NEET prevention: reading the signs

By Tami McCrone

Thursday 9 May 2013

I have just had the immense satisfaction of seeing our report on a checklist of indicators to identify the reasons why young people are at risk of disengagement published online. The research team have worked hard on this for six months and are rightly proud of their achievement.

However, what is the point of yet another educational research report?   As researchers, our satisfaction at the fruit of our labours is short-lived – and the report of our findings is of limited use – unless we enable practitioners (and policy makers) to engage with it. NFER wants the evidence we collect to make a difference. We care that too many young people leave the education system and end up not in education, employment or training (NEET). To this end we are not content with just producing a report. Alongside the report we will be providing:

  • A checklist of indicators to act as a prompt for practitioners to consider when trying to understand the reasons why a young person appears to be disengaging from learning. This would add to data provided by the local authority and will help to inform conversations with other agencies about possible interventions.

And later this year:

  • A tool to contribute to staff continuing professional development (CPD) INSET days to ensure an awareness of potential factors amongst all staff. This would provide consistency for school-based identification of young people at risk of becoming NEET.
  • A discussion aid for teachers (with either their form or careers hats on) or support staff such as learning mentors to use with young people – in order to facilitate conversation and young people’s self-awareness.

Many of our research participants from schools and Local Authorities were enthusiastic about the checklist. Comments included:

‘The checklist would be a great tool to complete with all pupils at the start of Year 9 to support early intervention’.

‘It’s this sort of thing [the checklist] that triggers somebody to put in the correct intervention or initiate an action’.

So we believe that by creating accessible, practical tools, based on a solid evidence base, we can help practitioners to do what they want to do: support young people to enjoy learning.

Our interest in this area stems from our belief that many young people at risk of disengaging (but who do not face multiple and /or complex barriers) should never become NEET in the first place. If we can help more of these young people to stay engaged in learning, then there would be more resources to support those with complex barriers.

Although we live in challenging economic times, we think that if the actual reasons why a young person is disengaging (and this can start as early as Year 7 or before) can be understood; then the appropriate support can be put in place to keep them engaged; and therefore they would never become NEET.

It might be that a young person lacks self-esteem or confidence or ‘stickability’ and that mentoring or mental-resilience building might enable them to reengage. Or it might be that studying a Level 2 hair and beauty course at key stage 4 alongside maths and English GCSEs might help a young person to see the point of these subjects as they apply the skills they learn to their chosen vocational area. Or it might be that by having part-ownership of a school’s careers guidance strategy and mentoring fellow students in the academic year below, might help to empower another young person to find direction in life.

Whichever is the right intervention for a particular young person, we hope that the evidence-based tools that we will make freely available to all schools and local authorities, will have a direct positive impact on many thousands of young people.

To find out more you can also read our earlier report: Engaging the disengaged