Strategies implemented before the age of 16 that are designed to prevent young people from becoming NEET are likely to be the most effective way of reducing local NEET levels.
This observation in a recent report by the Institute of Health Equity highlights the importance of early intervention in keeping young people from becoming one of the 16 per cent of 16-24 year olds in this country described as NEET (not in education, employment or training).
Prevention, rather than cure, is particularly important when considering NEETs who do not face multiple or complex barriers – who, as shown from our own research, make up almost two-thirds of the NEET group. These young people don’t significantly struggle with school, nor are they generally dealing with difficult home lives or other major challenges that can stop them engaging. Instead they disengage for a whole host of other reasons – not liking (or not being aware of) the education and training options available to them post-16, for example.
Over the past year we have been working with a group of secondary schools across England who are already running programmes to do exactly this – prevent their students from becoming NEET. The projects vary greatly across schools. One is providing academic mentoring, another extended work experience, while others have allowed the students to work towards alternative qualifications. Key to all the support strategies is identifying the right young people who would benefit, and the reasons why they are at risk.
While it’s still early days, students are already reporting benefits from the support they are receiving: “It’s made me realise that education is important and you need it to get far in life,” said one participant.
Despite the range of different approaches, and the early stage of the research, we are starting to see common threads among these schemes that seem to be contributing to their success. These include:
• flexibility – ensuring that, as much as is practical, programmes are tailored to the needs and interests of the individual young person
• open and supportive relationships between staff and students – this is particularly relevant for one-to-one support and mentoring
• opening up the students’ horizons – providing them with the knowledge to feel confident in making decisions for their future.
Crucially, we have seen how important it is that these preventative programmes have buy-in from all those involved, from senior leaders within schools and other members of staff, to students (who need to feel that they are not being targeted or stigmatised) and parents. Regular communication is vital for this to happen.
To share the learning from this emerging evidence with other schools, we will soon be publishing a free ‘Top Tips’ guide for senior leaders offering advice on developing a support programme for students in a systematic and structured way. We hope this proves to be a useful tool for schools as they continue to support their students to remain engaged at Key Stage 4. And ultimately prevent them from becoming NEET.