Recent work in colleges in inner London boroughs sought to identify commonalities in practice between examples of effective provision. In total, nine key elements emerged that characterised the best types of provision, although not all are present in every case.
The four most critical elements are considered to be:
Partnership arrangements: these are seen as essential, for example to ensure breadth of provision, to help individual providers improve, and in commissioning provision. It is also important to have the right people involved, including a proper balance between those at strategic and operational levels (rather than, as can happen, too many of the former). Employers and representatives of young people themselves often act as key partners. Simply having a partnership is not enough; its activities need to be properly evaluated so that it can continue to develop a coherent local strategy.
Effective management and organisation: best practice occurs when the whole of the college management structure had been engaged in NEETs developments, so that this type of provision is planned and funded as an integral part of the curriculum.
The main threat to this often came from lack of sufficient funding. Colleges were looking to the new Foundation Learning Tier to provide more secure and continuous funding for NEETs provision, although in most cases they would probably still need to look to ‘add-on’ sources to supplement resources. Continuous workforce development to support the delivery of NEETs provision also constitutes an important element of effective management.
Personalised learning: the best provision has to be flexible and responsive to individual needs, often involving non-formal learning in the first instance. This is reflected in the design of suitable provision, which should aim to front-load those elements most likely to support retention, peer group development and engagement.
One example quoted was a `skills challenge’ course, with three separate points of entry throughout the year and scope for fast-tracking those capable of moving into more mainstream provision.
IAG and progression routes: courses need to have clear destinations that are meaningful to participants, which will normally involve progression to Level 2 or beyond in vocational and functional skills, including elements of personal and social development skills. Progression is best seen in the context of the partnership as a whole rather than the individual institution. Rapid follow-up of those who drop out (for example by notifying details to Connexions) can be crucial in securing their early re-engagement.
The remaining five elements identified through the study are: outreach, marketing and recruitment; assessment and review; student support; celebrating success; and monitoring and evaluation.
‘From our experience’ – participants’ contributions
The following observations were made by conference participants. They are not presented in any particular order but are crucial observations to note by those supporting all colleagues working to reduce the number of young people classified as NEET.
NEETs: who are they? How do we reach them?
- Some young people identify negative attitudes towards school going right back to their time in primary schools
- Some of those classified as NEETs are undoubtedly engaged in jobs in the shadow economy, often on the borders of legality
- Detached youth workers most often work with groups of young men. A different type of approach is probably needed to re-engage hard-to-reach younger women, who are less likely to be found on the streets
- Word of mouth often proves the best form of recruitment to NEET focused programmes
Schooling and the curriculum
- The authority structure in schools acts as a deterrent to many of those at risk of dropping out. The typical response is to place them in separate, detached groups, which in some cases can reinforce the sense of alienation
- Institutions frequently create unnecessary barriers by being too inflexible when there is scope to be more creative as a means of encouraging young people to re-engage, to resist a temptation to drop out, or to progress further
- Vocational learning provides opportunities for more active engagement between students and teachers
- There is often a ‘knee-jerk’ assertion that disengaged young people need a more vocational and practical curriculum. However the evidence to show that such a curriculum improves their prospects of direct access to the labour market is weak.
- Greater scope to tailor provision locally can help ensure it meets the needs of different groups. However this does not fit easily with the requirements of a highly centralised top-down curriculum and qualifications framework
- Support systems in schools for young people at risk of dropping out need to be thought through. The traditional model of a form teacher or tutor providing continuity and stability now appears to be less common
- Similarly, too much emphasis on vocational courses can deny young people the opportunity to pursue more traditional subjects, from which many can benefit
- ‘Taster’ courses have proved successful in encouraging course applications
- The type of provision that works best comprises short, sharp and imaginative
- programmes, building on young people’s interests and popular current themes.
- The impact of the recession could mean that we are currently seeking to engage young people in a system that has little immediate value in the current labour market
- Colleges may need to provide support arrangements (e.g. Transport, breakfast clubs) to encourage participation, for which it is often difficult to secure adequate funding
- Knowledge about access to hardship funds varies widely within the system
- The motivations of families often militate against participation in education and learning, because they are keen for young people to be in a job
- Young people perceive a clear disparity between employer-based and programme based provision because of the wages payable to those on the former
- The introduction of a ‘passport’ to entitlements for those in need, carried forward between the ages of 16 and 18 (e.g. providing for free meals, free transport) could support young people
Taken from “Tackling the NEET’s problem” Published by LSN 2009