need.

 

December 2009



[1] Data taken from statistical bulletin for Quarter 2 of 2009