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Committee for Employment and Learning

Inquiry into Young People not in Education, Employment or Training

Volume One

Together with the Minutes of Proceedings, Minutes of Evidence and
Written Submissions Relating to the Report

Ordered by The Committee for Employment and Learning to be printed 15 December 2010
Report: NIA 32/10/11R The Committee for Employment and Learning

Session 2010/2011
Third Report

Powers and Membership

Powers

The Committee for Employment and Learning is a Statutory Departmental Committee of the Northern Ireland Assembly established in accordance with paragraphs 8 and 9 of the Belfast Agreement, Section 29 of the Northern Ireland Act 1998 and under Standing Orders 48 of the Northern Ireland Assembly. The Committee has a scrutiny, policy development and consultation role with respect to the Department for Employment and Learning and has a role in the initiation of legislation.

The Committee has power to:

  • Consider and advise on Departmental budgets and annual plans in the context of the overall budget allocation;
  • Approve relevant secondary legislation and take the Committee stage of relevant primary legislation;
  • Call for persons and papers;
  • Initiate inquiries and make reports; and
  • Consider and advise on matters brought to the Committee by the Minister for Employment and Learning.

Membership

The Committee has eleven members, including a Chairperson and Deputy Chairperson, with a quorum of five. The membership of the Committee since 9 May 2007 has been as follows:

Mrs Dolores Kelly (Chairperson) 1
Mr Jonathan Bell (Deputy Chairman) 2
Mr Sydney Anderson 3
Mrs Claire McGill
Mr Paul Butler
Mr Pat Ramsey 4
Rev Dr Robert Coulter 5
Ms Sue Ramsey 6
Mr Chris Lyttle 7
Mr Peter Weir 8 9
Mr David McClarty

1. Mrs Dolores Kelly replaced Ms Sue Ramsey as Chairperson on 12 April 2010.

2. Mr Jonathan Bell replaced Mr Thomas Buchanan as a member only on 1 February 2010 and left the Committee on 13 April 2010; he rejoined the Committee on 28 June 2010, replacing Mr Peter Weir as Deputy Chairperson and Mr Trevor Clarke as a member.

3. Mr Alex Easton, Mr David Hilditch and Mr William Irwin replaced Mr Nelson McCausland, Mr Alastair Ross and Mr Jimmy Spratt on 15 September 2008; Mr Sydney Anderson replaced Mr William Irwin on 13 September 2010.

4. Mr Pat Ramsey replaced Mr Alex Attwood on 29 June 2009.

5. Rev Dr Robert Coulter replaced Mr Basil McCrea on 15 September 2008.

6. Ms Sue Ramsey was Chairperson of the Committee from 9 May 2007 to 11 April 2010.

7. Mr Chris Lyttle replaced Ms Anna Lo on 13 September 2010.

8. Mr Peter Weir replaced Mr David Hilditch on 13 April 2010.

9. Mr Alastair Ross replaced Mr Jim Wells on 29 May 2007; Mr Robin Newton replaced Mr Jimmy Spratt as Deputy Chairperson on 10 June 2008; Mr Thomas Buchanan replaced Mr Robin Newton as Deputy Chairperson on 4 July 2009; Mr Trevor Clarke replaced Mr Alex Easton on 14 September 2009; Mr Peter Weir replaced Mr David Hilditch and became Deputy Chairperson on 13 April 2010

List of Abbreviations used in the Report

AA - Activity Agreement

AEP - Alternative Education Providers

AEGI - Adult Education and Guidance Initiative

ALP - Area Learning Partnership

BEI - Back to Education Initiative

BMC - Belfast Metropolitan College

CAHMS - Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services

CEL - Committee for Employment and Learning

CLD - Community Learning Development

CFS - Community Focused Schools

DCELLS - Department for Children, Education, Lifelong Learning and Skills (Wales)

DE - Department of Education

DEIS - Delivery of Equality and Opportunity In Schools (Republic of Ireland)

DEL - Department of Employment and Learning

DES - Department of Education and Skills (Republic of Ireland)

DETE - Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment (Republic of Ireland)

DETI - Department of Enterprise, Trade and Investment

DFP - Department of Finance and Personnel

DHSSPS - Department of Health, Social Services and Public Safety

DRD - Department of Regional Development

DSD - Department of Social Development

DWP - Department for Work and Pensions

EGSA - Educational Guidance Service for Adults

ELB - Education and Library Board

EMA - Education Maintenance Allowance

EOTAS - Education Other Than At School

ESA - Employment Support Allowance

ESF - European Social Fund

ESIS - Education and School Improvement Service

ESOL - English for Speakers of other Languages

ETI - Enterprise, Trade and Innovation (Republic of Ireland)

FITNI - Fastrack to Information Technology Northern Ireland

GAP - Graduate Acceleration Programme

GLAD - Growing, Learning and Developing

GRIT - Gerry Rogan Initiative Trust

HoV - Heads of the Valleys

HSCLS - Home School Community Liaison Service

IBYP - Inter-Board Youth Panel

JSA - Job Seekers Allowance

LAC - Looked-After Children

LAEP - Learner Access and Engagement Pilot

LDD - Learning Difficulties and Disabilities

MCMC - More Choices, More Chances

MER - Monitoring, Evaluation and Review

MLA - Member of Legislative Assembly

NEWB - National Educational Welfare Board

NEET - Not in Education, Employment or Training

NIACRO - Northern Ireland Association for the Care and Resettlement of Offenders

NICCY - Northern Ireland Commissioner for Children and Young People

NIYF - Northern Ireland Youth Forum

NRC - Northern Regional College

NWRC - North Western Regional College

OCN - Open College Network

OECD - Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development

OFMDFM - Office of the First Minister and Deputy First Minister

PEEP - Peers Early Education Partnership

PLC - Post Leaving Certificate

PfYP - Partnership for Young Parents

PSDE - Personal and Social Development Education

PSNI - Police Service of Northern Ireland

PWC - PriceWaterhouseCooper

RCT - Rhondda Cynon Taf

RNIB - Royal National Institute for Blind People

SARS - Student Attendance and Retention Officers

SBP - Schools Business Partnership

SCP - Schools Completion Programme

SERC - South Eastern Regional College

SSP - School Support Programme

STEM - Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics

STTC - Senior Traveller Training Centre

VEC - Vocational Education Committee

VOYPIC - Voice of Young People in Care

VTOS - Vocational Training Opportunities Scheme

YCNI - Youth Council for Northern Ireland

YFCU - Young Farmers' Clubs of Ulster

Table of Contents

List of abbreviations used in the Report

Volume One

Executive Summary

Key Conclusions and Recommendations

Introduction

Consideration of Evidence

Appendix 1

Minutes of Proceedings

Appendix 2

Minutes of Evidence

Appendix 3

Written Submissions

Executive Summary

Over the past couple of years the Committee has received a number of briefings that have highlighted the plight of young people who are not in education, employment or training. During these briefings Members were regularly being presented with evidence that this group was continuing to grow – a situation exacerbated by the economic downturn. The Committee reflected that this situation was not likely to improve significantly even when the economy begins to recover more noticeably. This and other factors prompted the Committee to undertake this Inquiry into young people (16 to 24) who are not in education, employment and training (NEET). Members' primary intention in undertaking this Inquiry was to present evidence to justify the development of an Executive strategy to stem the flow into this group of young people and to support and re-engage those already in the group. In this endeavour the Committee owes a great debt of thanks to those who have helped and supported Members in this Inquiry. The Committee has acknowledged that, while 'NEET' is not an attractive term it is preferable to the alternative term of 'status zero', which seems to carry more negativity. Members naturally resist categorising young people whenever possible however, in this case, the use of the term NEET serves as shorthand for this report.

The essence of this Inquiry has been to discover who NEET young people are, why they find themselves in that situation and how best they can be helped and supported. Hemming the growth in the flow of NEET young people will ultimately reduce the pressure on resources later if these young people do not go on to be economically inactive adults.

The Committee has been deeply moved by the stories Members have heard during the course of this Inquiry, particularly when it has been the young people themselves recounting their experiences. Members have no doubt that a NEET strategy for Northern Ireland is desperately needed to ensure that the tide of young people who find themselves NEET is stemmed. At the same time the Committee understands that preventative measures alone are not enough – there will be circumstances that cannot be accounted for in advance.

Through its evidence-gathering and study visits, the Committee has realised that a lot of the work undertaken in other jurisdictions is also done in Northern Ireland. Scotland and Wales are ahead in that they have identifiable NEET strategies, but they are still finding their way and piloting programmes. It is also clear to the Committee that the ideas which Members saw or have received information about in the Republic of Ireland are not new here. Where the other jurisdictions most significantly differ is that they have more powerful local authorities, which can lend themselves to supporting joined-up government, and the presence of Junior Ministers in those jurisdictions whose work cuts across a variety of departments is also helpful for strategic co-operation between departments.

From the beginning the Committee realised that the core of any NEET strategy must involve the Executive Departments looking beyond their own remits towards greater collaboration. The NEET strategy must be about co-ordination, co-operation, multi-agency working, referral and collective accountability. A NEET strategy will require all stakeholders to work together within a framework. The Executive Departments, the community and voluntary sector, the different sectors of education, employers and businesses – all have a role to play. During this Inquiry the Committee has also become aware that it is not only the Executive Departments which often tend to work in what might be described as a 'siloed' fashion; there are community and voluntary organisations which are appear to focus solely on their own work and do not see themselves within a framework where they share information and resources with others. Duplication is not always identified and dealt with. Against a backdrop of spending cuts the Committee is acutely aware that it is unlikely that significant additional money will be made available for a NEET strategy. Obtaining additional finance was not the Committee's focus when beginning this Inquiry. Members wanted to create awareness, momentum and to build consensus on the way forward for a NEET strategy. Simply securing additional funds for individual groups to continue to work in isolation was neither the point, nor an option.

While the Committee draws conclusions and makes recommendations in this report, it will be the Executive Departments and the stakeholder groups who will work out the fine detail of the NEET strategy and the framework that needs to be developed. Considerable momentum has built up behind this Inquiry and it has been apparent to the Committee that there is a considerable hunger for a NEET strategy here. This need was also recognised by the former Employment and Learning Minister, Sir Reg Empey, who took his Department's NEET scoping study to the Executive to seek support for joint action, subsequent to the Committee beginning its Inquiry. The positive reaction from the other members of the Executive has allowed the Department to proceed. The Committee is pleased that the structures to organise those who will develop the NEET strategy are beginning to establish themselves.

The Committee has learned a lot from conducting this Inquiry and Members have met a lot of unsung heroes. The Committee is happy to see that things are now moving in the right direction and a NEET strategy is now on the horizon. The Committee believes that there is a window of opportunity that will close soon and must not be allowed to go to waste.

The report below offers considerable information to reflect who NEET young people are, where they are likely to come from and the sorts of barriers and issues that they might face. However, it is clear that this is not a homogenous group and this must be reflected in the strategy. It is clear to the Committee that being NEET has a tremendous knock-on effect on young people. It affects their self-esteem, emotional stability and overall well-being. These young people are likely to be less happy with friendships, family life and health than those in education, employment and training. During this Inquiry it has become apparent to Members that the characteristics of, experiences of, and barriers faced by young people who are NEET are myriad, complex and, in many cases, interwoven and multi-layered.

Through the Inquiry Members heard that while Northern Ireland has some notable successes in education there is also considerable underachievement in our education system. Serious issues were raised about an education system which sees so many young people leave compulsory education with few if any qualifications and who have such a negative attitude towards mainstream, structured education or training provision. This Inquiry has established for the Committee that the home environment and community context in which a child or young person exists is likely to have a considerable impact on their attitudes and behaviours. Often these issues mean that young people exist on the margins of society and can see no way to be drawn into the 'mainstream'. Often these behaviours cause the young people to move further and further to the margins and returning them to the mainstream is often a daunting task. Again, the Committee has been made aware of programmes, individuals and organisations working to ensure that young people have support to break cycles of negative behaviour. Community representatives contributing to the Inquiry suggested that deficiencies in parental support for education are a 'cultural' issue and disadvantaged young people therefore have it in their mind: "Why bother, as my parents never bothered?" This situation is exacerbated by young people leaving school without any effective identification of their skills or options and opportunities before they leave school.

Evidence gathered for this Inquiry has suggested that interventions for NEET young people should focus on general basic skills with technical skills being introduced gradually, as appropriate. This provision should also include personal and professional development skills and a preparation for work approach related to market/job opportunities. Interventions will generally be more successful when they are tailored to the needs of the individual. Members also heard from a number of respondents who suggested that current provision of careers advice and guidance in our schools and colleges etc. is not always consistent or adequate. On Page 39 of the Welsh NEET strategy (Appendix 5) it states regarding careers advice:

"Currently much information is made available or received in 'short bursts', often just before a critical career or educational transition. But evidence has highlighted that disaffection from the educational system is deeply rooted long before the minimum school leaving age; choices about staying on or leaving learning do not normally involve conscious decisions taken during the last year of compulsory schooling, but are based rather on long-standing assumptions".

The Committee heard from the Careers Service which has traditionally focused its efforts on Year 12. However, Members there needs to be more intervention with younger pupils, particularly those in Year 10 who are making decisions about their GCSEs. The Service acknowledged to the Committee that the tracking and monitoring of young people who are NEET is also an issue, which has been supported by a number of other contributors. The representatives acknowledged the need to make sure that it has a complete data set on all the young people who will be leaving school at any given time. The Committee was pleased to hear that the Careers Service is working closely with the Department of Education to try to overcome the difficulties with sharing data. As highlighted elsewhere in this report, the Committee is extremely concerned about significant gaps in tracking and monitoring young people and the interventions they receive, particularly those who are most at risk of becoming NEET. The Committee sees it as vital that those who disengage do not become part of a 'lost generation' who slip almost unnoticed from being a young person who is NEET to being part of the economically inactive adult population.

The Committee believes that it would be wrong not to emphasise the role that the universities and regional colleges have to play in an overarching NEET strategy. There are references to the regional colleges throughout this report, from the role they play augmenting the provisions offered by schools to young people, to the opportunities their own courses present and the role that they play in the provision of DEL programmes, such as Training for Success and the Programme-Led Apprenticeships. The universities too are significant in terms of providing access to young people who may not come from a background of university attendance to the programmes they offer to help their students secure employment.

A number of issues are raised in this report that must be addressed as part of a NEET strategy. This includes issues in the education and training system, such as the transformation of the learning environment to make it more stimulating and to offer more flexible, personalised learning opportunities with appropriate recognition; greater recognition of underachievement and its causes; greater support for learners; more focus on developing employability in our young people; and a focus on outcomes. Members have also expressed the view that youth justice is a key area for the NEET strategy to consider. The Committee received some briefing on this, but the transfer of justice powers during the Inquiry has meant that Members have not been able to pursue this issue as far as they would have liked. The Committee also believes that those developing the NEET strategy must engage with local government as the Members heard about a number of innovative schemes run by councils which are aimed at helping young people who are NEET. Another area of particular concern to the Committee is the worryingly high rate of suicide amongst young people here, particularly young men. Members have highlighted the issue in this report and made recommendations.

In the Conclusions section of this report, the Committee has highlighted possible structures to bring together government and stakeholders to develop the NEETs strategy. These structures are relatively simple and comprise a forum group for stakeholders with the same structure for departments and their agencies/bodies. These fora would then populate a joint steering and implementation body which would, with reference to the two fora, develop the detail of the NEET strategy and then formulate implementation and action plans for it, using four sub-groups: Intervention; Prevention; Information; and Employment Preparation. These may also reflect specific strands of the strategy. The Committee puts forward these structures as a suggestion, but Members do not want to be prescriptive.

Finally, the Committee would like to acknowledge the tremendous debt it owes to all those individuals and groups who have contributed so readily to this Inquiry. The Committee is also grateful to the Department for Employment and Learning and the other departments which made a contribution. Most importantly Members would like to thank the young people, NEET or otherwise, who spoke directly to the Committee or within the many workshops that were held for the Inquiry. It is these young people that the Committee seeks to help and support and Members are convinced that the NEET strategy will make a dramatic difference to many of their lives.

Key Conclusions and Recommendations

Strategic Issues

1. The Committee has recognised that the NEET strategy must be cross-departmental; however, Members recommend that there is an individual(s)/body that provides oversight of the development and implementation the strategy and also has a role in considering how best to maximise cross-departmental funding for the strategy. The Committee recommends that the OFMdFM Junior Ministers should fulfil this role as Children and Young People fall under their remit (Para.122).

2. The Committee recommends that the NEET strategy for Northern Ireland is based on structures that firmly cement partnership, co-operation and co-ordination between the Executive Departments and other agencies and bodies, stakeholder groups, including the schools, colleges and universities, and business. Such a multi-agency approach must become the accepted way to work (Para.216).

3. The Committee recommends that the NEET strategy for Northern Ireland must ensure cognisance of issues such as economic and social context, which are beyond the NEET young person themselves so that provision for this group is more holistic (Para.73).

4. The Committee recommends that the community and voluntary sector be embedded in the NEET strategy (Para.120).

5. The Committee recommends that those developing the NEET strategy ensure that the pivotal role of mentors/Key Workers/Support Workers is deeply embedded within the systems of the strategy (Para.121).

6. The Committee recommends that those developing the NEET strategy should look at ways of seeking accreditation for provision in the strategy as part of a Best Practice Code. This would help in the development of a framework of provision and would facilitate greater monitoring of the outcomes of provision (Para.159).

7. The Committee recommends that those developing the NEET strategy look to international provision and see what might appropriately be applied here (Para.191).

8. The Committee recommends that those developing the NEET strategy should ensure that it has a clear set of aims and a clear statement of the drivers/levers that will ensure those aims are achieved (Para.227).

9. The Committee recommends that the strategy should contain robust systems for measuring, monitoring and assessing the achievement of its aims (Para.228).

10. The Committee recommends that targets set by the strategy are cognisant of those embedded in other strategies and that they are agreed by the stakeholders (Para.123).

11. The Committee recommends that those developing the NEET strategy ensure that the provisions offered by individual Executive Departments (and their agencies and bodies) in respect of NEET young people should be referenced in the strategy; particularly where there is a need to align with other strategies. The Committee is especially concerned that there should be reference to the 'Protect Life and Suicide Prevention' strategy, the 'Children and Young People' strategy and the 'Care Matters' strategy for young people leaving care (Para.407).

Tracking and Monitoring / Careers guidance and advice / Pastoral care

12. The Committee recommends that work is undertaken to better track and monitor the numbers of disabled young people who find themselves NEET. This should allow for better provision for disabled NEET young people to be incorporated into the NEET strategy (Para.78).

13. The Committee would particularly endorse the Departmental scoping study recommendation which proposes a follow-up survey to supplement the school leavers survey, and the re-introduction of the Youth Cohort Study in N.I. (Para.33).

14. The Committee recommends that, as part of the NEET strategy, the Careers Service should have access to all post primary pupils in Northern Ireland, including those in alternative provision and those in the colleges. Access should not be decided by the schools as this reinforces an inconsistent and unequal approach to the provision of careers advice and guidance (Para.142).

15. The Committee recommends that work is done by the Careers Service and the Department of Education to overcome data-sharing issues (Para.134).

16. The Committee recommends that those developing the NEET strategy look at the possibilities around the Careers Service acting as the repository for information regarding the interventions that young people have received, much as Careers Wales does in Wales (Para.199).

17. The Committee recommends that the Careers Service should continue to build partnerships that give it access to an increasing number of young people and these should include greater involvement in colleges and stronger relationships with business, including greater use of exchange programmes (Para.136).

18. The Committee recommends that the work of the Careers Service should be subject to independent evaluation (Para.137).

19. The Committee recommends that those developing the NEET strategy ensure that the universities and colleges are involved in that development and are party to arrangements regarding pastoral care and careers advice and guidance (Para.205).

20. The Committee recommends that a key part of the NEET strategy is the development of more robust pastoral care systems in schools, colleges, universities and for intervention programmes. These systems should be well signposted and a clear part of a referrals framework (Para.119).

Interventions / Provisions for young people who are NEET

21. The Committee believes that a service mapping exercise needs to be undertaken as part of the development of an overarching NEET strategy in Northern Ireland and recommends that those developing the strategy undertake this (Para.359).

22. The Committee recommends that DEL re-examines its programmes as part of the development of the NEET strategy and assesses whether there are gaps in its provision that should be addressed. This should be done with reference to relevant stakeholders (Para.375).

23. The Committee recommends that the NEET strategy for Northern Ireland must take into account that interventions should be community-based where possible and that these should be holistic, involving the young person's family, when possible (Para.63).

24. The Committee recommends that the NEET strategy for Northern Ireland must seeks ways to specifically address the high incidence of care-experienced young people who end up NEET and should be cognisant of other, parallel strategies which target this group of young people (Para.67).

25. The Committee recommends that those involved in developing the NEET strategy must ensure the creation of mechanisms to signpost interventions/provision for NEET young people and those involved in helping and supporting (Para.81).

26. The Committee recommends that not only should those developing the NEET strategy ensure that it provides a "continuum of intervention"; they should ensure that interventions are also available during the traditional school/college holidays during the summer months (Para.118).

27. The Committee recommends that organisations providing interventions should be expected to report 'fall out', i.e. if a young person leaves provision then that information should be circulated to those who need to know. Those developing the NEET strategy should consider how 'fall out' should be reported (Para.200).

28. The Committee recommends that those developing the NEET strategy look at the possible application of the Scottish Activity Agreements here (Para.238).

29. The Committee believes that volunteering can and should be a key element of the NEET strategy and recommends that those developing the strategy examine its potential for incorporation (Para.247).

30. The Committee recommends that those developing the NEET strategy look at the Welsh E3+ programme and see what elements could be applied here (Para.294).

31. The Committee recommends that those developing the NEET strategy develop a Best Practice Code for those involved in provision for young people who are NEET; allowing Best Practice to be mainstreamed (Para.158).

Funding

32. The Committee sees funding as a significant issue and recommends that those developing the NEET strategy for Northern Ireland look to the Welsh NEET strategy with regard to its creative approach to using EU funding. The Committee considers that working collectively to access finance will produce better results (Para.261).

Education Issues

33. The Committee recognises that the study of GCSEs and 'A' Levels is not appropriate for all our young people. As a result Members recommend that those developing the NEET strategy examine the reasons behind pupil disengagement in our schools and consider whether a 14+ vocational route for young people in schools should be developed, which is regarded as equal in quality to the academic route (GCSEs/'A' Levels) and which contains agreed levels of English and STEM subjects. This route should connect with a continuation of education/training at college or university (Para.115).

34. The Committee recommends that evolution of the curriculum used in our schools is guided by the need to make our young people's educational experience meaningful and connected to the world around them and should be attractive in order to minimise disengagement. All teaching should reflect on the contextualisation of the information and courses in our schools, academic or vocational, should have robust PSDE, careers guidance/advice and employability/entrepreneurial skills built in, where appropriate (Para.116).

35. The Committee supports the ideas behind Area Learning Partnerships (ALPs) and recommends to those developing the NEET strategy that they ensure that these clusters are encouraged and examples of best practice in gaining the optimum benefits from the use of ALPs are widely circulated (Para.117).

36. The Committee recommends that those developing the NEET strategy look at interventions in young people's lives at primary and pre primary level and ensure that these are referenced in the strategy (Para.309).

Rural Issues

37. The Committee recommends that those developing the NEET strategy look specifically at the transport issues that face rural young people (Para.89).

38. The Committee recommends that childcare, broadband access and mobile phone coverage and accessibility of training and employment opportunities facing rural young people should also be fed into the Rural White Paper being prepared by DARD (Para.89).

STEM

39. The Committee recommends that the development of the NEET strategy is undertaken with reference to the STEM agenda (Para.268).

Social Procurement

40. The Committee is extremely supportive of 'social procurement' and, once again, advocates its use by the Executive Departments and its incorporation into the NEET strategy as appropriate (Para.302).

Education Maintenance Allowance

41. The Committee has heard much about Education Maintenance Allowance (EMA) during its evidence-gathering for this Inquiry and Members believe that EMA may need to be targeted more specifically. The Committee recommends that the criteria for receiving EMA should to be focused more on those to whom it provides a particularly significant incentive to re-engage (Para.239).

Introduction

Background

1. During the 2007/08 session of the Northern Ireland Assembly, the Committee for Employment and Learning ('the Committee') undertook an Inquiry into the Department for Employment and Learning's ('the Department') Training for Success programme. A key Committee recommendation coming out of this Inquiry was that apprenticeships should be separated from the Training for Success programme and become a stand alone, flagship programme of the Department. The Department agreed and in September 2008 Apprenticeships NI was launched. In the 2008/09 Assembly session the Committee undertook an Inquiry into the Way Forward for Apprenticeships in response to the growing number of apprentice redundancies as a result of the economic downturn.

2. While undertaking these Inquiries the Committee became increasingly aware of the group of young people who have disengaged from education, employment or training and Members have become more and more concerned that this group was continuing to grow as the economy moved into recession. The Committee began to seek briefing on this group of young people and Members realised that there is a serious issue around the continuing growth of this group. The Committee reasoned that if the flow of young people into this group is not stemmed and those already in the group are not supported and re-engaged, then they would end up as part of Northern Ireland's disproportionately high adult economically inactive population.

3. At its meeting on 3rd February, the Committee agreed to undertake an Inquiry into young people (aged 16 to 24) Not in Education, Employment or Training, the so-called NEET group. The Committee meeting was followed by an event designed to allow the organisations who work with these young people to discuss the issues around how young people find themselves in this situation, what programmes seem to be most useful in re-engaging those young people and what elements any overarching NEET strategy might need to comprise. The Committee acknowledged from the outset that no single Executive Department has sole responsibility for this issue; rather that collective Executive action is required.

Objective and Terms of Reference

4. The Committee for Employment and Learning recognises that there are a significant number of our young people aged 16 to 24 who are not in education, employment or training (NEET). The objective of this Inquiry is:

5. "To undertake an Inquiry in conjunction with the relevant stakeholders to examine the basis on which young people (aged 16 to 24) find themselves not in education, employment and training (NEET), the work that is being undertaken already to support/re-engage these young people and to establish what elements would be required to develop a NEET Strategy and cross-departmental Action/Implementation Programmes to address this issue".

6. In meeting the above objective, the Committee engaged with stakeholders, the Department, other Executive Departments and other jurisdictions to seek answers to the questions below. These questions form the Terms of Reference for the Committee's Inquiry:

  • What tend to be the characteristics, experiences and barriers common to those young people who are NEET and what prevention/intervention strategies might be useful to reduce their numbers?;
  • What kinds of best practice are available to those working with young people who are NEET and what has been shown to work particularly well in our local situation?;
  • How best might young people who disengage from the 'system' be tracked/monitored?;
  • What are the best and most useful elements of other Strategies for young people who are NEET that could be applied locally?; and
  • What elements/funding would be required within a Strategy for young people who are NEET and what cross-departmental Action/Implementation Programmes are needed to address the situation?

The Committee's Approach

7. A methodology based on gathering evidence (oral and written) was used as the basis for the Committee's Inquiry programme. Written and oral evidence was from:

  • The Department;
  • The other Executive Departments
  • Other jurisdictions; and
  • Sectoral stakeholder groups.

Consideration of Evidence

Context

8. As indicated above, the Committee has been receiving briefing over the past year which has highlighted the plight of the NEET group of young people. Evidence that this group was continuing to grow – a situation exacerbated by the economic downturn – prompted the Committee to undertake this Inquiry. As outlined above, Members intention in undertaking the Inquiry was to present evidence to justify the development of an Executive strategy to stem the flow into this group of young people and to support and re-engage those already in the group. In this endeavour the Committee owes a great debt of thanks to those who have helped and supported Members in this Inquiry. The Committee has acknowledged that, while 'NEET' is not an attractive term, Members certainly prefer it to the alternative term of 'status zero'. The Committee believes that this term implies a judgement on the person, while NEET represents a more factual descriptor. Members naturally resist categorising young people whenever possible however, in this case, the use of the term NEET serves as shorthand as much as anything.

9. The momentum that has built up behind this Inquiry has been tremendous and the Committee is gratified that during the course of the Inquiry the former Employment and Learning Minister, Sir Reg Empey, took his Department's NEET Scoping Study to the Executive and, with his Executive colleagues' support, he instructed his officials to begin work with the other departments and stakeholder groups to develop such a strategy. The Committee is aware that a Stakeholder Forum has already been established, initially under the auspices of Bernardo's. The Committee understands that this Forum is currently broadening out its membership and seeking to create transparent management structures. In addition, the Department has published its scoping study.

10. The Committee has been deeply moved by the stories Members have heard during the course of this Inquiry, particularly when it has been the young people themselves recounting their experiences. The remains no doubt in Members' minds that a NEET strategy is desperately needed to ensure that the tide of young people who find themselves NEET is stemmed. At the same time the Committee understands that preventative measures alone are not enough – there will be circumstances that cannot be accounted for in advance. Effective and robust systems and provisions must be in place to help those whose circumstances cause them to be NEET. A clear message for the Committee has been that the characteristics, barriers and experiences of young people who are NEET are generally complex and multi-layered and a strategy must account for this.

11. The Committee's visit in May to Scotland and Wales to look at elements of their NEET strategies presented a number of interesting ideas and issues for Members to consider. However, the Committee realised that a lot of the work done elsewhere is also done in Northern Ireland. Scotland and Wales are ahead in that they have identifiable NEET strategies, but they are still finding their way and piloting programmes. It is also clear to the Committee that the ideas which Members saw or have received information about in the Republic of Ireland are not new here. Where the other jurisdictions differ perhaps is that they have governmental structures, such as more powerful local authorities etc., which can lend themselves better to joined-up government, and the presence of Junior Ministers in those jurisdictions whose work cuts across a variety of departments is an added bonus.

12. From the beginning the Committee realised that the core of any NEET strategy would have to involve the Executive Departments looking beyond their own remits towards greater collaboration. The strategy must be about co-ordination, co-operation, multi-agency working, referral and collective accountability.

13. During this Inquiry the Committee has also realised that it is not only the Executive Departments which often tend to work in what might be described as a 'siloed' fashion; there are community and voluntary organisations which are also focusing solely on their own work and who do not see themselves within a framework where they share information and resources with others. Duplication is not always identified and dealt with.

14. Against a backdrop of spending cuts the Committee is acutely aware that it is unlikely that significant additional money will be made available for a NEET strategy. Obtaining additional finance was not the Committee's focus when beginning this Inquiry. Members wanted to create awareness, momentum and to build consensus on the way forward for a NEET strategy. Simply securing additional funds for individual groups to continue to work in isolation was neither the point, nor an option.

15. A NEET strategy will mean that all the stakeholders will have to work within a framework – the Executive Departments, the community and voluntary sector, the different sectors of education, employers and businesses – all have a role to play.

16. While the Committee makes conclusions and recommendations, it will be the Executive Departments and the stakeholder groups who will work out the fine detail of the NEET strategy and the framework that needs to be developed. The Committee is pleased that the structures are beginning to establish themselves. The Committee has learned a lot from conducting this Inquiry. Members have met a lot of unsung heroes. The Committee is happy to see that things are now moving in the right direction and a NEET strategy is now on the horizon. The Committee believes that there is a window of opportunity that will close soon and must not be allowed to go to waste.

17. The Committee is also grateful to the Department's officials who compiled the scoping study into the NEET issue, which was completed a number of months into the Committee's Inquiry and had been prepared over some time. A great deal of effort went into the study below and the Committee has found it very useful.

18. The Committee asked five questions as part of the Terms of Reference for this Inquiry, outlined above, and the structure of the Report below follows these.

What tend to be the characteristics, experiences and barriers common to those young people who are NEET and what prevention/intervention strategies might be useful to reduce their numbers?

19. The initial evidence that the Committee presents below is drawn from a number of studies relating to the NEET issue.

DEL Scoping Study (Appendix 6)

20. The aims of the DEL scoping study were to research further data on 16 to 19 year olds (expanded to 16 to 24 year olds) who are NEET; to identify the relevant actions in place; and further to recommend whether a cross-departmental strategy could achieve better outcomes for the group in the future. Obviously this second question has been answered with a clear "Yes" and the department has begun work with other departments and stakeholders to move towards the development of such a strategy.

21. The study poses two questions:

  • Why does a young person disengage from education, employment or training and are there any triggers which can be identified early enough for some preventative measures to be effective?; and
  • Once disengaged, do all young people have the same aspirations which will lead them to respond in the same way to any measures introduced?

22. The study talks about a debate about whether a strategy should be preventative or represent interventions. It is the Committee's view that it requires both elements as it would be impossible to entirely stem the flow of young people who end up NEET purely through early interventions. It is clear that young people fall into the NEET group for a variety of reasons and it would be untrue to say that all young people who will end up NEET present signs in their earlier school career. We must remain cognisant of the need to make provision for those who have few or no barriers to seeking further education or employment and may just need a temporary helping hand to access opportunities.

23. The Labour Force Survey figures for Northern Ireland indicate the following with regard to young people who are NEET:

  • 16 to 19 year olds – 13% were NEET in Quarter 1 of 2010 (15% for the UK); and
  • 16 to 24 year olds – 18% were NEET in Quarter 1 of 2010 (19% for the UK).

24. The study also pinpoints the fact that the recession and economic downturn have had an impact on some of the young people who are NEET; however, there is acknowledgement that for the 'core' group social, community and education factors are significant.

25. The study reflects that England and Wales split young people aged 16 to 18 who are NEET into three groups:

  • Out of scope – young people who are undertaking some form of activity that is not formally counted as EET; such as gap years, volunteering and also those in custody. This group represents 22% of the NEET group in this age cohort;
  • Identifiable Barrier – young people with identifiable barriers to participation; such as child care responsibilities, or illness or disability. Some may be able to participate now, but others require specific help. This group represents 23% of the NEET group in this age cohort; and
  • No Identifiable Barrier – these are NEET young people who do not fit into either of the above groups and represent 55% of the NEET group in this age cohort.

26. The Committee regards the categorisation of 'No Identifiable Barrier' as being unhelpful and considers that it may further stigmatise the group with its connotation of almost 'deliberate' disengagement from the system without reason. Often young people in this group face a number of complex and inter-related issues which are not as readily apparent as those in the 'Identifiable Barrier' grouping.

27. The study further presented figures for The National Foundation for Education Research, based on the youth cohort study for England and Wales on 1,637 young people who left school in 2001 or 2003. The study group was followed for four years after their initial entry to NEET and provides another segmentation of the NEET group into three distinct populations:

  • 'Transitional or Gap Year' NEETs (44%);
  • 'Floating' NEETs (22%) – those without substantive barriers;
  • 'Core' NEETs (38%) – those who suffer from a range of disadvantages; thus creating barriers, some of which may be inter-generational. There is a suggestion that while individual barriers might be addressed by specific interventions the compound issues can remain.

28. The Committee prefers the usage of these terms because, as the Department's study indicates, the NEET group is not homogenous and a complex range of issues must be examined. Some of these issues are present from an early age and others manifest themselves at later transition points.

The study goes on to outline the Common characteristics of other jurisdictions' NEET strategies:

  • Divide into Preventative and Re-engagement or Intervention approaches;
  • Recognise the importance of early preventative intervention and additional support at an early age;
  • The heterogenous nature of the problem requires flexibility in response and its complex nature results in interdepartmental and agency communication and co-operation;
  • Transition stages are key for the young people; and
  • Disengagement from society and economy is often linked to other factors of social exclusion and identification of those factors is a starting point to finding solutions.

29. The Committee's visits to Scotland and Wales and study of their NEET strategies would allow Members to agree with the study's outline above. The Committee would also agree with the study's analysis that, while Northern Ireland does not have an overarching NEET strategy, it does have a number of 'sub-strategies' to tackle aspects of social and economic exclusion which can help to reduce the numbers of young people who are NEET. However, the Committee believes that an overarching strategy is required to tie these 'sub-strategies' together, to co-ordinate them, to maximise their effectiveness and to ensure that there are fewer gaps through which vulnerable young people might slip.

30. The study reaches a number of Conclusions, including:

  • The number of NEET young people in NI is no better or worse than the rest of the UK, but numbers have increased;
  • The cohort is the focus of strategic interest in other regions;
  • The group is not homogenous and comprises young people with no barriers to participation and those who have barriers to participation;
  • Barriers are varied and inter-related and many young people are affected by multiple and compounded issues;
  • Factors may be inter-generational;
  • Actions to prevent or reduce the numbers of NEET young people can be divided into Preventative and Intervention or Re-engagement. For preventative actions to be effective, intervention must be at an early enough stage;
  • Effects of the recession on NEETs are important;
  • Danger points for young people are the transitional stages when one form of activity ends and a conscious decision needs to be made as to the next engagement;
  • Much is being done by the statutory and voluntary sector to address issues; including joint working between organisations; and
  • There is the potential to develop existing activities further to: improve data availability; build on joint working; and share and make use of good practice.

31. The Committee would broadly agree with these conclusions, however, Members believe that it is probably too simplistic to suggest that any NEET young people have no barriers.

32. The study also puts forward a number of Recommendations, including:

  • Preparation of an overarching strategy for NEET young people in NI. This should be taken forward by a cross-departmental mechanism;
  • Account should be taken of significant work already done by departments and the third sector in respect of prospective and existing NEETs;
  • Steps should be taken to further develop partnerships and joint working between departments with regard to NEET young people;
  • Consideration should be given to introducing a follow-up survey to supplement the existing school leavers survey, allowing leavers to be tracked 6 to 9 months after they leave;
  • Re-introduction of the Youth Cohort Study in NI should be supported;
  • Consideration should be given to introducing a method of tracking young people who are NEET;
  • Baseline data needs to be established before targets are set;
  • Rather than focusing on reduction of NEETs, targets could relate to the numbers of young people receiving support and the nature of the intervention, e.g. provision of personal action plans for those with the most challenging barriers;
  • Target setting should be carried out within some type of scenario analysis which would take account of external economic factors which are likely to have an effect on the number of young people who are NEET;
  • Overall targets for reducing NEET numbers would need to acknowledge existing targets for individual groups, such as children in care;
  • A cross-departmental multi-agency approach is needed to address the compound problems faced by NEET young people or those at risk of disengaging; and
  • Problems faced by young people should be addressed in a holistic way and family support options should be explored.

33. Again, the Committee would broadly agree with these recommendations and many of the themes are reflected in the Committee's own recommendations coming out of the evidence provided by this Inquiry. The Committee would particularly endorse the Department's Scoping Study recommendations which propose a follow-up survey to suppliment the school leavers survey, and the re-introduction of the Youth Cohort Study in N.I.

34. In May and June of 2010, Qa Research conducted a survey of 2,048 16 to 24 year olds across the UK on behalf of the Prince's Trust. Respondents were asked to say how they feel about their career prospects and how confident they are about their future. The survey was entitled: 'Destined for the Dole? Breaking the cycle of worklessness in the UK' (Appendix 6). Of the survey group, 500 came from workless homes and 674 from "areas where most people are either unemployed or in dead-end jobs". The report indicated that there are 1.9m homes across the UK where no-one works – the highest in the EU. The report suggested that the young people who come from these homes will struggle to find work and will be less confident about the future. In fact the report suggested that their "...destiny lies on the dole queue". In her introduction to the report Martina Milburn, Chief Executive of the Prince's Trust, said: "It is likely that these disadvantaged youngsters will be driven further from the jobs market, as they struggle to compete with the post-recession backlog of unemployed graduates".

35. The report indicated that 70% of the young people from workless households surveyed have struggled to find work. 18% of those from workless homes expect to end up on benefits as those around them have. This figure was double the number (8%) of the other respondents.

36. A quarter of the respondents from workless households said that their parents do not have the knowledge to help them find a job. Of the respondents from workless homes, 9% have not even thought of a career that they might want. The report showed that 18% of respondents from workless households would leave school at 16 because their family and friends did - the figure was 12% for the other respondents.

37. Of respondents from workless households 10% did not think that they had skills or talents. The figure was 5% for other respondents. A fifth of the respondents from workless homes worried that they would never find a job because their parents did not. Of this group of respondents within the survey 14% said that they were embarrassed that their parents or carers do not work; 15% said this led to arguments with family and friends; 13% felt depressed because of it; 10% struggled at school as a result; 10% lost confidence because of it; and 9% struggled to sleep at night as a result of it.

38. The Prince's Trust YouGov Youth Index, 2010 (Appendix 6), makes similarly depressing reading. The Index is based on the views of 2,088 16 to 25 year olds who responded to an online poll conducted by YouGov for the Prince's Trust in December 2009. The poll measures how young people feel about different aspects of their lives, from family and friends to money and health. They were also asked about their confidence for the future. The Index is out of 100, where 100 is entirely happy or confident, while zero is not at all happy or confident.

39. The overall Index number for young people's happiness came out at 72, while confidence was 74. This brings the combined Index to 73. However, for NEET young people happiness is 60, while confidence is 64, bringing their combined Index to 62. For the NEET group the figure for happiness regarding work is 45, with happiness with regard to money at 44. The average Index scores for work and money with regard to confidence were 59 and 56 respectively.

40. 64% of all respondents said that they were happy "all" or "most" of the time, while this fell to 39% for NEET respondents. 6% of all respondents said that they were "rarely" or "never" happy, while this was 15% for the NEET respondents. 15% of all respondents indicated that they were down or depressed "all" or "most" of the time – this was 32% for NEET respondents. 15% of all respondents felt isolated "all" or "most" of the time – this was 26% for NEET respondents.

41. The worrying trend continues with the more in-depth questions. 15% of all respondents agreed with the statement "My life has no direction" – 42% of NEET respondents agreed. 16% of all respondents agreed "I have lost my way in life" – 33% of NEET respondents agreed. A quarter of all respondents agreed they have "felt suicidal" – 35% of NEET respondents had felt this way.

42. "Lonely"; "Rejected"; "Lost"; and "Desperate" were all words used by unemployed young people to describe how they felt. It is clear from the Index that unemployment has a tremendous knock-on effect on young people. It affects their self-esteem, emotional stability and overall well-being. These young people are likely to be less happy with friendships, family life and health than those in employment.

43. In his foreword to the Index, Professor David Blanchflower makes some stark comments:

  • "...I expect we will see an increasingly depressed and debilitated generation who, as a result, become decreasingly likely to find work and hang on to it in the future";
  • "The long and downward spiral of unemployment can also leave young people prone to more serious mental health issues, drug and alcohol additions, homelessness or worse";
  • "With graduates flooding the jobs market, those with fewer qualifications have been pushed down the pecking order – leaving those with no skills or qualifications even further from the jobs"; and
  • "These young people are not lost – they are undiscovered. There is a wealth of dormant talent out there and it is our duty to tap into it".

44. A UK wide sample of 1,046 16 to 24 year old NEET young people took part in an online poll conducted by YouGov in January 2010 on behalf of the Prince's Trust and the Citi Foundation. They were asked about career ambitions and experiences of unemployment and how it has affected their daily lives. Responses were used to estimate the numbers of workers that the UK would gain if these young people were able to achieve their potential. The survey gave a % of NEETs who favour each potential career option and these are applied to the population of 16 to 24 year olds to give a figure of how many aspire to each job: 1,500 plumbers, 6,000 firefighters, 6,500 chefs, 8,500 construction workers, 16,000 mechanics, 19,500 doctors/nurses, 26,000 police officers and 62,000 teachers.

45. As with any extrapolated figures, these must be treated with caution. However, the survey is interesting. It too throws up some depressing statistics:

  • 41% of respondents agreed "I worry that I'll never have enough money to provide for myself or my children";
  • 57% of respondents agreed "I worry I'll never be able to afford my own home";
  • 12% of respondents unemployed for up to 6 months agreed "I'll never amount to anything" - this rises to 22% for those unemployed for over 6 months; and
  • 10% of respondents unemployed for up to 6 months agreed "I don't have any skills or talents" – this rises to 29% for those unemployed for over 6 months.

46. As part of its 'Government futures' articles on public policy issues central to Northern Ireland's future prosperity and well-being, PricewaterhouseCoopers published 'School workforce matters: Towards a modernisation of the school workforce in NI' (Appendix 6). The publication made the following statement: "...consistent exposure to high quality teaching and learning in a supportive and nurturing environment:

  • equips all our young people with the necessary skills, attitudes and experience to fully engage in and contribute to the economy and society;
  • prepares our young people to engage in lifelong learning opportunities;
  • provides other social benefits such as reductions in anti-social behaviour and crime; and
  • provides an opportunity for early intervention for children and young people experiencing emotional health and well-being problems".

47. The publication went on to highlight the positives about the Northern Ireland education system: it outperforms the rest of the UK in terms of 'A' Levels and 'top end' GCSEs; 33% of NI pupils gain at least one A grade at 'A' Level, compared to 27% in England; and 25% of NI pupils sitting GCSEs achieve at least one A or A* grade, compared to 19% in England.

48. However, the publication describes a "long tail" of underachievement in the NI education system that balances this: in 2008/09 44% (approx. 11,000) of school leavers here left school without achieving 5 good GCSEs (including English and Maths) – the 2009/10 figures looks to be around 9,500; every year in NI approximately 700 children leave school with no formal qualifications of any kind and up to an additional 3,000 leave with very few; NI has slipped towards the OECD average in the Programme for International Achievement (PISA) survey, and more than a fifth of working age people here have no qualifications at all.

49. The publication suggests that the issues aren't just socio-economic but also involve how schools are run. The PwC publication looks at the Department of Education's policy document, 'Every school a good school', which emphasises the critical role of leadership, teaching and learning in driving up quality. It is important to remember that other than the family, those working in schools have the biggest and most direct impact on our children and young people.

50. In 2005, the OECD said: "...the broad consensus is that teacher quality is the single most important school variable influencing student achievement" ('Teachers Matter: Attracting, Developing and Retaining Effective Teachers').

51. The PWC paper goes on to emphasise multi-disciplinary working in schools and suggests: "An effective school workforce is one therefore which:

  • focuses on raising the aspirations and attainment of all our children and young people;
  • provides high quality teaching and learning every step of the way;
  • takes leadership and succession planning very seriously indeed;
  • deploys the school workforce effectively, freeing up leaders to lead and teachers to teach;
  • rewards good performance and tackles poor performance; and
  • embraces the concept of lifelong learning and ongoing professional development of all staff".

52. Queen's University, Belfast, the Prince's Trust and Save the Children published a paper in November 2009 called 'Childhood in Transition: experiencing marginalisation and conflict in Northern Ireland' (Appendix 6). Chapter five of the paper is entitled 'Education and Employment' and it has considerable relevance to this Inquiry. This chapter looks at the impact of poverty on educational attainment and highlights a number of issues. Poorer parents tend not to be able to provide educational resources and do not always place a high value on education. Community representatives contributing to the paper suggested that deficiencies in parental support for education are a "cultural" issue and this relates to a perception that schools "worked in a vacuum", with the school curriculum not being supported at home. Disadvantaged young people therefore have it in their mind: "Why bother, as my parents never bothered?"

53. The paper suggests that more disadvantaged communities tend to be more insular and if young people in these communities are surrounded by a lack of achievement then this is bound to have a negative effect. The undervaluing of education was considered by some in the paper as a reflection of embedded working class (male) culture which has historically valued physical strength over academic achievement. This, the paper suggests, has given way to a legacy of aspiring to informal work on building sites and driving taxis, with no particular sense of career building. A culture of seeing school as "irrelevant" and attending badly and gaining few formal qualifications has resulted. The perception amongst young people in these communities is often that any job is preferable to school and that formal education is largely unnecessary for these kinds of jobs. Moreover, the paper suggests that aspiration to gain employment beyond what was available locally would mean leaving their community and most of these young people would not consider that. This does beg the question whether the overweening reinforcement of community-belonging in NI has exacerbated this.

54. Economic inequality and relative deprivation have embedded low expectations, according to the paper. The paper goes on to suggest that careers advice in schools is inconsistent and often indifferent. However, work experience is seen as valuable and should be encouraged throughout school to help give young people an idea of something to aim for. Unfortunately, the paper reflects that many children and young people from disadvantaged areas considered that their teachers did not listen to them or respect them. There was evidence of a belief that teachers were uninterested and did not care about the pupils' welfare. "Good teachers" were identified as those who listen and care and this developed "trust" and "understanding" between teacher and pupil. Confidentiality was seen as a key issue for young people and many indicated that they did not "trust" the school counsellor, if such a person was available at their school. The paper suggested that these young people have no feeling of "ownership" of the school or their passage through it. Colleges on the other hand were regarded as more interesting and engaging and relaxed with the tutors being more respectful to young people and this appeared to inspire greater self-confidence.

55. In terms of training and employment, many of the young people indicated that they thought that there was little or none of this available in their area. This situation is exacerbated by young people leaving school without any effective identification of their skills or options and opportunities before they leave school.

56. Rathbone (NI) undertook a consultation exercise with young people aged 14 to 25 who are NEET as part of the Committee's Inquiry. The organisation ran 15 workshops in which 135 young people participated; 48 young people discussed the issues in smaller groups; and 37 young people responded to the questionnaire individually. The total size of the group was 220 NEET young people, of which 184 were aged 16 to 18 (the full Rathbone response, including the outcome of the survey is in Appendix 3).

57. When presented with the data from the consultation Members were particularly struck that of the 220 participants, 196 said that they had had a negative experience of school or the education system. That suggested to the Committee that this is a significant factor in young people becoming NEET and would also suggest that many of the actions of any strategy to address the issues leading to young people becoming NEET must take a fundamental look at how education is provided here.

58. When asked what their daily activities are, 70% of the group said drinking alcohol, while 75% said hanging out on the streets and 40% said taking drugs, with 55% saying watching TV. This suggested to the Committee that there is a dreadful waste of our young people's skills and talents and further suggests that a strategy for young people who are NEET must provide alternatives to these activities that are engaging and interesting and lead to positive, progressive outcomes.

59. Springvale Learning (Appendix 3), established in 1992, manages 1,000 learners weekly and is a not-for-profit company limited by guarantee. It employs 60 staff and holds Training for Success and Steps to Work contracts. They work with 400 young people weekly from inner-city backgrounds in the 16 to 24 age group who would otherwise find themselves NEET. They work with a consortium of Alternative Education Providers in West Belfast to offer vocational training opportunities to 15 NEET young people. They indicated in their submission that they have a 73% rate of retention on their programmes.

60. Springvale undertakes a questionnaire with young people starting on their programmes to assess the barriers that they face which produces a great deal of information. In 2009 some 300 young people answered the questionnaire and all had experiences or concerns regarding their personal development. The survey, which forms part of Springvale Learning's submission, indicated that the young people have a broad range of concerns, including drug and alcohol abuse, offending, mental health, family relationships, suicide/self-harm, managing aggression, fear of social isolation and issues around self-esteem, amongst others. Worryingly, 50% of the group indicated that they needed help in 5 or more of the areas of concern outlined in the survey.

61. To the Committee this reinforces the clear picture that the young people who are most at risk of finding themselves NEET are facing multiple barriers and issues that are preventing them from remaining engaged. It is also clear to the Committee that the only way to reach the 'core' group of NEET young people is to engage with them on the streets in the heart of their own communities. These hardest to reach young people are much less likely to come forward to engage.

Specific Characteristics/Experiences/Barriers

62. Through the many written submissions and oral briefings the Committee has received while pursuing this Inquiry, it has been quite apparent to Members that the characteristics of, experiences of, and barriers faced by young people who are NEET are myriad, complex and, in many cases, interwoven and multi-layered. The Committee has heard how it is often the case that a young person is referred to a particular programme to deal with one characteristic or barrier, then another manifests itself or a previous negative experience exerts its influence and a further referral must be made.

63. The Committee recommends that the NEET strategy for Northern Ireland must take into account that interventions should be community-based where possible and that these should be holistic, involving the young person's family, when possible.

64. As a result it is clear to the Committee that programmes and projects designed to re-engage and support young people who are NEET must be as holistic as possible and should come with as much signposting to other relevant and related programmes as possible.

65. Below are the characteristics and experiences of, and the barriers faced by, young people who are NEET. In many cases it is difficult to separate characteristics from experiences and barriers, so they have been examined thematically below in lists that reflect the sheer breadth of issues etc. The thematic lists are not exhaustive and are heavily inter-related. The items in the lists reflect the responses made to the Inquiry by a wide range of stakeholder groups and individual young people who participated in workshops that were held to feed into the Inquiry. Again, the Committee is extremely grateful to those groups who organised and hosted workshops and those who took part in them.

In care / Have left care / On the edge of care:

66. VOYPIC indicated in its evidence to the Inquiry (Appendix 3) that those in care, or who have experienced care, are: 12 times more likely to leave school with no qualifications; 4 times more likely to be unemployed; 60 times more likely to become homeless; 50 times more likely to experience prison; and their children are 66 times more likely to require State care. It is entirely clear to the Committee from these shocking statistics that this group of young people need particular support and assistance to ensure that they remain engaged and progress to further education, employment or training.

67. The Committee recommends that the NEET strategy for Northern Ireland must seek ways to specifically address the high incidence of care-experienced young people who end up NEET and should be cognisant of other, parallel strategies which target this group of young people.

Issues regarding Attitudes towards and Experiences of School and /or Training and/or Employment Environments:

68. Negative experience of education / Suffered bullying at school / Poor school attendance / Dislike of classroom environment / Dislike of traditional teaching styles and learning methods / Few or no formal qualifications / Problems with literacy and numeracy / Poor verbal and written skills / Low levels of essential skills / Difficulty in assimilating and processing information / Have been poorly advised regarding educational and/or training choices / Vulnerable to higher skilled people taking lower skilled job when there is pressure of the job market / Fear of continuing failure / 'Unsuitable' learning environments / Lack of work placements / Inappropriate or non-motivating curriculum content.

69. This list of factors is entirely reflective of the oral evidence that the Committee heard from stakeholder groups and individual young people during the evidence gathering for this Inquiry. Serious issues were raised about an education system which sees so many young people leave compulsory education with few, if any, qualifications and who have such a negative attitude towards mainstream, structured education or training provision. The issues above are unfortunately very characteristic of the young people within the NEET 'core'. Considerable effort and creativity is required to re-engage these young people. However, the Committee heard about, and saw, a number of inspiring programmes and projects designed to do just that; and met a number of inspiring individuals whose work involves helping these young people to reconnect. The Committee was also heartened to learn that the Department of Education and many schools are clearly aware of these issues and are working to make the education and training experiences of our young people more stimulating, interesting and relevant to the world around them.

70. Many of the issues above also relate to the thematic list below regarding the context in which young people who are NEET often find themselves living. It is clear to Members that individual mentoring and the use of Key Workers is essential to bring these young people to the point where they can progress towards further education, training or employment.

Issues regarding Family, Economic, Social and Community Context:

71. Are carers / Are parents / Family conflict or unstable home life / Poor parental supervision and discipline / Lack of key stability figures – home, school, training or employment / Lack of community capacity and neighbourhood cohesion / Family history of early school leaving / Members of a Traveller or Roma culture / Members of another culture / From a disadvantaged background and/or community / Have experienced intergenerational disengagement / Socially excluded at an early age / Children of single and/or young parents / Welfare dependency / Dysfunctional family life / Geographical isolation / Economically disadvantaged / Homeless / Childcare issues / Lack of a relationship with a significant adult / Benefits seem to be a better option than minimum wage jobs / Lack of resources.

72. The list above offered few surprises to the Committee. It is well established that the home environment and community context in which a child or young person exists is likely to have a considerable impact on their attitudes and behaviours. Often these issues mean that young people exist on the margins of society and can see no way to be drawn into the 'mainstream'. This is where programmes and projects which seek to go out and engage and recruit young people on the streets can be so effective. The Committee heard about a number of groups operating such programmes during the evidence gathering for the Inquiry. Again, the Committee commends those committed individuals and organisations for the vital work that they do in bringing back disengaged young people and helping them to progress towards sustainable opportunities and options.

73. The Committee recommends that the NEET strategy for Northern Ireland must ensure cognisance of issues such as economic and social context, which are beyond the NEET young person themselves so that provision for this group is more holistic.

Negative Behaviours:

74. Experienced drug and/or alcohol abuse / Inappropriate social skills and behaviours / Have committed a crime / Involvement in anti-social behaviour / Friends involved in anti-social and/or criminal activities / Stigma often reinforces negative behaviours.

75. Again, the list of behaviours and issues above are all too often the result of disengagement from school or training and can also often be the result of the context in which young people exist. Often these behaviours cause the young people to move further and further to the margins and returning them to the mainstream is often a daunting task. Again, the Committee has been made aware of programmes, individuals and organisations working to ensure that young people have support to break cycles of negative behaviour. Again, the Committee offers its thanks for these interventions.

'Health'/'Wellbeing' Barriers and Issues:

76. Have physical disability / Have learning disability / Have mental illness / Higher than average incidence of ADHD or dyslexia / Autism.

77. This list offers a number of complexities. Often these 'health' issues are dealt with in isolation and are not seen in the context of the care issues, school/training/employment experience issues, and the family/community context issues, listed above. The Committee is aware that young people with these kinds of barriers are often those most at risk of becoming NEET and then slipping into the economically inactive population later. Concerns have been raised with the Committee around the lack of research and data on this group. The Committee has also had similar concerns raised about the treatment of those with autism who are often not involved in strategies and whose lack of clearly defined status seems to ensure that they are likely to be marginalised. This is an issue that the Committee has raised with the Minister for Employment and Learning on a number of occasions and Members are aware that other Statutory Committees are troubled by the apparent lack of a strategic approach to helping people with autism. It must also be acknowledged that there is a debate about the classification of autism.

78. The Committee recommends that work is undertaken to better track and monitor the numbers of disabled young people who find themselves NEET. This should allow for better provision for disabled NEET young people to be incorporated into the NEET strategy.

Personal Issues/Feelings:

79. Inflated or deflated self-esteem / Low self-confidence / Apathy / Poor time keeping / Lack of ambition and drive / Limited staying power / Lack of respect for authority / Lack of trust / Lack of awareness of the need to become skilled in order to find employment / Alienation / Adverse to risk and exposure to criticism.

80. Again, the items on this list are not surprising and they generally manifest themselves as a result of a number of other issues and factors that can be seen on the other lists above. This list is incredibly diverse and the items on it are often inter-related. Some of these issues or feelings can be overwhelming and, again, the Committee believes that programmes and projects to re-engage young people who are NEET, for whatever reason, must be holistic in nature; and those involved in running such programmes or projects have a responsibility to ensure that they are equipped to signpost or refer the young person to other provision, where necessary. Information and communication about the availability of programmes and projects etc. is vital to the success of any strategy that is developed to help young people who are NEET.

81. The Committee recommends that those involved in developing the NEET strategy must ensure the creation of mechanisms to signpost interventions/provision for NEET young people and those involved in helping and supporting them.

82. Another, more difficult to categorise issue raised was the legacy of 'conflict' in Northern Ireland. The Committee understands the complexity of this issue and how it has impacted. Despite the considerable progress that has been made to move on from conflict here, it is apparent in so many ways, from the structure of our economy to the separateness of how the communities here live, that its impact is still felt. Those providing solutions to the issue of young people who are NEET must be cognisant of this.

Rural Issues

83. The Committee realised early on in the evidence-gathering for this Inquiry that there are a number of issues or barriers specific to young people living rurally that should be identified and must be dealt with as part of a NEET strategy. The Committee took evidence from the Young Farmers' Clubs of Ulster (YFCU) (Appendices 2 and 3) in order to examine these.

84. YFCU members identified the additional barriers that young people in rural areas face, the primary one being access to transport and its affordability. This is compounded by a number of other related issues, including reliance on family members for transport and the additional travel time that is required to get anywhere. These barriers can cause a sense of isolation for young people living rurally. Not only does this feeling of rural isolation act as a barrier to young people accessing education, training or employment, it may also affect their ability to participate in wider educational, social, recreational or community learning opportunities; including volunteering which, in turn, can impact on young people's employability.

85. The YFCU highlighted that opportunities for young people in rural areas to gain employment are already limited. The YFCU has calculated that over the past two years, there has been a reduction in the number of opportunities for its members to secure local part-time employment, with that reduction accelerating over the past couple of months. YFCU have reported that many of its members have been let go or have been unable to get an interview for a post for which they would have easily been qualified only a few months ago. The low-paid nature of some of the work can sometimes mean that up to a quarter of a young person's daily part-time earnings are spent on transport costs - possibly twice as much as those incurred by a young person in an urban setting working only four hours a day. Additionally, it might take two hours to get to and from work because of public transport timetables.

86. The Committee heard from the YFCU how increased unemployment, coupled with the already-limited job opportunities for rural young people, has also had a negative effect on those participating in apprenticeship schemes. YFCU members, in common with other young people, have found it very hard to maintain their apprenticeships.

87. The YFCU was also keen to emphasise that rural childcare, broadband access and mobile phone coverage are further significant barriers to rural young people taking advantage of training opportunities and finding work online.

88. The YFCU indicated that it works very closely with the College of Agriculture, Food and Rural Enterprise (CAFRE) in trying to encourage its members into further and higher education. The YFCU representatives told the Committee that when a young farmer is coming to the end of their compulsory schooling at 16, there is a strong tendency to "panic and get excited about going straight onto the farm". Through the YFCU's work with CAFRE, it tries to encourage rural young people to move into some sort of further education – even if it is simply a one-year NVQ course on a part-time basis, studying one day a week at Greenmount. The YFCU representatives expressed concern to the Committee that those rural young people who begin work on the farm at 16 may reflect at 22 that they wished they had looked at all their options but, at that stage feel that the family is too dependent on their work on the farm for them to explore another, possibly even supplementary, career path. The Committee is concerned that rural young people are not getting career advice, guidance and information that suit their circumstances. This can, in some cases, lead to them taking options that do not satisfy them, or could even leave them NEET in the longer term.

89. The Committee recommends that those developing the NEET strategy look specifically at the transport issues that face rural young people. The Committee recommends that childcare, broadband access and mobile phone coverage and accessibility of training and employment opportunities facing rural young people should also be fed into the Rural White Paper being prepared by DARD.

Prevention/Intervention strategies to reduce NEET numbers

90. This section looks at how prevention and intervention strategies are being used to stem the flow of young people who are NEET and it also looks at respondents' views on how an over-arching NEET Strategy for Northern Ireland might look.

91. Springvale Learning (Appendix 3) suggested a number of methods/techniques that would work towards creating circumstances where it would be more difficult for young people to 'disappear off the radar'. They indicate in their submission that there is a requirement for counselling interventions to prevent 'drop outs'. As has been outlined above, young people at risk face a vast number of issues and it would seem extremely logical to provide some form of counselling to allow them to deal with those issues. Springvale also recommend face-to-face attendance recording in the morning and then after lunch of all learners. This again means that there is less opportunity for the young person to disengage and an accumulation of unauthorised or sick absences is less likely to occur. The benefit of this is that it is a simple preventative strategy that is relatively straightforward to apply. Further, it makes it clear to the young person that there are people who are concerned about them and their whereabouts and who value their engagement.

92. Springvale also stresses the absolute necessity for pastoral care as both a preventative measure; i.e. young people are less likely to find the pressures on them to disengage overwhelming if they have recourse to some form of pastoral care; and applied proactively as an intervention that will deter disengagement. Pastoral care is a theme running throughout this Inquiry. Springvale also highlight that respect works both ways. Many of the young people that have participated in the Inquiry workshops and who have come before the Committee have stressed that they do not feel respected at school or elsewhere and that this is a factor in disengagement, as has been illustrated a number of times above. Respect is important at any age and young people are more aware of it than might be imagined. The Northern Ireland Youth Forum (Appendix 3) echoes this when it highlights poor school experience, for example disrespectful teachers, as being a key factor in disengagement.

93. In its submission Opportunity Youth (Appendix 3) cites some specific ways in which preventative/intervention strategies can be used to reduce the numbers of NEET young people. In common with a number of other organisations which submitted evidence, Opportunity Youth suggests that it is important to measure and gather intelligence: who and where are the NEETs? The Committee believes that this has been a major failure in the past and has to be a keystone of any strategy. Opportunity Youth also stress consultation and engagement and dialogue and negotiation between stakeholders, especially young people. It is quite clear to the Committee that young people must be part of deciding the best ways for them to be re-engaged and stakeholders must redouble their efforts to talk to each other and share experiences.

94. The issue of creativity is also one that is highlighted by many respondents to the Inquiry. Opportunity Youth advocates the introduction of an extensive, fully inclusive and appropriately resourced, work-based route for 14+ that provides a meaningful alternative to academia. This suggestion is one that is popular with a number of respondents to the Inquiry. The Committee has heard evidence from many quarters, not least the young people themselves, that academically focused education is not the only route, that a vocational or professional and technical route must also be available. The Committee finds this idea interesting, but Members would stress that this alternative route must not strand those that take it on the edges of the job market because the route has not been properly thought through and is not respected and accepted by employers. It must also provide scope for further study at college or university. Those who take a more vocational route should not find that their options for progression have been reduced as a result.

95. Opportunity Youth also suggest that systems should be funded differently. They suggest a move away from the system that "pushes and pulls" a young person through the education or training system and give young people greater "ownership, purpose, value and responsibility" for the route that they take. Again, the Committee finds this interesting and would agree that young people are often, bizarrely, the last to be considered when education or training is designed. The focus is often on budgets, frameworks, protocols and other factors – rather than what young people need and want from education and training. Opportunity Youth reinforces the point by advocating investment in work-based routes to achievement as well as adaptable, wraparound services to deal with barriers, individual needs and apathy. These should include transitionary support into employment and family support.

96. The Committee has consistently heard about the need for transition management in a NEET strategy and it is clear that this is essential. The Committee agrees with Opportunity Youth that such a system needs a high level of co-ordination, information-sharing and, as indicated above, to be young person focused. Opportunity Youth echo a theme popular amongst many respondents to this Inquiry when they suggest caseloads of no more than eight per support worker "offering a continuum of interventions" targeted mostly at the difficult transitionary stages, i.e. Year 7/8 and Year 11/12.

97. During the evidence gathering the Committee was conscious that it would be important to have inputs from schools regarding the issue of prevention/intervention strategies that would help to stem the flow of young people ending up NEET. The Committee also decided to particularly target rural schools which work in collectives with other schools. This rural input refers back to the evidence from the YFCU above. Members considered that these schools would have particular experience of countering disengagement and would also offer the experiences of working in the rural environment. The Committee invited the Glastry College Principal, Errol McMaster, (Appendices 2 and 3) to brief the Committee. Glastry works within a group of schools, a training organisation and a further education college to deliver the Entitlement Framework. The Committee saw a number of positives in this kind of co-operative working.

98. Mr McMaster indicated in his evidence that intervention with regard to 'at risk' young people must begin in primary schools and as early as possible following the identification of an issue. The Committee heard this message throughout the Inquiry process and Members have concluded that its logic is inescapable. Mr McMaster highlighted that specialist teachers and classroom assistants are required to provide help for pupils experiencing difficulties with language and numeracy. He stressed that the Education Welfare Service must be more proactive and robust in its approach to poor attenders and school refusers.

99. He questioned the value of some of the alternative education provision put in place by the Education and Library Boards. He highlighted that there are often too few places offered, often a low completion rate is achieved by the pupils involved and a limited number of class time hours are provided per week. He suggested that a better option might be to have schools explore the work placement/tailored curriculum offered by independent providers such as North Down Training, another organisation which briefed the Committee (Appendices 2 and 3).

100. The Committee agrees with Mr McMaster's conclusion that schools and colleges must seek to provide attractive and meaningful programmes of study which young people find interesting and valuable in the context of future job prospects. Mr McMaster, like many other respondents to the Inquiry, also highlighted that GCSEs are not an appropriate route for all and are used inappropriately to compare schools. Arguments for a post 14 vocational alternative are outlined above. Mr McMaster also indicated that alternative programmes of study have been successfully introduced by some schools, for example, Occupational Studies and programmes devised by the Prince's Trust. It seems clear to the Committee that there is a considerable need for post-primary school provision to be reviewed in the context of whether it is sufficient only to have GCSE-style provision. It seems clear to the Committee that there is considerable support for some kind of vocational or technical education provision to run in parallel.

101. Mr McMaster made a compelling case to the Committee for schools to be organised into collaborative clusters that also include a local college. The Committee is receptive to his view that these represent a better way to deliver more options for pupils. The Committee also recognises Mr McMaster's belief that these kinds of Area Learning Partnerships (ALPs) will allow non-grammar schools to stem the flow of higher ability pupils to grammar schools post GCSE. He also raised issues around transport for these school clusters which reflects the evidence from the YFCU above. The Committee pursued this issue with the Department of Education (Appendices 3 and 6). The Committee believes that transport is a serious issue for rural schools, schools in cluster arrangements and for rural young people generally if they are on the edge of and struggling with engagement. Members regard transport as an issue that must be addressed in all these contexts as part of any NEET strategy.

102. Corpus Christi Youth Centre (Appendix 3) in Ballymurphy highlighted interventions involving families. The Committee has seen considerable evidence presented to this Inquiry that suggested that interventions which also incorporate young people's families can be extremely effective in modifying the environment that the young person lives in and can so act to lessen many of the issues that are causing the young person to disengage. It would be true to say that all respondents to this Inquiry emphasised the need for co-operative and co-ordinated working and Corpus Christi recommended in its evidence that ELBs, Belfast City Council, Integrated Services for Children and Young People, Neighbourhood Renewal and Full Service Community Network should work together to develop a local action plan for Ballymurphy and implement it. While this is a very geographically specific aim, it suggests the need for local partnerships to be formed and cemented to provide a system of local 'hubs' around which any NEET strategy could be developed and implemented. These might also form the units which could facilitate monitoring and assessment of the strategy's success. Corpus Christi also advocates intervention strategies based on four Es:

  • Education – should include citizenship, personal and social development, community development, numeracy and literacy, development of formal and informal pathways to education;
  • Environment – creating an awareness of a 'green' environment and the development of an 'environment on your doorstep';
  • Enterprise – this should be developed with initiatives to enable participants to either start their own businesses or be involved in others' businesses; and
  • Enjoyment – participants need to understand the above Es can be fun. Enjoyment on a programme is the key to engaging and retaining NEETs.

103. The Committee has seen a common thread running through the evidence it has received around prevention/intervention strategies which highlight the need for the inclusion of personal and social development education and an understanding of enterprise and the environment in programmes for them to enable participants to progress towards the goal of further education, training or employment.

104. In its submission the Northern Ireland Youth Forum (Appendix 3) echoes the sentiment above that investment in transition resources in the teenage years to target those 'at risk' of becoming NEET is essential. They also echoed the call for integrated services to ensure that the net is all encompassing. They further supported the suggestion that pastoral care needs improved in colleges and local training providers. This is an issue which, as indicated above, has become particularly apparent to the Committee. It is clear failures in pastoral care, combined with poor careers guidance and advice that has meant that more vulnerable young people have disengaged and become NEET.

105. Bryson Charitable Group's (Appendix 3) submission reinforces other comments above that current programmes should recognise other behavioural learning and social aspects rather than just being qualification driven. They believe that intervention strategies tend to be active during the school year; however, there is little or no provision over the summer holidays during July and August. This is an issue that is important and is dealt with by some of the strategies in other jurisdictions, such as the School Completion Programme and Schools'-Business Partnerships in the Republic of Ireland. Bryson suggests that year round programmes are required to ensure engagement is continuous. They go on to highlight that existing DEL programmes tend to start with fixed hours in each strand; however, they believe that assessments should determine what hours a young person is capable of maintaining and then work towards increasing these – unrealistic expectations should not jeopardise engagement. Many other respondents to this Inquiry have also suggested that DEL programmes are too rigid and that some flexibility and space for creativity would greatly enhance these.

106. Bryson also echoes the call by most respondents for a co-ordinated approach by all agencies to identify the young people 'at risk' and to build trust. They see this as best done with one-to-one support, as suggested by other respondents above. If young people have been 'turned off' education, then 'bite size' learning modules can be used to develop skills gradually, according to Bryson. They also advocate more support for parents or guardians, again echoing the sentiments of other respondents. They suggest specialist funding is required for organisations to increase their human resources in the areas of counselling, psychology, mentoring and advice. This fits with the many respondents who advocated the importance of pastoral care and counselling to be available to young people in programmes and in schools, colleges and other settings.

107. Fastrack to IT (NI) (Appendices 2 and 3) see a collaborative approach between government, industry, communities and education and a collaborative approach between social welfare and training as key to the success of prevention/intervention strategies. They advocate the provision of quality training programmes which provide:

  • General basic skills followed by technical skills;
  • The inclusion of personal and professional development skills;
  • A preparation for work approach related to market/job opportunities;
  • The application of appropriate pedagogy; monitoring of accredited attainment and the development of individual professional pathways; and
  • Ongoing support for a period of at least 3 years into employment.

108. They, along with a number of other respondents advocated the creation of a 'NEET Taskforce' with representatives from government, industry, community and education and training to provide closer collaboration on a strategy and implementation and action programme.

109. The evidence provided to this Inquiry by the North Monaghan School Completion Programme (Appendices 2 and 3) also highlights that the Departments of Justice and Education must collaborate, as must Health and Education - also that strategies across government should dovetail. This is echoed by VOYPIC which states that a NEET strategy here must complement the existing DHSSPS Strategy for Children In Care (Care Matters: Bridge to a Better Future). The Committee sets out later in this report how these kinds of collaborative structures might look and how they fit into a strategy and the Committee states throughout this Inquiry report that government strategies here should show clear cognisance of each other.

110. The Alternative Education Providers Forum (Appendices 2 and 3) also suggests that a NEET strategy should be led by one sponsoring department or body which is responsible for overseeing the strategy and implementing the action plan. The Forum suggests that this sponsoring body must be responsible for the collation of cross-departmental resources in respect of the strategy's implementation. The Forum further suggests that a central funding mechanism should be established which is responsible for the allocation of providing funding where the young person is receiving education or training (to avoid the duplication of resources). The sponsoring body should include relevant statutory and community stakeholders with relevant skills and expertise. The Forum also advocates that 'Fall out' systems need to be in place which are clear and well signposted so that disengagement of young people is minimised. The Forum, in common with most respondents, advocates that enterprise, citizenship and health etc. must be built into programmes as these elements will help to provide young people with the necessary skills, knowledge and behaviours to progress.

111. In their evidence, the Prince's Trust (Appendices 2 and 3) also advocates a 'Taskforce' approach to the NEET issue. They also share in the general advocacy for targets and indicators to be apparent in any NEET strategy. Preventative and support structures must also be included in the strategy, as must recognition of the central role of the third sector and recognition of tried and tested programmes. The Prince's Trust is one of the organisations which other respondents have complimented most. They are also working within the NEET strategies in other jurisdictions.

112. The Northern Ireland Youth Forum (NIYF) stated in their evidence (Appendix 3) that opportunities must be a key part of prevention and intervention strategies. This is tied to progression and the idea that programmes should not be regarded as finite, but should be part of a framework where signposting is part of every programme and strategy. The NIYF also advocate personal development as a key part of intervention programmes. Training must also be provided as must job placements. Role models are also seen as essential – this is a recurrent theme throughout the report. The NEET strategy must have a clear identity so that there is no ambiguity as to what it is for and who has responsibility. The NIYF are also part of the general call that volunteering must be part of the strategy.

113. Youth Council (NI) specifically calls in their evidence (Appendix 3) for a much closer relationship between schools and the Youth Service. The Council also suggest the need for prevention/intervention programmes to be of at least six months duration with work on personal and social development education and training, work sampling, mentoring and modest financial incentives. Such programmes could be designed and run by the Youth Service with the involvement of Education Support Services, the Careers Service, Social Services and local businesses. Again, the Committee is supportive of this kind of considered and structured co-ordination of strategies. Without this kind of structure it is clear that individual organisations can lose sight of how they are working within a framework where progression is key. All providers must understand that they must always be aware of their obligation to highlight and signpost opportunities for progression to those participating in their programmes.

114. The above section contains a number of issues that also provoke a number of Committee recommendations below.

115. The Committee recognises that the study of GCSEs and 'A' Levels is not appropriate for all our young people. As a result Members recommend that those developing the NEET strategy examine the reasons behind pupil disengagement in our schools and consider whether a 14+ vocational route for young people in schools should be developed, which is regarded as equal in quality to the academic route (GCSEs/'A' Levels) and which contains agreed levels of English and STEM subjects. This route should connect with a continuation of education/training at college or university.

116. The Committee recommends that evolution of the curriculum used in our schools is guided by the need to make our young people's educational experience meaningful and connected to the world around them and should be attractive in order to minimise disengagement. All teaching should reflect on the contextualisation of the information and courses in our schools, academic or vocational, should have robust PSDE, careers guidance/advice and employability/entrepreneurial skills built in, where appropriate.

117. The Committee supports the ideas behind Area Learning Partnerships (ALPs) and recommends to those developing the NEET strategy that they ensure that these clusters are encouraged and examples of best practice in gaining the optimum benefits from the use of ALPs are widely circulated.

118. The Committee recommends that not only should those developing the NEET strategy ensure that it provides a "continuum of intervention"; they should ensure that interventions are also available during the traditional school/college holidays during the summer months.

119. The Committee recommends that a key part of the NEET strategy is the development of more robust pastoral care systems in schools, colleges, universities and for intervention programmes. These systems should be well signposted and a clear part of a referrals framework.

120. The Committee recommends that the community and voluntary sector be embedded in the NEET strategy.

121. The Committee recommends that those developing the NEET strategy ensure that the pivotal role of mentors/Key Workers/Support Workers is deeply embedded within the systems of the strategy.

122. The Committee has recognised that the NEET strategy must be cross-departmental; however, Members recommend that there is an individual(s)/body that provides oversight of the development and implementation of the strategy and also has a role in considering how best to maximise cross-departmental funding for the strategy. The Committee recommend that the OFMdFM Junior Ministers should fulfil this role as Children and Young People fall under their remit.

123. The Committee does not have specific targets in mind for the NEET strategy in terms of reducing the numbers of NEET young people over time or in terms of the number of interventions applied/available. The Committee recommends that any targets set by the strategy are cognisant of those embedded in other strategies and that they are agreed by the stakeholders.

Careers Advice and Guidance

124. One of the most important prevention/intervention strategies in the Committee's view is the provision of quality, well-informed and timely careers advice, guidance and information.

125. The Careers Service indicated in its evidence to the Committee that it has the equivalent of 163 full-time staff in total, of which the equivalent of 100 are full-time professionally qualified careers advisers. They are based in jobcentres, jobs and benefits offices and careers offices throughout Northern Ireland. The services are free to whoever wishes to avail of them, whether they are young people or adults. The Careers Service recognises that clients who are vulnerable to social exclusion should have a high priority, and the Service focuses particularly on those clients.

126. The Service has provision available through its website, and has developed a range of information about various industry sectors with the sector skills councils. The Service also has partnership arrangements with the Educational Guidance Service for Adults (EGSA), which provides an outreach service for adult careers guidance. That includes work with people between 19 and 25 who are disengaged, and the contract is worth around £700,000 per annum. The Careers Service has four key aims in its involvement with schools:

  • it is to support the delivery of impartial careers education;
  • to intervene at pivotal points in the transition process and the decision-making process;
  • to provide tailored education, information, advice and guidance, to promote inclusion, and to increase appropriate participation in education, training and employment; and
  • to support continuous improvement in delivery of the education, information, advice and guidance services.

127. Traditionally, the Service has focused on Year 12 in order to intervene at a time when most young people make fundamental decisions about where they go for post GCSE education. Careers advisers spend about 60% of their time in schools. The Service aims to offer a complete, impartial advice and guidance service to all, therefore advisers spend the remaining 40% of their time dealing with adults and young people in further education colleges and talking to young people who have gone into training organisations. The service is also available to anyone else who wants to change job or move around the system.

128. As indicated above the Careers Service has traditionally focused its efforts on Year 12. However, increasingly, Members heard how the Service has to deal with young people much, particularly those in Year 10 who are making decisions about their GCSEs etc. To this end the Service has developed a partnership agreement with the Department of Education which articulates the range of services that it provides to schools, which go right down to Years 8 and 9, although the Service admits that there is little activity in those years. However, the Service admits that its resources are particularly concentrated in Year 12 and Sixth Form. Delivery is through an initial class for all, after which they fill in application forms. From what they have said in these forms it is determined who needs help and when, and what type of help is required.

129. The Committee heard that there is a partnership arrangement with careers teachers in schools and that this year is the first of a new partnership agreement, which effectively, earlier formalises existing arrangements. The Service sees it as a way of ensuring that schools are aware of the range of services that are available to them across all year groups. However, it is entirely up to schools to decide how they make best use of the resource that the Service offers them. Members voiced some concern that schools can effectively decide not to use the Careers Service and this would suggest that not all school children can access professional careers advice and guidance.

130. It was highlighted to Members that a key issue for the Service contained in the careers strategy is the introduction of the partnership agreement mentioned above. They are hopeful that it will allow them to provide advice and guidance to more school children and from an earlier age too. They suggested that, sometimes, intervention at Year 12 does not allow advisers to make an impact. The Service was keen to emphasise its relationships with other departments and agencies, including the health and social care trusts, which have employability schemes to deal with people who have a range of problems.

131. The Service is also involved with the Give and Take project (with Include Youth), a community and voluntary-based project that deals with young people with particular social and other issues that may affect their attainment levels, which is highlighted later in this report. The Service indicated that it sees the vulnerable as falling into two groups: people with a disability and people who have other barriers. It is currently developing policy to improve services for those two specific groups. The Service also indicated that it is looking at quality standards, as it acknowledges the need to assess its effectiveness. Questionnaires are used to ask clients how they feel about what the Service provides and whether it is doing everything expected of it. However, the Service would like to introduce more robust quality standards, and is working on that. It is also looking at impact assessment and at best practice across Europe for that.

132. The Service acknowledged to the Committee that the tracking and monitoring of young people who are NEET is also an issue for it. The representatives acknowledged the need to make sure that it has a complete data set on all the young people who will be leaving school at any given time. The representatives indicated that the Service is working closely with the Department of Education to try to overcome the difficulties with sharing data. As highlighted elsewhere in this Inquiry report, the Committee is extremely concerned about significant gaps in tracking and monitoring young people and the interventions they receive, particularly those who are most at risk of becoming NEET. The representatives pointed out that there are obviously legal implications with regard to data sharing, and that schools are, quite rightly, nervous about passing over information unless they are legally entitled to do so.

133. The representatives stressed that the Department of Education has been very helpful and is co-operating on that issue. The Department of Education intends to write to schools to see if it can do anything to overcome those issues. The representatives also stressed that both departments share a common aspiration of sharing data that is in the best interests of the young people. Currently the Service has a list of young people whom it has seen in schools and who are eligible to leave in June of any given year. It also has data on some of those who have moved into DEL-funded training organisations or programmes and further education colleges and is therefore able to track some of those. It is also aware that others have stayed in further education within their schools, and there are those that it is unable to track. The representatives stressed that the period following the end of the school year is quite fluid, with a lot of movement, so the Service will wait until things settle down some time towards the end of October or beginning of November to see where the young people are and track those of which it has no record. The issue for the Service is that this is not necessarily a comprehensive list, which is why it has to get the class lists from the schools. Of those that it is able to trace, from last year's figures, it was able to engage with around half of those who were deemed as being NEET at the end of October. The representatives admitted that the Service has more work to do on tracking and monitoring, and that is something that they intend to do.

134. The Committee strongly recommends that work is done by the Careers Service and the Department of Education to overcome data-sharing issues. These issues have been overcome in other jurisdictions and the gaps that exist in the information to which the Careers Service has access is impacting negatively on young people generally, but specifically on those most at risk of becoming NEET.

135. The risk factors that the Service uses to identify young people at risk are things like persistently poor attendance, or issues at home that the school is aware of that might impact on their attainment – this will be shared with the careers adviser. The Service sees this as a partnership arrangement with schools and the representatives flagged up that the Service developed very close relationships with the health and social care trusts, amongst others. Although its advisers are professionally trained in giving vocational guidance, the representatives stressed that there are limitations to what they can do. They need to work closely with other professionals and use their help to make sure that young people have access to all the other services that are available to them to deal with whatever problems are happening in their lives. The Committee wholeheartedly agrees with this multi-agency partnership approach and advocates that it is broadened out. The representatives acknowledged, again, that there is some work to do to determine the effectiveness of the guidance and the intervention that it provides at any particular point in time, and that work on this will be progressing over the next year. There is no independent evaluation of the work of the Service currently - at the end of every year schools and young people are asked how they feel about the service that has been provided to them. The representatives stressed that the feedback is very positive, but Members expressed reservations that there is no independent evaluation of the Service's work.

136. The Committee recommends that the Careers Service should continue to build partnerships that give it access to an increasing number of young people and these should include greater involvement in colleges and stronger relationships with business, including greater use of exchange programmes.

137. The Committee recommends that the work of the Careers Service should be subject to independent evaluation.

138. Careers advisers have an ongoing professional development programme that involves six sessions a year where people are brought in from the industry to tell them what is happening in growth areas. It is key for the Service to ensure that its advisers are up-to-speed with what is happening in the labour market. The representatives also highlighted that the Service has developed much better labour-market intelligent information in leaflets and advice, which is sent to advisers and available to young people. The representatives acknowledged that information and guidance is vital at key transition points - if the right decisions are not made at these points everything connected to a young person's career direction can be affected. The representatives stressed the importance of the Service being embedded in DEL's Skills and Industry Division, which is responsible for the skills strategy, the STEM strategy and other forward-looking activities in the Department. The connection between the services and the interventions that the Careers Service funds and its close relationship with that division in the Department, was regarded as very important by the representatives. It allows the Service to be close to any change in thinking about what industry and business will need in the future.

139. The representatives highlighted to the Committee that they believe that young people are most vulnerable when they are below the radar of the benefit system, which is when they are under 18. Between the ages of 16 and 18, if they do not avail themselves of education or training, they could simply not be doing anything. This is the group which the Service needs to target. The representatives indicated their belief that those who are under 16 should still be in school, and the education system – putting them on someone's radar. The representatives stated that between the ages of 16 and 18 is a very vulnerable period as it is the time when a lot of damage can be done to someone's career aspirations and what they do for the rest of their lives. The representatives expressed concern that the Service is not necessarily as aware of these young people as it wants to be – contact is often lost. The Department of Education shares that view and representatives indicated they share a common goal in trying to overcome that problem.

140. The representatives went on to highlight their resource centre in Ann Street in Belfast and a comparable facility at Richmond Chambers in Londonderry where people can come in off the street to look at books, use the facilities or get direct advice from an adviser. The centres have been deliberately sited in places where there is a high footfall. The representatives indicated that the Service would like to extend the resource centre model to other parts of Northern Ireland. Although the model works very well in an urban location where there is high footfall and where that concentration of resources can be justified, the Service needs to look at how it could deliver that model in other, more rural locations.

141. The Committee welcomed the briefing from the Careers Service as there had been a great deal of anecdotal evidence presented about the careers advice and guidance that young people receive and it had generally been negative. Members are very supportive of the work that the Careers Service is trying to do and would like to see them given greater access to all post primary school pupils, not just when schools decide. The issues raised around tracking and monitoring young people are dealt with at greater length in that section of the report below.

142. The Committee recommends that, as part of the NEET strategy, the Careers Service should have access to all post primary pupils in Northern Ireland, including those in alternative provision and those in the colleges. Access should not be decided by the schools as this reinforces an inconsistent and unequal approach to the provision of careers advice and guidance. The Committee is of the firm belief that all young people should have some regular form of contact with a professional careers advisor and that this contact should expand at transition points, particularly Years 10, 12 and 13 and 14. The Committee is cognisant that this may require an expanded Careers Service.

What kinds of best practice are available to those working with young people who are NEET and what has been shown to work particularly well in our local situation?

143. This part of the Inquiry deals with issues that overlap very heavily with the previous section on prevention/intervention strategies and an over-arching NEET strategy. Many of the themes of these sections are inseparable.

144. Many inputs to this Inquiry have described best practices in terms of outcomes that must be present. The Inter Board Youth Panel (Appendix 3) believes these outcomes must include: personal management and skill development; an understanding of self and others; an understanding of the importance of personal health and wellbeing; self-awareness and responsibility; spirituality; active citizenship and community interest; ethical awareness; employability; economic and political awareness; and education for sustainable development. As indicated above, these outcomes reflecting best practice match closely to the ingredients that respondents highlighted in the previous section as necessary for prevention and intervention strategies.

145. In its evidence to the Committee YouthAction (Appendix 3) highlight five essential elements to unlocking the potential of a NEET young person, i.e. elements of best practice in any programme or strategy. These are:

  • A youth work approach to recruitment – including street work, networking in communities and partnership working;
  • A needs-based flexible approach to learning, using group work;
  • Peer and individual mentoring, with individual goal-setting, pastoral care and practical support systems in place;
  • A small step, staged approach, with modules with credit value to suit the varied needs of learners; and
  • Sign-posting and post-programme support for all individuals.

146. These are all elements which have been referred to throughout this Inquiry report and the Committee considers that they are key to successful programmes.

147. This is reinforced by Rathbone (Appendices 2 and 3) which outlines best practice in the engagement process. Rathbone urges a five stage approach: first contact; relationship-building; mentoring; brokerage with mainstream services; and transitional support to learning and employment.

148. Springvale Learning (Appendix 3) highlighted a number of issues around young people they had worked with who had been NEET and remained at significant risk of becoming so again. Springvale also put in place actions to confront those issues. It was found that those who were at greatest risk of becoming/returning to NEET had poor time keeping; they simply had no sense of urgency. They also had a poor level of motivation and therefore programmes of learning or training had to be engaging. There were also clear issues about the appropriateness of the choices of training that these young people had made and the advice that had been given to them in this respect. They also exhibited a distinct lack of discipline and respect for others. Poor preparation was also a key characteristic. Clearly best practice must also involve interest and engagement with regard to programmes; as must the setting down of certain clear courtesies such as punctuality and prioritisation. These are also obvious habits that will help young people adhere to courses at college or to training programmes and they are also key to holding down a job.

149. Springvale dealt with constant inappropriate use of mobile phones by insisting that staff and participants put them in a box at the front of the room at the beginning of every class. This allowed focus to be maintained. In terms of combating sloppy or inappropriate dress, which might damage job prospects and send out the wrong signals about the young person, Springvale instituted a dress code that banned 'hoodies', baseball caps and sports tops – in keeping with the maintenance of a 'neutral' environment. Springvale reported that the provision of a logoed uniform for work placement went down very well with participants. This is an interesting issue and a lot of research would need to be undertaken to establish whether a 'uniform' would be a positive thing to young people or a turn off.

150. Springvale also highlighted inconsistent behaviour management and a lack of group cohesion amongst these young people. Poor attendance was met with sanctions. A broad learner ability range can best be dealt with by better and more effective initial assessment. Springvale also noted that boredom is the greatest enemy in the learning environment and must be constantly countered. Issues in the home and community environments can best be managed by the regular exchange of information. With regard to personal issues, Springvale found that in these young people these can predominate over everything else. Springvale also found a predominance of sleep deprivation within this group of young people and the "I don't like Mondays" syndrome was prevalent, making it a difficult day for these young people. Again, these are all practical issues about self-management, something that young people need to master if they are to progress and succeed. The Committee has some concerns that there are organisations which focus solely on the barrier or characteristic that has caused the young person to disengage and do not provide the young person with the tools required for them to progress to a further education, training or work context. Members regard cognisance of the need for participants to progress as a key element of best practice for any programme or strategy.

151. Bryson (Appendix 3) sees best practice in programmes including: one-to-one support; opportunities to become involved in non-structured education or training; recognition for positive behaviours; effective use of role models; delivery in non-threatening environments; and constant engagement. Again, this echoes much of what has already been said. Bryson goes on to cite as best practice a flexible approach to attendance and structured learning, i.e. there is no point in returning NEETs to the elements of the system that caused them to disengage in the first place. While accepting this, the Committee feels that it is important to recall what has been highlighted above, that there is equally little point in avoiding the realities of the working world where we cannot always do as we please. Bryson also advocate gradual progression in bite size portions and perhaps this is the best way to marry the 'not frightening off now that engagement has been established' approach to the 'they will ultimately have to operate in the real world, so start introducing it' approach.

152. These issues regarding best practice are as valid for schools as for programmes and strategies aimed specifically at NEET young people. In its evidence to the Committee Glastry College (Appendices 2 and 3) highlighted that positive behaviour awards and regular progress reports to parents or guardians is an important element of reinforcement, as well as best practice. Glastry also makes use of a 'Traffic lights' system, which is a Key Stage 4 incentive scheme to encourage good attendance. The school also uses 'Group call' which is an automated telephone call or text message response facility when a pupil has been marked absent. The school also advocates as best practice a comprehensive and discrete programme of learning for life and work, including PSDE, relationships, sex education, drug awareness training, citizenship and careers advice (not just careers education) from Year 8. Above the Committee has outlined its views on how careers education might operate better in schools.

153. The school also highlights access to a professional counselling service as best practice and the Committee has heard from the Education Minister how these services are provided (Appendix 3) . Weekly visits during lunchtime by the PSNI etc. also provide pupils with the opportunity to speak to local people who can help them with issues like drug and alcohol abuse, mental health issues and potential suicide concerns which may not be addressed otherwise at school. An appropriate curriculum at Key Stage 4 with subjects that are appealing, challenging and relevant and have academic currency and are pertinent to post 16 education, training and the labour market has been highlighted a number of times in this Inquiry and the Committee would agree with Glastry College that these should be seen as clear elements of best practice.

154. The North Monaghan School Completion Programme (SCP) highlighted a number of elements of best practice in the SCPs, including: attendance tracking and monitoring; breakfast clubs and after school clubs which also comprise homework clubs; transfer programmes; out-of-school programmes/holiday programmes; mentoring programmes; learning support programmes; PSDE programmes; and parental programmes and family support. It is clear how all these elements create a much more 'wrap-around' programme that looks at the NEET issue holistically.

155. In their joint presentation to the Committee, Include Youth and NIACRO (Appendices 2 and 3) suggested that best practice for programmes should include: individual tailoring for the needs of participants on programmes; delivery of programmes at a pace to suit the participant; staff who are thoroughly trained and sensitive to the participant's needs; and linkages with other programmes (signposting and progression) to provide holistic solutions.

156. The Alternative Education Providers Forum (Appendices 2 and 3) also advocated as best practice a holistic and multi-disciplinary approach to programmes, with flexibility and diversity being key - built-in capacity to go beyond 'one-size-fits-all'. The Forum also sees academic and vocational approaches/routes being given equal value as a key part of what should be best practice. They also see greater accreditation of learning in informal settings as vital. Good formative assessment is also stressed as best practice by the Forum, as is the ownership of the learning by the learner. They too advocate that progress and achievement should be monitored and celebrated. And, again, they highlight the need for targeted support for families.

157. It is clear to the Committee that there is a high degree of agreement as to what constitutes best practice with regard to strategies and programmes designed to re-engage and support young people who are NEET or are at risk of becoming so. However, without an over-arching strategy for NEET young people here it is likely that the elements of best practice highlighted above will not be in evidence as widely as Members would wish.

158. The Committee recommends that those developing the NEET strategy should develop a Best Practice Code for those involved in provision for young people who are NEET; allowing Best Practice to be mainstreamed. The code should include: the approach to recruiting young people and how they should learn/train/access opportunities; mentoring, pastoral care and other support arrangements, including careers advice and PSDE; setting of individual goals with reference to appropriate, stepped learning; and well-considered signposting, linkage and referral. Provision should be flexible and individually tailored, where appropriate, and should be led by trained staff. Consideration should also be given to the sustainability of provision and its potential to provide some benefit to the local community.

159. The Committee recommends that those developing the NEET strategy should look at ways of seeking accreditation for provision in the strategy as part of a Best Practice Code. This would help in the development of a framework of provision and would facilitate greater monitoring of the outcomes of provision.

Specific Examples of Programmes

160. The majority of respondents to this Inquiry highlighted the merits of their own programmes, quite understandably. It is neither the role of the Committee nor its purpose to give a critique on all of these programmes and projects; nor does the Committee seek to 'rate' or advocate any particular programmes. The Committee does not seek to hold these programmes and projects up as best practice. However, Members did want to offer some reflection on programmes that they saw as interesting. The Committee is aware of the existence of similar, good programmes and projects undertaken by other organisations. The Committee is also supportive of the social enterprises that members have seen which support young people facing disabilities such as Barnardo's, Dr B's Café, the Now project's Loaf enterprise and a number of useful projects under the Orchardville Society.

Include Youth (Appendices 2 and 3)

161. Give and Take Scheme - Involves predominantly care experienced young people aged 16 to 21 across Northern Ireland who have been assessed as unable to participate in mainstream training and employment opportunities. Three quarters (75%) of participants have Essential Skills needs, with 74% from a care background and 47% being early school leavers. The Committee is acutely aware of gaps and issues in provisions for in-care and care-experienced young people and believe that a NEET strategy must be cognisant of this.

NIACRO (Appendices 2 and 3)

162. Youth Employability Programme - This programme supports young people involved in the Youth Justice system to undertake education, training or employment. Around 90% of participants have no qualifications. The Committee has seen from evidence presented throughout this Inquiry that there is a correlation between disengagement and offending. NIACRO also supports those over 18 with resettlement help and a job-led programme called JobTrack.

YouthAction (Appendices 2 and 3)

163. The organisation pilots and refines bespoke employability programmes for 16 to 25 year olds lacking traditional qualifications, employment experience and skills and the motivation to progress on to employment. The Committee acknowledges that these kinds of very specific programmes are key to engagement and progression for those subject to multiple barriers.

164. Reach – targets 16 to 25 year olds with no qualifications and who face a range of challenges, e.g. drug and alcohol abuse, homelessness, a history of offending. The programme provides a three stage model, with initial recruitment and engagement giving way to needs-based programmes and ending up with post-programme support. Recruitment and engagement is often undertaken in communities and on the street. There are also referrals from other programmes. Needs-based programmes will generally involve personal development and skills, with a focus on job readiness. The programme is not timebound and is flexible and adaptable to individual needs with a sense of "ownership" for the participant. The programme is locally-based.

165. Moving On – this is a programme for post-teenage young mothers without qualifications, experience, motivation and confidence, which aims to encourage them to be more active in their communities and the world of employment.

166. Young Men's Volunteering Scheme – offers those young men on the margins of society a six month structured volunteering opportunity, including peer mentoring, individual goal-setting and regular expenses. The Committee believes that it is clear that there are different issues for young men and young women. Members are also cognisant of the much higher rate of suicide in young men and believe that this kind of gender-specific programme is entirely legitimate.

167. Apprenticeship In Youth Work – aimed at 18 to 25 year olds who lack qualifications but have gained experience and motivation through introductory programmes and are able to progress on to structured training and development.

168. Overall YouthAction seeks to achieve a number of Outcomes: confidence; mobility; attitudinal change; skills; and increased opportunities. The organisation believes that the achievement of these outcomes requires programmes with certain Elements: addressing barriers, not just skills; creative methodology; non-formal approaches delivering formal outcomes; expenses; and multi-layered support.

North Down Training Ltd. (Appendices 2 and 3)

169. The organisation provides post 16 education, employment and vocational training opportunities through DEL's Training for Success and ApprenticeshipsNI. The Committee feels that it is important to highlight how an organisation providing work-related training can be integrated into clusters of schools to diversify provision to pupils. Core training is provided in: business and administration and customer service; hospitality and catering; retail skills, storage and warehousing; Essential Skills in Literacy/Communications, Numeracy/Application of Numbers and ICT; employability skills; and food safety in catering and health and safety at work.

170. Work-based learning is provided for school pupils in the school cluster in Years 11 and 12 for one day per week, and also for Years 11 and 12 for two to five days per week – this amounts to alternative provision. Years 13 and 14 are also provided with vocationally related qualifications as part of their weekly timetable. The organisation also provides assessment and personal tailoring, regular reviews and the involvement of parents. A close relationship with schools is key to the provision.

Prince's Trust (Appendices 2 and 3)

171. The Trust's XL programme runs in 108 schools and centres in Northern Ireland, including Special Schools and EOTAS centres. It is a two year programme with five modules and is aimed at 14 to 16 year olds. It offers personal and social development, citizenship, community projects, enterprise, and preparing for the world of work. The Trust states in its evidence to the Inquiry that "Large groups with impersonal training does not work". There should be 15 to a group maximum.

Springvale Learning (Appendix 3)

172. In addition to highlighting its own programmes, Springvale also highlighted those that operate in the USA. The Committee had experience of these programmes during its study visit to the USA in April 2009.

173. City Year (USA) – through this programme unemployed graduates can work with NEET young people in the inner cities and deprived urban areas to help them with literacy and numeracy. The programme has massive private and public sector support with Timberland providing work wear, Nike providing footwear, McDonald's providing lunch vouchers, Starbucks providing coffee vouchers and Transport System Networks allowing participants to travel free while on duty. These corporations also participate in management and funding committees. Many projects undertaken are also aimed at regenerating local areas. The Committee acknowledges that the USA has a huge advantage as it has a number of vast private and public companies with deep pockets which can fund such programmes; however, they reflect the kind of collaborations that this Inquiry has highlighted.

174. One Economy Corporation (USA) – this is a project working to close the digital divide in inner city communities. NEET young people are targeted and trained for employment as 'Digital Connectors'. The programme takes advantage of young people's flair for understanding ICT. It also provides self confidence and self esteem and benefits local communities.

175. Returning to local provision, Springvale has developed Belfast City Heroes. This is a theme that is being used in Springvale's Training for Success provision to make up for a lack of work placements. It has a number of elements and is designed to keep young people engaged and focused. As with many of the programmes outlined previously it contains citizenship and entrepreneurship training using partner organisations. It also provides self-employment training. The Committee sees this as an element that could and should be included in other programmes. There is also financial management training and the programme is involved in setting up a young person's saving and investment scheme. Further elements include improving young people's personal healthcare and, importantly, improving young people's employability. There is also a young person's 'Goals' programme.

176. In terms of elements of the programme which benefit the local community there is rebuilding derelict properties in the local area and refurbishing of community facilities and amenities in the local area. Further, there is improving energy efficiency in local homes and improving security in local homes by fitting security products to make homes safer. In addition, there are elements including assisting teachers in local schools to use technology to enhance learning and recycling of computers to send to schools in Africa. Additionally there is manufacturing and selling of products locally. Volunteering to provide services in the local community is also undertaken, including 'Wake up' projects. What particularly interested the Committee was the holistic nature of the provision and the positive impact that it could have on the local community. The integration of these young people back into their community in this practical and constructive way as part of the Training for Success programme impressed the Committee and served as an example of creativity.

The Accès Project

177. The project is funded until November 2011 with grants from the European Regional Development Fund.

The project's objectives

178. The overall aim of the Accès Project is to undertake a programme of cross border actions designed to enhance the quality of life and employability of young people from disadvantaged neighbourhoods in Medway and Greater Dunkerque.

179. The project seeks to empower young people by realising the following objectives:

  • To engage residents and in particular young people in the delivery of urban regeneration and "citizenship in action" activities, developing their knowledge about local regeneration;
  • To deliver a cross-border mentoring and parenting skills programme for young parents, drawing on the experience of older parents;
  • To enable young people to define and develop community projects which improve their neighbourhoods; and
  • To empower young people through cross-border courses in artistic and cultural expression, personal development and sports marshalling, providing valuable work experience, training and qualifications.

The project's activities

180. The project seeks to engage, and to empower young people to increase their employability through skills and competency programmes:

181. Undertaking the 'Creativity without borders' initiative, which will engage young people and inhabitants in neighbourhood improvement, using art as a tool; and

182. Undertaking the 'From Parents to Parents' initiative which aims to help young parents cope with day-to-day family issues by drawing on the experience of older parents. One of the innovations for this project will be the intergenerational dimension. Older residents will engage with young people in each of the project activities.

183. The project's success will be measured by the number of young people and residents accessing qualifications and engaged in the cross-border programmes and their personal and professional development.

Target group

184. Accès will prioritise the targeting of young people from the most disadvantaged neighbourhoods in Greater Dunkerque and Medway, delivering cross-border action to enhance their social and economic inclusion. In Medway, young people from three of the most disadvantaged neighbourhoods will be involved. However, the project also aims to involve actors across the community (residents, professionals and elected members) without regard to age, adopting a bottom up and top down approach at the same time. This aspect is key when ensuring the project reaches its objectives, such as residents' participation in the social regeneration of their local environment.

185. The intergenerational aspect is a key theme throughout the project. It reflects the demographic make-up of the disadvantaged neighbourhoods, where young people currently have very little say in neighbourhood improvement. With an ageing population, it is important to strengthen inter-generational community cohesion at a time when there is a growing sense of mutual mistrust and uneasiness between young and older people, particularly in disadvantaged neighbourhoods. The project therefore engages elders in the community and older workers, who often feel frightened and alienated by the presence of large numbers of young people in the vicinity. There will be a strong emphasis on dialogue and joint working between young people and the older generation.

186. Accès will engage residents living in disadvantaged neighborhoods, primarily young people and young parents, but also lone parents, NEETs, les JAMO (Jeunes a moindres opportunités) and in general, people at the margins of the society. Opportunities will take advantage of the fact that Medway and Greater Dunkerque both have art festival programmes. There will also be a preparation phase for the Olympic Games in London in 2012, where bilingual marshals will be used. This cross border aspect of the programme will increase the mobility of young people. They will be able to use their skills on the other side of the Channel during cultural or sporting events. Moreover, the understanding of the management of such events will offer them complex organisational skills. The five strands of this programme will be: language training (practical conversational English/French); producing a video; sports marshalling / first aid / events management; sports development through coaching, training and officiating; and a programme of citizenship

Outputs

187. Four of the strands will be delivered over six-monthly phases during the first two years. In year three, there will be an opportunity for young people to apply what they have learned through work experience. Young people will benefit from their participation in cross-border training activities. Language training and the development of a video describing daily life will run throughout the programme. A language programme will concentrate on practical conversation in French or English. There will also be language training in First Aid to enable beneficiaries to practice. Participants will be able to develop their skills and their aptitude in first aid training and sports coaching. This training will be internationally recognised in order to be beneficial to young people. This will also involve training in officiating (for referees and judges).The coaching programme complies with British Government standards which require all sports clubs to have qualified coaches by 2010. The chosen sports for the coaching activities will be baton twirling and football.

188. The themes for the citizenship programme will include: basic home cooking; learning how electricity works; computer keyboard skills (different layout on keyboards); the Highway Code; orienteering and outward bound skills; and community development actions. The idea of this programme is to promote competency in life skills; to instil a sense of pride in their neighbourhood and their city and also to learn about cultural similarities and differences between the two European areas. This will help to build European citizenship and social cohesion. The content of the whole activity will be reflected on through a video to be produced (the fifth strand).

'Parents to Parents'

189. This activity consists of young parents and more experienced parents to come together on a regular basis. The aim is to share skills, parenting ideas and experience new things as a group. The project consists of a French group and an English group from similar communities. The two groups will meet up from time-to-time to share experiences. It is hoped the project will strengthen the parents' personal development. During the project the parents will create, for example, information booklets and/or a video. These will cover topics which they feel they would like to share or pass on to other parents.

190. The Committee thought that this programme was an excellent example of how many of the themes that have been examined in this Inquiry can be transferred to the trans-European stage. Members believe that these kinds of EU-funded initiatives are not properly exploited by groups and authorities in Northern Ireland and would like to see more effort made at joining in. The Committee noted with interest that in its evidence to this Inquiry the Youth Council (NI) (Appendices 2 and 3) indicated that it manages approximately £700,000 of EU funding to youth groups annually through the EU Youth In Action programme.

191. The Committee recommends that those developing the NEET strategy look to international provision and see what might appropriately be applied here.

How best might young people who disengage from the 'system' be tracked/monitored?

192. Another key issue that formed one of the five questions in the Committee's Terms of Reference for this Inquiry was tracking and monitoring of young people. The majority of respondents to this Inquiry indicated that they believe that it is essential that the interventions that young people receive during their school careers and after are tracked and monitored and that the young people themselves need to be tracked so that those who disengage do not become part of a 'lost generation' who slip almost unnoticed from being a young person who is NEET to being part of the economically inactive adult population. This issue is also dealt with above in the section on the Careers Service. The Committee received a number of suggestions about how best to track and monitor young people and the interventions they receive and a number of these are highlighted below.

193. Corpus Christi Youth Centre (Appendix 3) suggested that tracking of young people who are NEET would best be done by one-to-one mentors. This is an attractive suggestion and would also fit in with the need for young people to have as much continuity as possible with their Key Worker. Opportunity Youth (Appendix 3) indicated that tracking and monitoring would best be facilitated by better intelligence and improved communication between DE and DEL, between schools and training organisations and between all stakeholders, i.e. criminal justice, social services and the third sector. Opportunity Youth also suggested the need for a centralised, shared database. The organisation further suggested specific transitionary monitoring support should include home visits and family involvement between schools and training organisations and training and employment. This suggestion takes a more expansive view of the monitoring issue.

194. Bryson Charitable Group (Appendix 3) suggested that tracking and monitoring should occur from primary school onwards, the rationale being that disengagement tends to present at primary school. Like Corpus Christi, Bryson suggest that a mentor could be used to work with young people at risk of disengaging through to adolescence to help reduce the likelihood of disengagement. Again, this highlights the importance of the continuity of having an ongoing Key Worker, as above.

195. In their response to this Inquiry the North Monaghan School Completion Programme (SCP) highlighted the steps that are taken as part of this programme to ensure young people are tracked and monitored:

  • An Education Welfare Officer works closely with schools and records and tracks early school leavers;
  • The SCP Co-ordinator tracks the attendance of students and liaises with their families and local agencies regarding the destination of leavers;
  • An Annual Progress Report tracking targeted students and where they go is sent to the Education Department; and
  • An integrated services approach is based on the development of local strategies to ensure maximum participation levels in the educational process.

196. This approach would suggest that the better the information on those who have disengaged or who slip in and out of engagement, the better provision for them can be planned. This sort of tracking and monitoring also means that there is a better indication of numbers of NEETs and which interventions would seem to work best. The Alternative Education Providers (AEP) Forum (Appendices 2 and 3) also agrees that a co-ordinated and centralised system of tracking/monitoring, perhaps through a specific agency is the best approach. They too advocate the importance of information sharing at transition stages; i.e. between schools, AEPs, training organisations and employers. The AEP would also suggest the establishment of clear Monitoring, Evaluation and Review (MER) systems. This, again, would allow for a clear picture to be formed on how successful interventions are in particular circumstances, adding to the knowledge of best practice in the sector. The AEP would further introduce sanctions for failure to comply with the MER systems. It is the AEP's view that the provider's duty of care should include a duty to report 'fall out' of a young person from any provision. This would seem entirely logical as it would allow a clearer understanding of interventions that work for particular young people and might also enable other conclusions to be drawn.

197. Include Youth (Appendices 2 and 3) suggest that tracking should cover young people between the ages of 12 to 25 and, as suggested above, that one system should be used across all agencies and Departments. Springvale Learning suggested that incentivised registration might be considered. In its submission Rathbone (Appendices 2 and 3) indicated that it has "...partnership and data-sharing agreements and protocols with a number of statutory bodies that enable tracking beyond the lifetime of projects". It would be useful to explore how these work and how they might be applied within a NEET strategy.

198. The Committee believes that tracking and monitoring of young people's destinations, participation on programmes and interventions is essential to ensuring that disengagement is minimised and to go as far as possible to prevent any young person from slipping through the net. The Committee is also aware that departments believe that there are data protection issues around this sort of information being shared across all the partners involved in provision of services to young people. The Committee believes that these issues can be overcome if there is one centralised body collecting the information and providing the tracking and monitoring function. The reason for collecting and using the data must remain consistent across the bodies which have access to it for it to be allowed to be exchanged or accessed. As part of its 'Keeping in Touch' Strategy, Careers Wales has developed and is maintaining a database of all 13 to 18 year olds, which records all interventions and outcomes to help map young people's progress. The Welsh Assembly Committee for Enterprise and Learning, in its recently completed review of the Welsh NEET strategy, recommended that data gathering on young people should be strengthened and it should be properly disseminated to the right people and agencies locally. Clearly data protection issues are not insurmountable. It is clear that clear reliable information is required regarding the interventions etc. that young people have received so that it can be used effectively to ensure that young people do not become disengaged for any prolonged period. It might also be suggested that this function could most usefully be performed until young people reach the age of 25.

199. The Committee recommends that those developing the NEET strategy look at the possibilities around the Careers Service acting as the repository for information regarding the interventions that young people have received, much as Careers Wales does in Wales. The Committee is cognisant of data protection issues around the gathering and sharing of data; however, Members believe that innovative and creative partnerships and agreements could allow those who need access to information to provide help and support for vulnerable young people to do so.

200. The Committee recommends that organisations providing interventions should be expected to report 'fall out', i.e. if a young person leaves provision then that information should be circulated to those who need to know. Those developing the NEET strategy should consider how 'fall out' should be reported.

Universities and Regional Colleges

201. It would be wrong not to emphasise the role that the universities and regional colleges have to play in an over-arching NEET strategy. There are references to the regional colleges throughout the Inquiry report, from the role they play augmenting the provisions offered by schools to young people, to the opportunities their own courses present and the role that they play in the provision of DEL programmes, such as Training for Success and the Programme-Led Apprenticeships. The universities too are significant in terms of providing access to young people who may not come from a background of university attendance to the programmes they offer to help their students secure employment.

202. In its response to the Inquiry, the Queen's University of Belfast (Appendix 3) highlighted its Degree Plus programme. It also indicated the careers guidance service that it provides to undergraduates, graduates, post-graduates and the population at large. The university also has links with Further Education Access courses which are designed to bring people into education with the aim that they may proceed on towards a degree course. The university also undertakes outreach etc. to widen access and social inclusion. Specifically, Queen's also works with VOYPIC to ensure that care-experienced young people can access Higher Education. The university makes its provision flexible to accommodate particular student needs and it provides support for the transition into university – there is also pastoral care provision. Further, the university runs the GAP (Graduate Acceleration Programme), which is supported by DEL through Steps to Work. The Committee acknowledges that considerable work is undertaken by both universities in Northern Ireland; however, Members remain concerned about first year 'drop out' rates and would like to see more work done to investigate these.

203. In its response the North West Regional College (Appendix 3) highlighted the importance it places on pastoral care. The issue of pastoral care is one that is present throughout this Inquiry report and the Committee attached great importance to it. The NWRC also delivers careers education, information and guidance through direct one-to-one sessions, or by email or phone. The college also collaborates with the Careers Service, EGSA and Learning Partnerships. Further, the college works with Derry City Council on 'Kickstart'. It also provides a Prince's Trust programme for NEET young people and a transition programme for those NEET young people with specific learning difficulties and/or disability.

204. The South Eastern Regional College has its SERC Extra programme which is designed to support all students to maintain regular and consistent attendance and to supplement initiatives to improve student attendance, retention and performance levels. The programme provides for three Student Attendance and Retention Officers (SARs). The Committee is interested in this programme as 'drop out' rates from the colleges have also been a concern. Members have heard evidence from young people that they have not felt supported in colleges and have often not been able to access appropriate counselling before withdrawing from their course and, in many cases, finding themselves NEET as a result. The Committee believes that careful consideration must be given to the pastoral care provided for young people in colleges. The Committee has also pursued the issue of the need for particular consideration to be given to students with disabilities wanting to attend both colleges and universities. As indicated previously, Members also have concerns about the careers advice on which young people are basing their choice of courses at colleges and universities. The Committee sees a clear connection between inadequate or poor careers advice and guidance and some young people ending up NEET. The Committee is grateful to the Belfast Metropolitan College and the Northern Regional College for their submissions to the Inquiry (Appendix 3).

205. The Committee recommends that those developing the NEET strategy ensure that the universities and colleges are involved in that development and are party to arrangements regarding pastoral care and careers advice and guidance. Members believe that the universities and colleges have an important role to play in the provision of interventions within a NEET strategy; however, the movement to university or college is also an important transition point for young people and 'drop out' rates for the universities and colleges would suggest that more support is required at this crucial juncture.

What are the best and most useful elements of other Strategies for young people who are NEET that could be applied locally?

Other Jurisdictions

206. The Committee was aware from the outset of this Inquiry that neighbouring jurisdictions had already travelled down the road of establishing an over-arching strategy for young people who are NEET. Members realised that it would be important to hear from those jurisdictions about their experiences and their approaches to the NEET issue. The Committee decided to focus primarily on the smaller neighbouring jurisdictions as they would be more likely to have similar experiences to Northern Ireland. While aware that England has strategies for young people who are NEET it was clear that it would be more difficult to capture those and relate them to the experience here. This is why the Committee focused particularly on Scotland, Wales and the Republic of Ireland.

207. As part of its study of its examination of these jurisdictions' strategies for young people who are NEET, the Committee made a study visit to Scotland and Wales in May (2010) to look at programmes being run as part of the Scottish and Welsh NEETs strategies and to talk to the organisers and young people involved about their experiences and the effects of the programmes and projects. The Committee would particularly like to thank Welsh Minister of Children, Education, Lifelong Learning and Skills (DCELLS), Leighton Andrews AM, who met with Members while they were in Cardiff and to Frank Callus who organised the Welsh leg of the study visit. In Scotland the Committee would like to thank Ketherine Tirney and MArtin McDermott who arranged this leg of the study visit. The Committee would also like to thank Barnardo's (NI) for suggesting contacts in Scotland and Wales and Dr. Howard Wilkinson from the University of Glamorgan and Grenville Jackson (DCELLS) for meeting with the Committee.

208. The study visit made the Committee realise that, although Scotland and Wales have published over-arching strategies for young people who are NEET, they are not that much further on than we are in Northern Ireland. Although they have strategies, these are in their early stages, with many programmes and projects still being piloted. Members did not see activities that were startlingly different from what happens here or innovations in youth work practice that cannot be found here. The key difference was that both jurisdictions had accepted a number of principles including joined-up government when dealing with young people who are NEET, the importance of monitoring and tracking of these young people to measure the effect of interventions and the fundamental need for information-sharing, referral and signposting between all of the departments, agencies, organisations, bodies and sectors involved in working with these young people. Essentially those jurisdictions have a level of co-ordination and coherence in their provisions for young people who are NEET that we in Northern Ireland must work towards. One of the key reasons for the Committee undertaking this Inquiry was to establish those principles.

Scotland

'More Choices, More Chances'

209. The Scottish NEET Strategy is called 'More Choices, More Chances' (MCMC): A Strategy to Reduce the Proportion of Young People not in Education, Employment or Training' (Appendix 5). On Page One of the strategy document there is a clear statement that: "Government cannot alone tackle the issue". This is certainly a lesson that the Committee has learnt during the Inquiry process, indeed it was one of the first principles that the Inquiry established. No strategy aimed at helping young people who are NEET will be successful if government does not join forces with all the other sectors involved in working with these young people. Indeed, government departments must first learn to work with each other in an open and co-operative partnership.

210. The Strategy sets out a number of key aims, including:

  • Stemming the flow of young people who become NEET;
  • Creating a system-wide (pre and post 16) focus on, ambition for and ownership of – and accountability for – the NEET group;
  • Prioritise education and training outcomes for the NEET group as a step towards lifelong employability given their low attainment profile; and
  • Position NEET reduction as one of the key indicators for measuring the pre and post 16 systems' success.

211. The Committee wholeheartedly agrees with and endorses these aims and believe that they represent the sorts of aims that a NEET Strategy for Northern Ireland must have.

212. On Page Two of the Strategy it states: "...wide-ranging action is needed across the education and wider children's services to improve the experience of all children". This is a message that the Committee has heard consistently while gathering evidence for this Inquiry. It has become abundantly clear that many of the 'core' group of young people who are NEET have disengaged with an education system that is unresponsive to their needs and must be changed to make it more stimulating and challenging. It must also offer a more obvious context for learning. Young people often ask what the point is of learning things – subjects must be taught in a way that answers that question.

213. The Strategy highlights a number of issues that must be addressed in the education and training system, such as the transformation of the learning environment to make it more stimulating and to offer more flexible, personalised learning opportunities with appropriate recognition; greater recognition of underachievement and its causes; greater support for learners; more focus on developing employability in our young people; and a focus on outcomes. Again, these are all issues that the Committee believe need to be addressed in our own provision of education and training.

214. The Strategy seeks to provide an action plan to reduce the proportion of young people who are NEET. It was produced in parallel with 'Workforce Plus: An Employability Framework for Scotland'. The MCMC focus is on embedding the concept of employability in all government led strategies; developing approaches which centre on the individual's needs; improving and getting better at sharing client data; the importance of measuring distance travelled towards the labour market; and the need for local partners to work together in joining up the efforts of mainstream and specialist services. These are issues that a Northern Ireland NEET Strategy would have to focus on.

215. MCMC follows an outcome-focused approach which creates new relationships between local and central government. It fits into the National Performance Framework which has 5 Strategic Themes, 15 National Outcomes and 45 National Indicators. MCMC is regarded as a Ministerial priority that will establish transformational change as part of the suite of strategies including Early Years, Getting It Right for Every Child, Curriculum for Excellence and the Skills Strategy. The Committee was impressed by the clear understanding on the part of the Scottish Government that strategies cannot be developed in isolation, they must be carefully tailored to fit into the framework of national goals and aims. A Northern Ireland NEET Strategy would similarly have to take account of all of the existing strategies across the Executive Departments which primarily, or in some way, deal with children and young people.

216. The Committee recommends that the NEET strategy for Northern Ireland is based on structures that firmly cement partnership, co-operation and co-ordination between the Executive Departments and other agencies and bodies, stakeholder groups, including the schools, colleges and universities, and business. Such a multi-agency approach must become the accepted way to work.

217. The motivation behind the establishment of a NEET Strategy for Scotland was issues such as the long-term impact on young people of being NEET, the continued 'failure of the system' for some, ensuring young people's long-term employability, the apparent intransigence of the problem and the impact of the recession which seems to have hit young people the hardest. These issues translate into a need for a strategy which provides early intervention, engagement between all partners and sustainability. Again, the Committee is in complete agreement with this realisation.

218. The MCMC Strategy seeks to tackle the issues around NEET young people in a variety of ways:

  • Leadership and ownership – both national and local;
  • A multi-agency approach to working;
  • Focusing on education and training;
  • Making learning a financially viable option for young people (through EMA etc.);
  • Creating a responsive system post-16 with second chances; and
  • A focus on where school leavers go and the subsequent outcomes.

219. Scotland has identified in the Strategy a very clear role in terms of national delivery:

  • The government's role is crucial through its enabling function, provision of leadership and by driving a concerted effort with policy and delivery agents;
  • Co-ordinating a cross-government effort, recognising economic and social imperatives;
  • Removing barriers to effective practice; and
  • Supporting multi-agency partnerships for local delivery.

220. It is clear that government in Northern Ireland would need to address these issues to ensure the success of a local NEET strategy.

221. In terms of local delivery, Scotland has used its local authorities and clusters of schools and other partnerships around which the MCMC activities can be organised. The role and functions of Northern Ireland's local government units makes their leadership in the rolling out of a Northern Ireland NEET Strategy more difficult, but the principles of local delivery established in Scotland still provide a useful checklist:

  • 32 local MCMC partnerships;
  • Strong leadership, commitment and shared ownership;
  • Delivery plans driving year on year improvement; and
  • Continuous improvement based on robust review processes.

222. As indicated previously, the Committee believes that Northern Ireland has many of the relationships, partnerships, programmes and schemes required for an effective NEET strategy in place. What is lacking is central co-ordination and support and a core document that sets down aims and actions. Scotland has moved towards putting these things in place, but the strategy document is honest when it suggests there has been good progress overall, but then honestly suggests more work is needed on:

  • Early identification, tracking and monitoring progress;
  • Personalisation and choice post-16;
  • Supported pathways 14 to 19 for targeted individuals;
  • Focus on transition; and
  • Effective early intervention to support retention in learning post 16.

223. These are also issues that the Committee has identified as being key to the achievement of the aim of reducing the numbers of our young people who find themselves NEET. It is helpful to take these issues and use them as a checklist against which to measure the robustness of a NEET strategy.

224. The strategy document goes on to look at what works as part of a NEET strategy. Unsurprisingly a system of joined-up, flexible, accessible services that address needs holistically is advocated. As is support, advice and guidance, often in the shape of a 'trusted adult'. The Committee has heard a great deal about the need for a 'significant adult' in the lives of young people who are NEET who can provide the sort of support that might otherwise be provided by a parent or guardian under other circumstances. There is further advocacy of a needs-led system and an integrated package of support with pathway (back) to work, including financial, health, training and employment. Effective information about services, information sharing, client-focused services and co-ordinated and integrated service delivery are also deemed essential.

225. The strategy also highlights key challenges. These are issues that the Committee has also identified a difficult to achieve and maintain, such as strengthening partnership working and better matching of supply and demand. Protecting provision for those furthest from the labour market is key and tracking young people and their efforts is essential if a the strategy's efficacy is to be monitored and measured.

226. Certain conclusions are reached in the Strategy document that the Committee believes are worth reinforcing, MCMC is a priority across government as any Northern Ireland NEET Strategy must be apriority across Executive Departments. The NEET issue is not going to go away – if anything it will worsen with the economic downturn. A final important is that the NEET strategy must be designed in such a way to ensure that strategic and performance frameworks are aligned. A NEET strategy that is not cognisant of the other government strategies that run parallel with in and impact on it would simply not work to the best effect.

227. The Committee recommends that those developing the NEET strategy should ensure that it has a clear set of aims and a clear statement of the drivers/levers that will ensure those aims are achieved.

228. The Committee recommends that the strategy should contain robust systems for measuring, monitoring and assessing the achievement of its aims.

Fife 16+ Learning Choices Partnership

229. While in Scotland the Committee travelled to the Loch Ore Meadows recreation park in Fife to talk to those engaged with the NEET strategy on a local level and the policy-makers who created the strategy. The Fife MCMC Strategic Partnership was formed in response to the NEETs Strategy with representation from Skills Development Scotland, Fife Colleges, the voluntary sector, JobCentre Plus and a range of Fife Council services, such as education, social work, community services and development services. It was clear to the Committee how much partnership working and co-operation is required and how these elements must be emphasised in any NEET strategy.

16+ Learning Choices

230. As part of MCMC, the 16+ Learning Choices (16+ LC) programme was introduced in 2008 by the Scottish government. The programme seeks to ensure that all young people have an 'offer' of formal learning at the end of compulsory education, i.e. this would be in school, college, training or employment. Importantly, 16+ LC also recognises, for the first time, the value of non-formal learning for some young people as a first step towards long-term employability. The learning is designed to come from opportunities within Community Learning and Development and the third sector. The Committee has seen a great deal of excellent work being done by the third sector in Northern Ireland and considers it is vital that this work is captured in a NEET strategy.

231. Encouraging all young people to stay on in learning post 16 is regarded as the best way of ensuring their long-term employability and contribution to society. That is why positive and sustained progression post 16 is one of the indicators in the Scottish National Performance Framework. 16+ LC is the model for supporting this within the Curriculum for Excellence. Scottish local authorities and their partners are working to ensure that every young person has an appropriate, relevant, attractive offer of learning made to them well in advance of their reaching school leaving age.

232. 16+ LC is currently delivered in all 19 of Fife's secondary schools and systems have already been put in place to facilitate a process to ensure all potential statutory leavers are made aware of the options open to them as they reach their leaving date. Work is continuing through the Fife 16+ LC Project Team and the internal multi-disciplinary teams in each school to embed and further develop this initiative, highlighting and working to fill any gaps in provision. The Committee believes that this kind of system of referral and signposting is key to the success of a NEET strategy and is something that Northern Ireland needs to improve on. Too often our young people are ending up NEET because they do not know what options and opportunities are available to them.

Activity Agreements

233. In 2009 the Scottish government strengthened non-formal education by introducing Activity Agreements (AAs). These cover activities which seek to engage young people not ready to access formal learning. Typically, AAs will be based on enhancing social and employability skills and will have an 'interest element' relating to, for example, outdoor activities, sport, IT, music, media, art and drama. The Committee saw examples of these and talked to the young people involved during the study visit to Loch Ore Meadows.

234. These are tailored programmes of activity to meet the identified needs of the participant. There are three AA 'Hubs' currently being developed with standing programmes. The programmes are a mixture of group and individual arrangements with a minimum of 9 hours having to be undertaken before Education Maintenance Allowance (EMA) is available. The maximum number of hours per week is 21, except where a special arrangement has been put in place by the 16+ LC Team. The AA last for a maximum of 9 months – again special arrangements can be put in place to lengthen this. The AA content is based on Community Learning Development (CLD) provision and other provision. The operational arrangements for the processing of EMA for AAs have been agreed based on the existing local authority structures for schools and colleges. It is understood that the young people in receipt of certain benefits may be given a dispensation to allow them to continue these will undertaking an AA. Travel costs are met in full. AA providers have been identified on the basis of CLD, the third sector and other sources. Commissioning of an AA provider will include guidance and an agreement based on Health and Safety insurance, additional funding being agreed, quality assurance and the EMA process.

235. Fife and nine other local authorities were asked to develop an AA approach to support those young people for whom direct progression to formal options is not appropriate. The pilot programme in Fife runs from September 2009 to March 2011, when the national programme will be launched, based on the best practice from the pilot areas.

236. An AA is between a young person and an allocated Key Worker and it sets down that the young person will take part in a programme of learning and activity which helps them to become ready for formal learning or employment. Each AA Key Worker will work with the young person and Community Learning and Development colleagues to draw up an appropriate programme of activity. This programme will need to be sufficiently demanding to move the young person closer to the goal of progressing to a mainstream, formal option, while also being achievable and attractive, in order to gain their commitment and ongoing participation. The Committee believes that there is considerable merit in the AA idea. Members have seen such arrangements in Northern Ireland and would like to see an option such as this developed as part of a Northern Ireland NEET Strategy.

237. Young people who experience a period of unemployment or disengagement from learning during this formative period in their lives are much more likely to be unemployed later in life and to suffer various health and social issues associated with unemployment and poverty. The goal of AAs is to engage and support a far greater number of vulnerable young people in learning at this crucial transition point, thus helping to improve these young people's choices and chances over their lifetime.

238. The Committee recommends that those developing the NEET strategy look at the possible application of the Scottish Activity Agreements here.

239. The Committee has heard much about Education Maintenance Allowance (EMA) during its evidence-gathering for this Inquiry and Members believe that EMA may need to be targeted more specifically. The Committee recommends that the criteria for receiving EMA should to be focused more on those to whom it provides a particularly significant incentive to re-engage.

Curriculum for Excellence

240. This outlines four capacities for learning and highlights that all learning should contribute to the four capacities. The four capacities are: Successful learners; Responsible Citizens; Confident Individuals; and Effective Contributors. These are themes are a number of respondents to the Inquiry highlighted as essential elements of any programmes that operate as part of a NEET strategy. The capacities are outlined in more depth below.

241. Successful Learners are those individuals with the enthusiasm and motivation for learning and the determination to reach high standards of achievement. They are open to new thinking and ideas and are able to use literacy, communication and numeracy skills. They are also able to use technology for learning and think creatively and independently. They are comfortable learning independently or as part of a group and make reasoned evaluations. They link and apply different kinds of learning in new situations.

242. Responsible Citizens are those with respect for others and with a commitment to participating in political, economic, social and cultural life. They are able to develop knowledge and understanding of the world and Scotland's place in it and understand different beliefs and cultures. They make informed choices and decisions and evaluate environmental, scientific and technological issues. They also develop informed, ethical views of complex issues.

243. Confident Individuals are those with self-respect and a sense of physical, mental and emotional wellbeing. They are secure in their values and beliefs and have ambition. They are able to relate to other and manage themselves. They pursue a healthy and active lifestyle and are self-aware. They develop and communicate their own beliefs and view of the world and they live as independently as they can. They assess risk and make informed decisions and achieve success in different areas of activity.

244. Effective Contributors are those with an enterprising attitude, resilience and self-reliance. They are able to communicate in different ways and in different settings. They work in partnership and in teams and they can take the initiative and lead. They apply critical thinking in new contexts and create and develop. They are problem solvers.

Volunteering

245. As part of the AAs within the 16+ LC, young people can opt to volunteer with the Fife Volunteer Centre. Volunteering can also be followed as a formal option, rather than an AA. Young people who are interested in volunteering meet with the 16+ LC Co-ordinator at the Volunteer Centre to discuss suitable placements and opportunities. These can include charity shops, environmental work, care homes, children's play schemes, etc. Opportunities are offered with voluntary organisations, charities and statutory bodies only.

246. With a few exceptions, such as private care homes, there are not opportunities offered in profit-making businesses. This ensures that the young person is a genuine volunteer and not undertaking work for which they should be paid. Any issues that arise can be discussed with the young person's Key Worker. There are government supported awards for volunteering and these young people are eligible to be nominated. Awards are generally presented based on the time volunteered, for example 50, 100 or 200 hours worked. They are designed to recognise the volunteer's commitment and to thank them. The Committee was very impressed by this use of volunteering as part of the Scottish strategy and Members would be keen to see volunteering as part of our own NEET strategy.

247. The Committee considers that volunteering can and should be a key element of the NEET strategy and recommends that those developing the strategy examine its potential for incorporation.

16+ 'Icebreaker' Programme

248. This programme is targeted specifically at young people vulnerable to becoming NEET. It is operated while young people are still at school and offers them the opportunity to meet and become comfortable with some of the staff who run the AAs locally. The typical programme includes visits to the school over a period of about 6 weeks prior to the end of compulsory schooling and can include activities such as; visiting a radio station to see how programmes are made; undertaking sports coaching; visits to youth activity providers; and a final 'Reward Day' when the young person can decide what they would like to do. The outcomes of the programme are expected to include: improved skills and employability; increased confidence and resilience; team building skills and working with others; and a raised awareness of positive destinations, including AAs. Most Fife post-primary schools are now offering these and they are similar in structure to the AAs. There is some evidence to suggest that the early intervention provided by an Icebreaker programme has actually allowed the young person to bypass the AA and progress to a formal option straight from school.

249. (The organisation structure of the Fife 16+ LC Partnership and examples of programmes can be seen at Appendix 5)

250. 16+ Learning Choices is a vehicle designed to ensure that young people stay in learning post-16. By December 2010 16+ LC will be the universal model for all young people (generally 15 to 18) leaving an episode of learning, regardless of setting and including compulsory education, i.e. the senior phase of the Curriculum for Excellence. For most young people this will mean a suitable offer of post-16 learning is made in advance of their leaving date.

251. 16+ LC essentially provides education in high schools for S5 and S6, full or part time FE or HE, national training programmes, employment, volunteering and personal skills/development. It acknowledges that some young people will not be ready to access college, training or job opportunities directly on leaving school. Such young people may benefit instead from a learning opportunity which further develops their personal and social skills and interests. Programmes include: Get Ready for Work Lifeskills; training programmes (other than the National Training Programme); employment (less than 16 hours p/w), including job-related training; personalised programmes of support; and Activity Agreements (currently 10 pilots).

Support Networks

252. Significant importance is attached to communication within 16+ LC. There are a number of networks of key staff which meet on a regular basis to provide information, make decisions and discuss practice. These networks and the overall 16+ LC process are supported by the Fife 16+ LC Project Team, which comprises: 16+ LC Partners Group; 16+ LC (Schools) Network; Community Learning Development (CLD) Network; Transition Groups; Activity Agreement providers; and the Key Workers Network.

253. The Fife process is based on a Key Worker resource, which includes: Skills Development Scotland (SDS) Key Workers; SDS Activate Advisers; Fife Council 16+ Transition Key Workers; Fife Council Work4U Employment Co-ordinators; Fife Council Leaving Care Employability Advisers; and Key Workers from other agencies who might be involved in the process on an ad hoc basis.

254. Some Key Workers are contracted from the community and voluntary sector; however, they are generally from local authorities and government agencies. As a result of the school process, a Key Worker is identified to support a vulnerable young person throughout the transition process. The Key Worker preferably engages with the young person prior to them leaving school. If an AA is required the identified Key Worker will support this process. The AA programme will be regularly reviewed by the Key Worker. Again, as highlighted previously, the Committee has heard from many respondents to the Inquiry about the importance of Key Workers for young people who are NEET. This person provides continuity and is a source of advice and support who, over time, gains a good understanding of the young person's needs. The Committee also believes that the partnerships and processes outlined above provide a clear indication of the level of co-ordination and multi-agency co-operation that is required for the success of a NEET strategy.

255. Transition Groups – there are three geographically based transition groups. Their main functions are to monitor post-school support for young people identified as vulnerable and identify gaps in post-school provision. Data provided to them by SDS Insight indicates which young people remain unemployed, 'unknown' or economically inactive. Represented on the transition groups are: Key Workers (Council and SDS); Careers Advisers; 16+ LC Project Team Development Worker (Chair); Community Education Workers; An educational psychologist; and the local college.

256. The Committee has become aware through the Inquiry process of the importance of the management of transition phases in young people's lives. It is often at these transition points that young people become disengaged and thus may begin the process of them moving towards NEET status.

257. Fife 16+ Learning Choices essential process elements:

  • A school 16+ LC Partner Team led by a senior manager;
  • A school offers process based on leaver focus and tracking (schools spreadsheet or equivalent);
  • Effective transition advice and intervention, e.g. Icebreakers, Activate, Work4U in all schools;
  • A Key Worker resource for transition support;
  • Partner Transition Groups to monitor post-school support; and
  • Quality post-school provision.

258. Here again, it is made clear the kinds of partnerships that are essential to managed transitions for young people.

Wales

'Reducing the Proportion of Young People NEET in Wales: Delivering Skills for Wales'

259. Members also went to see work being done with young people who are NEET in Wales are part of the study visit. The Committee also met Minister Leighton Andrews AM, who is responsible for the Department for Children, Education, Lifelong Learning and Skills (DCELLS). He discussed with Members what he believed to be the essentials required to underpin a strategy for young people who are NEET. Members also had the opportunity to talk to those who run the programmes included in the Welsh strategy and also people run operate programmes that run parallel to it, but have an impact on reducing the flow of young people at risk of disengaging and ending up NEET.

260. Members were particularly impressed by the dynamism of the Welsh approach. There was a palpable determination to succeed that meant that thinking outside the usual government 'box' was encouraged. The Committee saw a number of excellent examples of how seconding experts into programmes funded by government can pay tremendous dividends. Often these people were from other sectors, including the private sector or the third sector, and they had insight and could add nuances which government officials might not be aware of. Members were also greatly impressed by Welsh ingenuity when accessing additional funding, such as that from the European Social Fund (ESF). There was some impressive creativity in evidence when it comes to identifying matched funding.

261. The Committee sees funding as a significant issue and recommends that those developing the NEET strategy for Northern Ireland look to the Welsh NEET strategy with regard to its creative approach to using EU funding. The Committee considers that the Executive's Departments and stake holders must work collectively to access and pool finance to produce better results.

262. Members were very much aware of the fact that statistics would suggest that the numbers of young people who are not in education, employment and training in Wales are proportionately higher than the figures for Northern Ireland and it was with this in mind that the Committee was particularly interested in the solutions to the NEET issue at which Wales has arrived.

263. The Welsh NEET Strategy was launched in April 2009 and was titled: 'Reducing the Proportion of Young People NEET in Wales: Delivering Skills for Wales' (Appendix 5). On Page Six of the strategy document it states: "We know there is a correlation between reducing the numbers of young people who are NEET and the use of effective systems which engage and track them". Again there is the reinforcement that the underlying principles of any NEET strategy must include re-engagement and tracking and monitoring of young people who are at risk of ending up NEET. On Page 18 of the strategy there is an emphasis on the need for government action to reduce the numbers of young people NEET and that this requires efficient processes identifying and re-engaging these young people and a full range of learning options to meet their needs. It also indicates the need for more targeted and intensive learning and personal support, especially through agencies which provide specialist support. This is a further acknowledgement of the need for partners outside government for a NEET strategy to be effective.

264. Importantly on Page 22 of the strategy document it states: "There is clear consensus that as most young people do not arrive at extreme need overnight, early identification and preventative work can reduce vulnerability and the necessity for future support. It is vital to prevent young people falling out in the first place, both for individual wellbeing and because it is more difficult and costly to re-engage people at a later stage". The Committee has heard a great deal from respondents to the Inquiry that prevention through early intervention is considerably less costly than remedying the situation once the young person's disengagement from the system is complete.

265. Below are details of some of the programmes that Members discussed and of which they saw examples when the group moved outside Cardiff.

Pre-Vent

266. This is Key Stage 3 project which provides an education intervention programme which attracts funding from the European Social Fund (ESF) and operates in 5 local authorities. The project targets young people aged 11 to 13 and 40 post-primary schools are involved. The project runs from 2009 to 2012, with a possible extension to 2014. The aims of the project are common to those in Scotland's strategy and to responses the Committee has received to the Inquiry:

  • Raising aspirations, self-esteem and motivation to learn;
  • Developing emotional intelligence;
  • Raising achievement in basic skills;
  • Developing ways of identifying pupils at risk of underachievement; and
  • Increasing the number of young people (especially girls) who opt to study the STEM subjects.

267. The Committee was particularly interested in this focus on the STEM subjects as the promotion of the study of these subjects has been pursued by the Committee throughout this mandate.

268. The Committee recommends that the development of the NEET strategy is undertaken with reference to the STEM agenda.

269. The aims of the project will be achieved through innovative and different approaches and activities designed to enhance the curriculum. The money allocated to the project cannot be used for mainstream activities. Schools submit bids to the project under certain criteria. They are required to identify an equivalent financial match to that made available through the ESF from their own budget. This money will seed development of capacity in the schools and promote experimentation with new approaches to teaching and learning which, in turn, will motivate pupils, especially those who have struggled to realise their own potential. At least 75 pupils in each school will be involved each year, with a project total of 7,300 participants over the 3 years.

270. An example of a successful project is 'Keyhole'. This project has developed a water/soil/fertility conserving garden which mirrors projects in Africa and elsewhere. The idea is that the project will allow participants to broaden their horizons and make friendships. The foundation for the project was the identification of money already in the school's budget that fits with the project's scope so that the ESF match funding can be allocated. This way the school does not need to find money additional to its existing budget. The Committee sees this sort of project as one which can engage young people at different levels and it provides the contextualisation of learning. This has been identified as important to engaging young people with what they are learning through practical application.

Future Jobs Fund

271. This is a Department for Work and Pensions fund of £1.23bn for job creation that was expected to run until March 2012. The target group is 18 to 24 year olds and those on Jobseekers Allowance for more than six months. There is up to £6,500 available for each job created, with most of this being used for wages. It was extended to Wales, but not to Northern Ireland. However, it did present some good ideas that Members believe present some useful principles of this kind of strategy:

  • All jobs must benefit local communities;
  • Organisations participating cannot benefit financially;
  • Ability to create job opportunities over and above the organisation's existing structure; i.e. existing jobs must not simply be displaced;
  • All jobs created must be suitable for Future Jobs Fund participants;
  • Each successful job opportunity should be created for six months at a minimum of 25 hours per week; and
  • Organisations must demonstrate how they have spent the funding allocated to each job.

272. In terms of delivery, all vacancies regardless of the host employer are submitted through JobCentre Plus to allow specific areas to be targeted. The Committee liked this aspect which illustrates an aspect of social procurement. All referrals are managed by the JobCentre Plus to ensure that all applicants are eligible for the programme. Specialist training requirements will be identified via an employer interview in the pre-placement phase. Host organisations are responsible for employment law issues and developing exit strategies for the participants.

273. Regarding host employer agreements, there have to be governance and service agreements put in place to allow the placements to operate. The agreements must incorporate the delivery of placement profiles and budgets; an outline of employer obligations including employment law and equal opportunities, etc.; a clear indication of how the placements and participants will be monitored; systems of evaluation and audit; and the responsibilities of both the commissioner of the placement and its provider.

Careers Wales: "Keeping in Touch" Strategy

274. Careers Wales was set up in 2001 to bring together 6 regional careers companies across Wales. Its establishment allowed the creation of a single national brand for careers. It provides universal services, such as careers guidance services for all young people from Key Stage 3 to age 19 in schools, colleges and in the labour market. It has developed links between education and business and operates a placing and referral service for all 16 to 18 year olds in the labour market. It has developed and is maintaining a database of all 13 to 18 year olds, which records all interventions and outcomes to help map young people's progress. It also works with partners to ensure that young people who are educated in less formal settings (home schooled, community centres, and educated other than at school (EOTAS) are not disadvantaged and receive appropriate advice, support and provision. It also tracks and provides reports of specifically targeted young people. In addition to these provisions, Careers Wales provides free impartial advice to all age groups.

275. The Committee was particularly interested in the central role played by Careers Wales in tracking and monitoring the interventions that young people have received throughout their schooling and early careers. The Committee believes that the Careers Service in Northern Ireland should be seeking a similar role that would facilitate greater co-ordination and monitoring of interventions that young people participate in, the effects of these and signposting/referral to other, relevant interventions. This is the kind of co-ordination that must be a fundamental aspect of any NEET strategy.

276. Support for those of statutory school age from Careers Wales includes work with education providers and other agencies to identify those 'at risk' of becoming NEET; and provision of targeted additional support, including the Education Gateway Programme for vulnerable people, e.g. those in care, carers, those with LDD, young offenders and some minorities.

277. Support for those in transition from education includes:

  • Provision of impartial careers information, advice and guidance to inform young people's career planning;
  • Supporting young people who wish to move into the labour market at the end of Year 11 (Year 12 here), through mentoring and guidance activities, including job clubs;
  • Provision of a referral and vacancy service that places young people into jobs, training and apprenticeships; and
  • Provision of enhanced guidance and assessment through the Education Gateway Programmes.

278. Again the key transition phase is highlighted as key to young people remaining engaged.

Education Gateway

279. This describes a range of programmes that are delivered to 14 to 16 year olds by careers companies across Wales (local variations). The target is young people who are at risk of disengaging from learning, who lack motivation, who are not working to their potential and who are likely to experience difficulty with transitions. The programmes usually include a series of support activities, mentoring support, help with career planning and identifying and addressing barriers, such as poor school attendance. Again, in the spirit of beneficial intervention being the key to prevention of young people ending up NEET, the Committee believes that this sort of activity must be provided in a co-ordinated way to young people at risking of disengaging in our schools.

Support for 16 to 18 year olds who are NEET

280. In many cases this means keeping in touch with these young people through the effective management of the unemployment register. Those who fall into the Training Guarantee are monitored to ensure that they receive their entitlement to work-based training. There is also a referral and vacancy service and support for the development of employability and job search skills, for example job clubs and CV clinics.

Post 16 Youth Gateway

281. This is available for those who are not ready to progress directly into employment or training. This provides one or two weeks of group activities and career and next steps planning. It also identifies barriers encountered by the young people and how these might be overcome. There is also a personal adviser who can provide one-to-one mentoring support for a minimum of three months. A Flexible Youth Gateway is offered for those who require something more individualised.

282. For those with additional needs there is provision of a signposting service to organisations that are best placed to help young people overcome particular needs and barriers to engagement. There is also the provision of assessment, enhanced guidance and personal support through the Youth Gateway, which targets young people who are finding it difficult to access and sustain a post 16 placement.

Support for those NEET young people not engaging with Careers Wales

283. There is provision for follow up to support young people who leave the register and are still classed as NEET or "unknown". An outreach service is offered which targets young people who are vulnerable or marginalised. Careers Wales works with other organisations such as the Prince's Trust (XL programme), agencies and community and voluntary groups and youth services etc. to access young people who are NEET and then provide them with the necessary support to help them progress towards further learning or employment. There is also follow up on young people whose destination is "unknown" on leaving school. The service also follows up on those who leave post 16 provision prematurely – where information is available. There is further follow up on those who leave the registers without a positive outcome.

284. There are key elements of the Keeping in Touch Strategy that can be identified:

  • Initial and periodic tracking of the universal group;
  • Identification and ongoing tracking of those who are seen to be vulnerable to disengagement; and
  • Effective partnership working across a multi-disciplinary group of bodies, agencies and organisations.

285. As part of Keeping in Touch, Careers Wales undertakes an annual destination survey of all school leavers aged 16, 17 and 18 and records this information on a client database for tracking purposes. All labour market entrants are encouraged to register with Careers Wales and to access the services that are provided for them. Careers Wales has identified that working in partnership with communities, organisations and local and national agencies is vital to the success of the Keeping in Touch strategy.

Community Focused Schools (CSF)

286. The CSF strategic approach provides a clear vision and framework to drive the process of raising standards, engaging young people, supporting communication and developing communities. It defines clear principles together with expectations that all schools should develop as community schools. It became clear to Members through discussions and visits that Wales is making a huge effort to make schools a key part of local communities and that wider clusters of schools form a key hub for the operation of a number of elements of the Welsh NEET Strategy. The Committee also saw this in school and it is facilitated by the close relationships between schools in these jurisdictions and their corresponding local authorities, which are also another key hub of both jurisdictions' strategies. The absence of these powers residing with our local authorities and the less joined-up school system that exists in Northern Ireland present issues for the establishment of 'hubs' which will implement the strands of any NEET strategy.

E3+ Programme: "Enrich, Extend, Excite"

287. As part of the CSF Strategy, the E3+ Programme offers a pioneering approach to the provision of afterschool activities. It offers young people and communities the chance to spend time outside the school day in a safe and secure setting with access to a wide range of exciting, fulfilling activities. It aims to offer new experiences, skills and qualifications, which will raise the aspirations of young people and broaden their horizons. It is a free, flexible out-of-school model that provides a wide range of activities outside the school day for children, young people and their families and the wider community. It also provides opportunities to involve young people and children in the design and delivery of activities. Importantly, it provides a vehicle to drive forward the CSF agenda.

288. The varied menu of activities is on offer until 8pm at some schools, including free transport, free use of leisure centres, adult education classes and holiday programmes. Activities include: table tennis; hockey; art; football; trampolining; rock bands; street dance; creative crafts; mega drive; sign language; netball; photography; journalism; kick-boxing; skiing; horse-riding; golf; quad biking; beauty; cookery; and more.

289. Families and young people who might not have been able to access these activities previously now have the opportunity to do so via E3+. Three school clusters initially piloted the programme in 2006 and it has now been rolled out to 12 school clusters across the Rhondda Cynon Taf (RCT) County Borough Council area. In 2008/09 there were 227,405 contacts made with young people through the programme. Accreditation of 461 E3+ activities under the Children's University Scheme provides further opportunities for young people to become volunteers and student leaders. The 'Eye-to-Eye' Peer Counselling and Sports Leadership qualifications are linked to the E3+ Programme, providing young people with training in which they can obtain a certified qualification.

290. E3+ activities also run in the cluster feeder schools and are being used as an effective transition tool to secondary education. Co-ordination with the 14-19 Pathways Programme and Economic Regeneration Unit looks for proactive ways to use the E3+ activities to link to progression routes into employment, for example, the University of Glamorgan provides four Year 2 Sports Science students to each of the E3+ schools to deliver physical activity programmes linked to their university studies.

291. The Committee was very taken with the E3+ initiative and its creative use of existing school and community resources. It showed itself to be an effective way of reinforcing the sense of community in young people and also of bringing the wider family into activities. Numerous respondents to the Committee's Inquiry have highlighted the need for programmes and projects to engage the families of young people who are NEET as part of a holistic and more permanent solution to their disengagement.

292. Nine further local authorities have visited RCT's E3+ Community Focussed School approach. There are a number of elements that are considered crucial to the success of the E3+ programmes:

  • Leadership training courses for Head Teachers and key staff members;
  • Provision of comprehensive toolkits to all schools;
  • The establishment of a CFS Management Group;
  • The presence of a community school cluster worker in all 17 areas of RCT since January 2006;
  • Development of standardised community school E3+ action plans;
  • The presence of an E3+ Co-ordinator in all of the E3+ schools;
  • Establishment of termly E3+ Co-ordinators and school line managers meetings;
  • Training programmes for school governors, including the identification of a 'Community School Governor' at each school for these developments;
  • Hosting a conference for 200 delegates from a wide range of agencies and partners, within and outside the Council;
  • Chief Executive and Member briefings within the Council;
  • Working with Corporate Procurement to set standards and ensure quality in the delivery of all E3+ activities; and
  • Work with Corporate Finance to set in place procedures for budget monitoring and financial management across all schools.

293. This provides an excellent example of how schools can work with local partners to deliver a national strategy and, at the same time, undertake activities which build and reinforce local communities. The Committee is aware that this sort of work goes on in Northern Ireland; however, it requires greater co-ordination at the centre and greater support to enable it to be practiced across a wider geographical area.

294. The Committee was very impressed by the holistic nature of the E3+ Programme in Wales. It not only provides an excellent intervention that seeks to prevent vulnerable young people from becoming NEET, but it also seeks to develop leaders in schools and reinforces multi-agency working. The Committee recommends that those developing the NEET strategy should look at the Welsh E3+ programme and see what elements could be applied here.

295. Schools are being supported to develop a robust baseline of evidence about their locality – allowing planning for the future. This approach is central to the Council's aim to reconfigure services for Young People around school clusters. The key elements of this are:

  • In-School Co-ordination – senior staff from the lead school in the cluster will develop a 'Whole School Approach', so that all staff and cluster feeder primaries are engaged;
  • Service Mapping – services for young people within the area need to be mapped, for example, after school clubs, youth services, leisure activities, Communities First and voluntary organisations. This can be done to pinpoint their strengths, weaknesses, duplications and gaps in provision;
  • Consultation – 8,000 people have completed an online survey which examines access to each of the entitlements of Extending Entitlement;
  • Cluster Profiles – this brings together the key statistics on a range of issues, including education (attainment, attendance and exclusion rates through primary and secondary schools), health and social care, work and employment, basic skills and crime. The profiles give Head Teachers, staff and cluster steering groups an overall understanding of the real issues facing their communities. Information is received annually to evaluate the impact of the community school approach, including E3+, on the school and wider community;
  • Cluster Steering Group – a multi-agency group jointly facilitated by the lead school and the local authority which provides a forum for evidence analysis, discussion and action planning; and
  • Cluster Development Plans – these create greater coherence and avoid ad hoc planning. They provide the infrastructure for administering the development of community school services, templates for contracts and service agreements, support and guidance for innovative approaches and accountability.

296. The Committee thought that this joining-up is local provision and identification of gaps in provision is an excellent idea that needs to be part of any Northern Ireland NEET strategy. The Committee is aware that the Department of Education is working towards more joined-up provision between schools and other agencies and commends the Minister for this.

297. The Education and School Improvement Service (ESIS) has praised the Community Focussed Schools approach and the E3+ Programme. Estyn, the Education and Training Inspectorate for Wales, has also been very positive about the programmes.

JobMatch

298. This was launched in the Heads of the Valleys (HoV) region in 2007. It is the first project of its type in Wales and is designed to support a range of economically inactive groups within the HoV region between the ages of 16 and 64. Tailored support is offered to each client and a partnership approach is used for delivery and the scheme operates alongside Jobcentre Plus initiatives and other mainstream programmes, such as Bridges to Work and WorkStep. The programme aims to help clients develop, grow and improve general employability skills, whilst offering basic skills support where required. The project is sponsored by the HoV Programme, Department for Work and Pensions (DWP), European Social Fund convergence funding and Work Links.

299. The provision allows clients to gain skills, training and qualifications free of charge and regardless of the length of time they are unemployed or the type of benefit they are receiving – although specific targets have been set in relation to supporting the long-term unemployed, those with health conditions, lone parents and over 50s groups. There are tailored pathways to work in specific in specific skill areas for those with multiple barriers. These are known as 'Employment Routes'. The project provides a free recruitment service for businesses and a career development fund allows people to move beyond minimum wage employment. JobMatch has been developed to offer a seamless service to participants consisting of particular areas of support, each with a team:

  • Outreach – outreach teams develop strong community links throughout the region, having a particular presence at a variety of outreach and community venues. Often these are with Communities First partners. These teams will work with an individual to develop confidence to enter or re-enter the labour market. Those who are work ready are referred by Client Advice Teams for diagnostic assessment and professional development. This includes arranging training provision and offering employability advice;
  • Employment Liaison – once employment is secured the Employer Liaison Teams offer in-work support by way of mentoring or additional career development opportunities. These teams work closely with employers to determine their recruitment needs and match these with a supply of trained individuals; and
  • Employment Routes – these programmes have been created to enable those with more profound barriers to work towards entering the labour market. The team researches the labour market need and growth sectors in order to create suitable tailored packages of support, which benefit business and create employment opportunities for these groups.

300. Each programme is based on the Intermediate Labour Market Model and offers bespoke, industry relevant training, wages for the life of the project and work experience to those in most need. Most programmes will have committed employment opportunities following the subsidised elements of the project.

301. JobMatch also supports social procurement, something of which the Committee has been a strong advocate. As part of the project three jobs per £1m spent in relevant public procurement must be for individuals from targeted groups. There is no additional cost to the contract as a result of this and therefore no additional cost to the taxpayer. This also puts money into the local economy and the jobs are only advertised through JobCentre Plus, allowing government projects and contracts to target specific groups in specific areas. This kind of social procurement is particularly useful in construction contracts. It is planned that this model will be rolled out across all public sector procurement. It will also allow those targeted to develop skills that will make them employable in the private sector. There is a close linkage between policy and delivery in the programme. It also provides support for employers and gives them essentially free recruitment.

302. The Committee is extremely supportive of 'social procurement' and, once again, advocates its use by the Executive Departments and its incorporation into the NEET strategy as appropriate.

303. JobMatch is a flexible programme that can wrap around mainstream provision and does not duplicate the function of the job centres. It is tailored in approach rather than uniform and is cheaper than most 'welfare-to-work' type of provision. Secondment to bring in people to run the programme seems to have been the key to its success.

Shared Apprenticeships

304. These are operated in conjunction with groups of employers. The Welsh Economy and Transport Departments identify workforce skills gaps and DCELLS provides the delivery of these. Within government a Junior Minister works on Children, Science and Skills, reporting to the Ministers of the Economy and Transport. Innovative thinking has been applied to this programme to overcome any issues around 'State Aid' and, again, the programme uses local recruitment of targeted groups. Generally the private sector has been very responsive to the scheme which works in tandem with the main apprenticeships provision.

Basic Skills: Literacy and Numeracy Project Co-ordinators

305. The Committee enjoyed the opportunity of talking to a couple of these Co-ordinators and Members were very taken with these projects which provide literacy and numeracy support for primary school pupils, with the projects being extended into post-primary schools. The Catch Up Programme is a literacy 'catch up' programme that operates in primary schools and is soon to move into post-primary schools. The Spotlight Programme is a numeracy 'catch up' programme that operates in primary schools. A number of Members recalled this kind of support having existed in our schools years ago, but it was unclear as to whether it was still being operated in this way. However, the Committee firmly believes that these kinds of projects are a glaringly obvious way to provide an early intervention to prevent later disengagement for those young people at risk.

Partnership for Young Parents (Flying Start)

306. Flying Start is part of a Welsh Assembly Government initiative called Partnership for Young Parents (PfYP). Flying Start seeks to improve the life chances of children by targeting additional services at newborns to 4 year olds living in the most deprived areas. The aims of PfYP over the long-term are to reduce the number of people with very poor skills that contribute to relatively high income inequality. In the medium-term PfYP seeks to avoid young people having to go into the care system and to avoid offending and substance abuse. In the short-term PfYP aims to ensure that children are better prepared for school and the best environment for children's wellbeing is created.

307. The project began in 2002 and has 2 full-time workers who provide continuing support. These are a Co-ordinator and a Learning Mentor. They are the frontline force providing transport, home assessment and ongoing support. This project targets 14 to 19 year olds and involves Flying Start, Barry College and the Vale of Glamorgan local authority. The agencies work collaboratively and proactively, enabling teenage mothers and mothers-to-be to continue their education and to be supported physically, emotionally, socially and intellectually whilst caring for their children.

308. Barry College provides the necessary education facilities to enable the young people to reach their potential. Tutors are provided for numeracy, communication and ICT and an IT room has been set up at Flying Start. A counsellor attends the project from the college once a week to provide ongoing support through group work and one-to-one counselling. While the young people are continuing their education their babies are cared for by trained nursery nurses in the onsite crèche. This provides an opportunity for support in parenting skills to be provided from the health visitor and midwife, who both attend the project. Multi-agency working is a key feature of the project. Members compared this sort of programme to 'Sure Start'. Members agreed that these kinds of programmes not only help to re-engage or keep engaged the young parents, but they also provide a better start for the babies, i.e. the parents will have a greater understanding of the need for education and training and will hopefully reflect this in their support for the babies as they grow up and need supported to make the right choices.

309. The Committee believes that there is considerable evidence to suggest that the earlier that young people at risk of disengagement are supported the more likely it will be that they progress within the 'system'. The Committee recommends that those developing the NEET strategy look at interventions in young people's lives at primary and pre primary level and ensure that these are referenced in the strategy.

Examples of Localised Programmes

Tools 4 UR Future

310. This was a highly successful Pre-Employment Routes programme established in 2008 and designed to give young people the opportunity of securing sustainable employment in the construction industry. It involved 16 and 17 year olds who decided that they were more suited to alternative curriculum education and activities than to academic study. The nine month programme developed a skilled resource in a variety of construction skills to meet sector skills requirements and facilitate construction developments in the area. Five participants trained with a local construction company delivering the Welsh Housing Quality Standard Maintenance Programme for the United Welsh Housing Association. Participants were transported and mentored. Again, transport and mentoring are issues that a number of respondents have highlighted during the course of the Inquiry. They are clearly important factors to be considered when looking at providing support for young people vulnerable to finding themselves NEET.

Renewable Energy Employment Route

This was established in October 2009 and concluded in August 2010. It was undertaken in conjunction with Micaul Solar Limited. Three participants were on the programme undertaking a City and Guilds 6217 qualification in Construction Skills. Participants undertook Level 1 Basic Skills and continue to pursue higher levels in their own time. They also undertook the City and Guilds Certificate in plumbing, Level 2. The Committee saw this project as particularly attractive as it provided skills in an area connected with renewable energy and thus forms part of the creation of so-called 'Green Jobs' that are talked about so often.

311. Usefully, the Welsh Assembly Committee for Enterprise and Learning has recently (October 2010) completed a review (Appendix 5) of the Welsh NEET Strategy, which can be used to allow Northern Ireland to ensure that any NEET strategy produced is more robust. The Welsh Committee indicated that local data on young people must be properly gathered and disseminated to the right people/organisations locally. It has been clear throughout this Inquiry that data gathering and dissemination will be key to ensuring that young people at risk of disengagement are properly targeted and supported with the appropriate interventions. The Welsh Committee has also indicated that better data must be gathered on the needs of young people with disabilities, an issue that has also been flagged up by this Inquiry. The important theme of tracking at risk young people is further developed by the Welsh Committee with a recommendation that their Minister should seek to strengthen the performance of Careers Wales in managing a national register of young people who are NEET.

312. The Welsh Committee goes on to recommend that local and regional provision for young people who are NEET should be examined to develop a best practice model and guidance for delivery and monitoring of provision. It also recommends that there must be multi-agency guidance to ensure that practitioners adopt an early, consistent and holistic approach to identifying those at risk and that appropriate intervention is provided at an early stage. Again, these are key themes that have emerged from this Inquiry. The Welsh Committee's review also recommends that the Welsh strategy is extended to 25 years of age, beyond the existing 18. It also recommends that there should be a review of support for care leavers up to the age of 25. This Inquiry's scope covers the 16 to 24 age group and its themes extend well below 16.

313. A number of the Welsh Committee's recommendations deal with the themes of co-operation, collaboration and co-ordination that this Inquiry has highlighted. The review recommends that the Welsh Minister should look at ways to extend and fund good practice in the third sector, something that this Inquiry endorses. Additionally, the review recommends a joined-up approach to help young people with work opportunities and that at a local level a lead body needs to be identified which would co-ordinate and manage the journey and transitions for young people. The review also recommends that there should be a single Minister to lead and be accountable for the strategy. This Inquiry also suggests that this sort of leadership will be necessary. A further theme that this Committee has pursued is also taken up by the Welsh Committee – that of the better co-ordination of accessing additional sources of funding. The review recommends that the Welsh Assembly Government should work to co-ordinate the delivery of EU and non-EU funded projects for young people to engender a culture of co-operation and collaboration, rather than one of competition. This kind of better co-ordination to a common end is likely to mean that more funding is won. There are also recommendations for greater recognition for the importance of soft skills, a clear theme in this Inquiry, and the provision of a clear "continuum of support".

314. The early review of the Welsh NEET Strategy should be seen as an opportunity for the development of a Northern Ireland NEET Strategy to benefit from the lessons learned in Wales.

Republic of Ireland

315. Whilst not having an opportunity to make a study visit to see projects and talk to programme providers over the border, the Committee is extremely grateful to the Irish Ministers who responded to the Committee's requests for input to the Inquiry.

Department for Health and Children / Office of the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs – response from Minister Mary Harney TD (Appendix 3)

316. While the response from the Department for Health and Children came from Minister Harney, it incorporated input from the Office of the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs. This is another example of a Junior Minister post which cuts across a number of departments to pull together services and policies, in this case in respect of children and young people. This kind of post has been used to some effect in neighbouring jurisdictions and gives the opportunity to operate across the 'silos' that government departments can sometimes become. The Office of the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs was created in 2005 as part of the National Children's Strategy to bring greater coherence to policy-making for children and young people. This is the kind of creative approach that is required from the Northern Ireland Executive in the context of delivering solutions for young people who are NEET.

317. A further example of this kind of cross-departmental thinking was the creation in 2008 of the Office for Disability and Mental Health with a remit across four departments: Health and Children; Education and Skills; Enterprise, Trade and Innovation; and Justice and Law Reform. This offers greater cohesion for policy-making across the public services. The key priority of the Office was the implementation of a 'Vision for Change', a holistic view of mental illness, recommending an integrated, multi-disciplinary approach to addressing biological, psychological and social factors that contribute to mental health problems. The Office meets officials from across the four departments and co-ordinates action. Also 'Reach Out', the National Strategy for Action on Suicide Prevention takes place in the same context.

318. In view of the worrying numbers of young people taking their own lives in Northern Ireland, particularly within the NEET group, it is extremely important that this issue is dealt with in any NEET strategy. Effective signposting to counselling services must be built into the framework of services available to those young people at risk.

319. The Health Service Executive (HSE) prioritised the delivery of child and adolescent mental health services in 2008 and 2009. The National Office for Suicide Prevention developed a mental health awareness campaign for young people (www.letsomeoneknow.ie) subsequent to a series of consultations with teenagers on mental health ('What Helps and What Hurts') by the Office of the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs.

320. 'Headstrong' is an independent, not-for-profit, non-governmental organisation established in January 2007 to promote a better understanding of the mental health needs of young people. It does not provide services, but it works with those who do. Headstrong and the HSE have developed a community model of youth mental health called 'Jigsaw'. In April 2010 a National Mental Health Stigma Reduction campaign – 'See Change' – was launched to reduce the stigma people feel and to encourage them to speak up. This provides a useful example of how young people's mental health issues can be examined and appropriate services put in place.

Department for Education and Skills – response from Tánaiste Mary Coughlan TD

321. The 'Delivery of Equality and Opportunity in Schools' (DEIS) is the department's plan for inclusion and it provides for a standardised system for indentifying levels of disadvantage and an integrated 'School Support Programme' (SSP). DEIS is designed to ensure that the most disadvantaged schools benefit from support while ensuring others receive support in line with the level of disadvantage among their pupils. The DEIS Action Plan involves a more focused approach supported by an increased emphasis on target-setting and measurement of progress and outcomes.

322. The SSP works with 878 schools – 200 of these are post-primary and the other 678 are primary schools, representing a clear focus on early intervention to support those children who at risk of disengaging for whatever reason. This 878 represents 22% of all schools. The schools 678 primary schools fall into three categories:

  • 200 Urban Band 1 – the highest level of disadvantage;
  • 145 Urban Band 2 – moderate disadvantage; and
  • 333 Rural Primary Schools – ranging from high to moderate disadvantage in communities with populations of less than 1,500 people.

323. The support that DEIS provides to both primary and post-primary schools includes:

  • A reduced pupil/teacher ratio in primary schools in urban areas with the greatest disadvantage – a ratio of 20:1 is applied in junior classes and 24:1 in senior classes in Urban Band 1 primaries;
  • An allocation of administrative principals (non-teaching) on lower figures than would generally apply in primaries in urban areas;
  • Additional capitation funding based on disadvantage;
  • Additional funding for books;
  • Access to numeracy/literacy supports and measures at primary level;
  • Access to Home School Community Liaison Services;
  • Access to the School Completion programme (outlined below);
  • Enhanced guidance counselling provision at post-primary level;
  • Access to planning supports;
  • Provision for school library and librarian support at post-primary level;
  • Access to Junior Certificate School Programme and Leaving Certificate Applied (outlined below); and
  • Access to a range of professional development supports for staff.

324. It is clear that DEIS and the SSP provide a holistic strategy that provides an early intervention mechanism in areas where there is a higher risk of children and young people disengaging from the system and perhaps ending up NEET and potentially later moving into the economically inactive adult population. This kind of early intervention is a key part of any over-arching NEET strategy and would be an obvious strand in any strategic action plan.

Literacy and Numeracy Supports

325. Reading Recovery – this is a school-based early intervention programme which provides intensive individual help for children who need it after Year 1.

326. First Steps Initiative – this research-based literacy resource includes professional development materials for primary school teachers and its aim is to support schools as they help all children make measurable and observable progress in language and literacy development.

327. Maths Recovery – this school-based early intervention provides for specific teachers in each school to be named as 'Mata' tutors to co-ordinate the programme. These tutors and the teachers receive intensive training in the programme and it is available after Year 1.

328. Ready, Set, Go – Maths – another early intervention programme introduced to schools under DEIS. It is targeted at infant teachers and focuses on four related strands: sorting, relationships and operations, counting and understanding numbers.

329. Demonstration Libraries – this operates in 25 post-primary schools where each library is stocked with exciting collections of carefully chosen books and other stimulating resources to improve literacy levels and enhance the learning experience of students.

330. Family Literacy – this provides funding for adult literacy services through annual grants to Vocational Education Committees (VECs), which deliver family literacy services in order to address poor literacy from an inter-generational family perspective.

331. As with the Welsh Strategy, there is a clear focus here on early numeracy and literacy support. The Committee has heard from a number of contributors to this Inquiry that it is often difficulties with literacy and numeracy which are the foundation for a negative school experience and disengagement which can lead to young people ending up NEET. It is vital that this sort of support is available. The Family Literacy element of the support also reflects the holistic approach in Wales where it has been seen that involving the family and dealing with literacy and numeracy issues with parents or guardians can be of benefit to the children and young people in the family unit.

Home School Community Liaison Service (HSCLS)

332. This is a major mainstream preventative programme aimed at pupils at risk of not reaching their potential because of background characteristics which tend to adversely affect pupil attainment and school retention. The programme focuses on the salient adults in children's educational lives while seeking to achieve direct benefits for the children themselves. There are approximately 450 HSCL co-ordinators whose role is to develop parent-teacher relationships in collaboration with the local community to enhance the nurturing of the whole child. It supports personal and leisure needs as well as curricular and learning needs of parents to promote self-worth and self-confidence.

School Completion Programme (SCP)

333. The Committee heard from the North Monaghan SCP as part of its evidence gathering for this Inquiry. The SCP operates for both primary and post-primary schools and focuses on children from 4 to 18. Its primary aim is to identify those young people at risk of early school leaving and seeks to provide a range of supports for them in school, after school and at holiday times through linkages with relevant community, youth and statutory agencies. The supports range from social and personal development to homework and study support to sport and leisure, as well as supports targeting the young person's home and community life. Early pilot evidence has suggested the most effective way of addressing early school leaving and disadvantage is through an integrated services approach, based on the development of local strategies to ensure maximum participation in the educational process. Local projects are managed by local management committees comprising representatives from the schools and other relevant agencies, like the Welsh and Scottish NEET strategies. Projects are required to engage in a consultative and planning process with school staff, with parents and with local representatives of relevant statutory, voluntary and community agencies in the development of annual retention plans. The programme provides for a "bottom up" approach which is fairly unique and can specifically target local needs.

334. The SCP predates the introduction of DEIS and has now been extended to include all post-primary and urban primaries selected under DEIS that did not have the service previously. €31m was allocated to the SCP in 2010. It covers 124 projects across all 26 counties in conjunction with the SCP National Co-ordination Team. 691 schools (223 post-primary/468 primary) are involved, with 36,000 children and young people participating. The National Co-ordination Team comprises a National Co-ordinator, with three Regional Co-ordinators and the Programme Research and Development Officer. Individual project funding ranges from €97,000 to €471,000 annually. Planning and review meetings are held in each region at the end of the academic year.

Junior Certificate School Programme

335. This programme provides a curriculum framework that assists schools and teachers in making the junior Certificate more accessible to young people who are at risk of leaving school without formal qualifications.

Leaving Certificate Applied

336. This distinct, self-contained two year programme is aimed at preparing students for adult and working life. It emphasises forms of achievement and excellence that the established Leaving Certificate has tended not to recognise. It is intended to meet the needs of students who are not adequately catered for by other Leaving Certificate programmes or who choose not to opt for such programmes.

National Educational Welfare Board (NEWB)

337. The remit of the Board was extended from September 2009 to include Visiting Teacher for Travellers Services (VTTS), Home School Community Liaison Service (HSCLS), the School Completion Programme and the National Educational Welfare Service under one common management team, providing a single, more focused strategic direction at local, regional and national levels. The Board will develop a single, strategic approach to attendance, participation and retention in schools to meet the needs of children at risk of leaving school early or developing attendance or participation problems. The integrated management team is now providing joined-up, effective working at a national level. Structures will be put in place to facilitate closer integration of services at all levels.

Schools' Business Partnership (SBP)

338. The Partnership was established in 2001 to facilitate the development of mutually beneficial links between schools and local businesses to support the government's overall strategy on education. The Committee has heard from a number of contributors to this Inquiry about how it is essential for business to be involved in any NEET strategy, in terms of both providing placements and skills advice etc., and also to give leadership and management advice to those running our schools and those in the third sector who manage many of the programmes and projects that are aimed at young people who are NEET. The Committee has also previously seen excellent examples of organisations which bring schools and businesses together for work placements, such as School Employer Connections in the North West (formerly FOSEC).

339. The SBP programmes work with students and local businesses in areas of significant social and economic disadvantage. Funding has been provided by the Department under the School Completion Programme since 2004. This financial support assists the Partnership in:

  • Achieving the aim of matching all SCP post-primary schools with a company in their local community;
  • Employing regional co-ordinators to set up and co-ordinate the company/school links;
  • Expanding the Management Excellence for Principals programme;
  • Continuing the expansion of the Summer Work Placement programme to all companies and their link schools nationwide;
  • Development of a Board of Management toolkit for all schools and the distribution of this to all schools; and
  • Research feasibility study for pilot science project with Cork schools.

340. The key aims of the BSP are as follows:

  • Address key areas of educational disadvantage;
  • Add value to the department's existing SCP;
  • Lead the interfacing of business and education;
  • Foster existing links with schools and businesses;
  • Provide a business management perspective to school leaders;
  • Inform students about the world of work through mentoring, summer work placements and 'Skills at Work' programmes;
  • Develop a governance toolkit to support and resource school management boards; and
  • Develop a reading support programme for primary school students.

341. The Committee has seen clear evidence of the benefits of helping young people see how the learning that they undertake in the classroom has an application in the world outside school. The Committee is extremely supportive of this contextualisation of learning and believes it can be applied at every level of education. Members also consider that it is a key factor in helping those young people more vulnerable to disengaging to retain an interest in school and how it can provide meaningful skills.

342. Within the Partnership there are four main programmes:

  • Student Mentoring – this programme encourages students at risk of early leaving to continue their studies with the advice and support of a mentor from a local business;
  • Skills at Work – this programme invites employees from local businesses to talk to post-primary students about real-life workforce skills such as interview preparation and CV writing;
  • Summer Work Placements – this is offered in co-operation with the Irish Funds Industry Association, and organises short-term job opportunities for students in global financial services organisations; and
  • Management Excellence for Principals – this programme facilitates skills sharing between business and school leaders.

343. Again, the Committee has heard many times that it is important for programmes to continue over the summer, otherwise re-engagement has to take place all over again in September. The Committee is also interested in skills sharing between business and school leaders. Members see this as another bridge that can and should be built between the worlds of education and work. These issues have been incorporated into recommendations earlier in this report.

Further Education

344. In terms of FE provision that is focused on young people who are NEET, efforts are centred on meeting the needs of young early school leavers and the provision of a second chance education opportunity for people who did not complete the upper part of their post-primary education. Also there is a focus on the provision of vocational preparation and training for labour market entrants and re-entrants.

345. The main providers of these FE programmes are the Vocational Education Committees (VECs) which run a number of programmes.

Full-time:

  • 'Youthreach' – this is aimed at early school leavers between the ages of 15 and 20. It was established in 1988 in response to early school leavers. It is a joint programme offered by DES and DETE in 100 out-of-school centres provided by VECs and in a network of FÁS –funded Community Training Centres. There are 6,000 places nationally and participants receive a weekly training allowance and are entitled to support with childcare. It is a two year flexible programme of integrated general education, vocational training and work experience. ICT is integrated into all aspects of the programme's content. There is also a strong emphasis on personal development and the core skills of literacy, numeracy, communication and ICT, along with a choice of vocational options and a work experience programme. Courses are at a variety of levels. 61% of participants go on to FE, training or employment (The Committee thought that this sounded reminiscent of the Programme-Led Apprenticeships that have been established by DEL while Employer-Led Apprenticeship numbers are still being hit by the economic downturn);
  • Vocational Training Opportunities Scheme (VTOS) – this targets unemployed adults over the age of 21;
  • Senior Traveller Training Centres (STTCs) – targeting Travellers over the age of 18; and
  • Post Leaving Certificate (PLC) – for learners over the age of 16 who have completed the Leaving Certificate or adults returning to education.

346. Part-time:

  • Back to Education Initiative (BEI) – this is free for adults with a less than upper post-primary education;
  • Adult literacy – this is available to adults with specific needs in basic skills areas and includes ESOL provision;
  • Community education – provides informal and non-formal education for hard-to-reach adults; and
  • Self-financing education – usually through evening classes accessed by adults who pay a fee.

347. The Adult Education and Guidance Initiative (AEGI) provides guidance for learners before and after all of the full and part-time provision outlined above. The department's FE section also grant aids two independent, voluntary bodies, the National Association for Adult Education and the National Adult Literacy Agency. It further funds the FE Support Service and continuing professional development for FE staff in VECs.

348. The department indicated that for the 15 to 19 cohort of young people across the OECD countries, the proportion who were NEET is 2007 was 7.6%. For the Republic of Ireland the figure was 5.1%, rising to 12.1% for the 20 to 24 cohort, while the corresponding figures for the UK were 14.5% and 15.1%.

Department for Enterprise, Trade and Innovation (ETI) (Response from Tánaiste Mary Coughlan TD, on behalf of ETI Minister Bat O'Keefe TD, as the relevant functions are moving to the Tánaiste's Department, Education and Skills (Appendix 3))

349. Statistics for the 4th Quarter of 2009 for young people aged 15 to 24 who are NEET in the Irish Republic showed that 15.1% of females in the cohort fell into this group, while 19.2% of males did – an aggregate of 17.1%. The Cabinet Committee on Economic Renewal oversees the Republic's governmental response to unemployment and the implementation of the Framework for Sustainable Economic Renewal. The Committee has prioritised four cohorts:

  • People with low skills or education levels i.e. unemployed people who do not have the Leaving Certificate or equivalent;
  • People on the [unemployment] 'Live Register' for over a year;
  • People under 35; and
  • People previously employed in the sectors most affected by restructuring where recovery to previous levels of employment is not likely in the short to medium-term, e.g. construction, manufacturing, and wholesale/retail.

350. These groups have been identified as those most likely to drift into long-term unemployment. The OECD has also identified these groups as a priority. A number of measures are being put in place:

  • Unemployment benefit for those under 23 reduced to €100 per week;
  • Unemployment benefit for 23 and 24 year olds reduced to €150 per week;
  • If the these groups participate in full-time education, training and work programmes, their unemployment benefit rises to the normal €196 per week; and
  • 18 and 19 year olds are automatically eligible for programmes instead of waiting the usual three months.

351. In 2009 FÁS employment services and local employment services doubled their capacity to cater for the rise in referrals from the Department for Social Protection. Capacity rose from 78,000 in 2008 to 154,000 in 2010. FÁS has expanded training and work experience places from 66,000 in 2008 to 160,000 in 2010.

Labour Market Activation Fund

352. This is a new fund that focuses on training for the low skilled and those in structural unemployment, including those formerly employed in construction, retail and manufacturing; with priority given to those under 35 and the long-term unemployed. This should provide 6,500 places in 2010.

Work Placement Programme

353. This is aimed at providing up to nine months of work experience for young people, graduates and other unemployed people who have finished college or have limited work experience.

354. It is clear to the Committee that the Irish Republic's government has acted collectively to respond to the economic crisis and the issue of young people who are NEET. This kind of cross-departmental action will be required of the Northern Ireland Executive with regard to an over-arching NEET strategy.

355. A number of measures have also been put in place to help redundant apprentices:

  • They may progress to the next off-the-job training phase of their apprenticeship, in line with current scheduling criteria;
  • In April 2010 FÁS introduced the Redundant Apprentice Rotation Scheme which provides 750 apprentices with the opportunity to complete their on-the-job training in Phases 3 and 5 with the support of employers with a proven track record of providing consistent systematic training;
  • A joint ESB Networks/ FÁS programme began in March 2009 which provides on-the-job training with ESB Networks to eligible redundant apprentices in Phases 5 and 7 of their apprenticeship. It provides 400 places over 18 months and is funded by ESB Networks;
  • FÁS and the Institutes of Technology have agreed the PP5 programme for redundant apprentices who have successfully completed Phases 1 to 4 of their apprenticeship and where an off-the-job training opportunity is not currently available. Currently a Construction and Engineering Stream, with a number of core skills modules related to the apprenticeship and a number of electives in specific skills is available; and
  • Redundant apprentices registered for four years who have successfully completed all phases of their apprenticeship, but have not completed the required four years in employment as an apprentice in a specified trade may submit a portfolio of evidence under Recognition of Prior Learning for consideration by the National Apprenticeship Advisory Sub-Committee for the award of the Advanced Craft Certificate.

356. There are 166,000 full and part-time Further Education opportunities and 140,000 students studying full-time in the universities and Institutes of Technology.

Back to Education Allowance

357. This is administered by the Department of Social Protection. It is designed to encourage and facilitate those unemployed and on certain social welfare payments to improve their skills and qualifications. It is available to over 21s in receipt of the relevant payments. It is also immediately available to those awarded statutory redundancy. In 2009/10 there were 20,808 participants. Those receiving the Allowance will no longer be able to receive student maintenance from September 2010 as this is seen as a duplication of payments. Existing recipients can continue to receive both.

Youth Framework

358. FÁS is currently working to develop a Youth Framework which will draw together all its commitments to young people and early school leavers. The target group is 16 to 25 year olds and it is hoped that the Framework will provide comprehensive detail of all available programmes and initiatives to this group, including access and progression options. Monitoring procedures and an evaluation process will form part of the Framework to allow for measuring the effectiveness of services. The Framework will:

  • Explain the services currently available to young people;
  • Explain how young people and early school leavers can avail of these services;
  • Identify and promote progression options for young people, especially from the Community Training Centres; and
  • Evaluate the effectiveness of initiatives for young people and early school leavers.

359. The Committee believes that a service mapping exercise needs to be undertaken as part of the development of an overarching NEET strategy in Northern Ireland and recommends that those developing the strategy consider it.

What elements/funding would be required within a Strategy for young people who are NEET and what cross-departmental Action/Implementation Programmes are needed to address the situation?

360. At its second event for organisations with a NEET young people locus, the Committee highlighted what it regards as core elements of an over-arching strategic framework to stem the flow of young people ending up NEET and to support and reduce the numbers of existing young people who are NEET, particularly those in the core NEET group. The Executive has flagged up its support for such a strategy and the Department for Employment and Learning is currently taking the lead in attempting to develop one. The elements listed below as requirements of the strategy are reflective of the information in the various sections of this Inquiry above, which themselves are reflective of the submissions that the Committee received in evidence for the Inquiry. These elements include:

  • Collaboration between the relevant Executive Departments and stakeholders within an agreed framework, including all elements of the education system, the community and voluntary sector and business and employers;
  • The need to quantify the NEET population and where NEET young people are concentrated, particularly those in the core NEET group, and to target resources and interventions in these areas. The Committee has noted that the Republic of Ireland in particular looks at targeting measures where there are the highest levels of deprivation;
  • The establishment of systems which will provide for the early identification of those young people most 'at risk' of ending up NEET, coupled with carefully targeted and properly resourced early interventions to reduce the flow of these young people into the NEET category;
  • The development of systems for sharing information between the organisations, departments and bodies involved in a strategic framework for NEET young people and systems for the tracking, monitoring and recording of those young people and the interventions in which they have participated;
  • The above provisions will facilitate the necessary improved and better targeted referrals that these young people need, including a realisation on the part of those providing interventions that the key goal should be progression;
  • In terms of the provision of interventions, this requires mapping and ensuring that it is in place where it is needed. This will necessitate regular assessment and re-adjustment and the provision must be cognisant of other strategies and work in concert with them;
  • With regard to the provision itself, this must be tailored, flexible and must offer best practice as well as the most appropriate and up-to-date information, advice, guidance and support available;
  • There must be constant assessment of the effectiveness and value for money of the elements of the strategy and scope for continuous improvement must be built into the strategic framework; and
  • It has been clearly shown that work experience and placement are vital to any strategy and these should be properly considered and designed and should be supported by business.

361. With regard to the funding of a strategy, this has shown itself to the Committee to be a very complex issue. As has been indicated at the outset, the Committee has undertaken this Inquiry against a backdrop first of economic downturn and now of cuts to government spending. Members were never under any illusion that there would be a significant pot of new money with which to launch a strategy; however, in the current climate the focus must be on better targeting and use of available funds, eliminating as much duplication of provision or funding as possible, an end to funding for bodies in the youth sector which produce few, if any, outcomes and better pooling of resources between all those involved in the strategy.

Northern Ireland Executive Departments

362. It has been apparent to the Committee throughout the evidence-gathering process for the Inquiry and even before the Inquiry started that the Executive Departments must see the NEET issue as one where joined-up government is essential. This was echoed by every respondent to the Inquiry. This need was also recognised by the former Employment and Learning Minister, Sir Reg Empey, when he took his Department's NEET scoping study to the Executive to seek support for joint action. His ministerial colleagues indicated their support for a joint strategy and below are their responses to the Committee's request for details of the work that their departments undertake in relation to young people who are NEET.

363. In their response to the Committee, the Department of Finance and Personnel and the Department of the Environment indicated that they had no particular locus in the provision of services or programmes for young people who are NEET. However, as indicated above, the Committee believes that all departments across the Executive should be aware of an overarching NEET strategy even where that department has no direct provision. It is important that all departments are looking for ways to help young people who are NEET as facets of any work that they do.

364. The Committee's key role is to scrutinise the work of and advise the Minister for Employment and Learning. The Committee is very clear that DEL is not the only department with a role in finding solutions to the NEET issue. However, the Committee is also clear that DEL has a significant role to play and Members commend former DEL Minister, Sir Reg Empey, for taking the NEET issue to the Executive and for securing his Executive colleagues' backing for the development of an overarching NEET strategy for Northern Ireland. The Committee is gratified that Members' pursuance of the NEET issue has moved the situation so far.

Department for Employment and Learning
Response from former Minister Sir Reg Empey MLA (Appendix 3)

365. In his response the Minister outlined the department's main provisions that have an impact on young people who are NEET.

Careers Service

366. This provides impartial information, advice and guidance to all age groups. The Careers Service also offers a menu of options to schools which they can choose whether or not to use. As highlighted earlier in this report where the Service is discussed more fully, the Committee was fortunate to have a briefing about the Careers Service during its evidence gathering for this Inquiry. Generally the Committee feels that the Careers Service has a significant role to play in the provision of support to our young people with regard to career choices and planning and would like to seek the Careers Service's role in any NEET strategy developed along the lines of the careers services in Scotland and Wales, where involvement in schools etc. is more expansive. The briefing that Members received from the Careers Service is dealt with in a previous section of this report.

Essential Skills Strategy

367. The Committee is supportive of the department's provision of free Essential Skills classes that cover literacy, numeracy and ICT. Members are very aware of the need for this kind of provision where our education system fails so many. However, during the evidence sessions for this Inquiry and previously, the Committee has heard criticisms of the department's Essential Skills programme as not being flexible enough. The Committee believes that the department should reflect on suggestions made about the way Essential Skills programmes are organised from those in organisations who deal with young people who are NEET. Generally the Committee would commend the department for its commitment to this kind of provision.

368. The Committee is also supportive of the department's guarantee to 16 and 17 year olds of training places through Training for Success. The Committee has previously undertaken an Inquiry into Training for Success which resulted in the separation of apprenticeships into ApprenticeshipsNI and other improvements to the Training for Success offering. The Committee interest in the operation of Training for Success continues and Members believe that some of the personal and social development education, soft skills and lifelong employability skills, emphasised by stakeholders as being essential to programmes within a NEETs strategy, could be applied more expansively within Training for Success programmes. The Committee also sees possibilities around incorporating more of these kinds of skills into the Programme-Led Apprenticeships. The Committee appreciates that the recession and economic downturn has put considerable pressure on the department to find an increasing number of solutions for young people leaving school just as jobs and work placements are becoming increasingly difficult to come by. The experience and knowledge gained by the department in the operation of these programmes will be useful in designing new, or adapting existing provision, as part of a NEET strategy.

369. With regard to ApprenticeshipsNI, the Committee has previously undertaken an Inquiry into apprenticeships which recommended that this programme becomes a flagship career pathway that should be seen as being on a par with going to university. The Committee knows that the department is still working on some of the recommendations of the Committee's Inquiry report and that these will be reflected when the programme is recontracted in the months ahead.

370. A key theme of the Committee's work is widening participation in both Further and Higher Education. Members are very supportive of the department's work in this area and stress that widening participation should be a primary consideration in decisions currently being made about HE funding and the HE Strategy, as well as the spending review. The department facilitates the widening of access to FE and HE through programmes such as the Learner Access and Engagement Pilot (LAEP). Some respondents to this Inquiry have been critical of the LAEP and others have suggested that there is a gap in provision between LAEP and the department's subsequent progression programmes. The Committee believes that the LAEP can be refined and evolve into a useful tool for widening access to FE and HE.

371. A considerable number of the respondents to this Inquiry are third sector or private organisations which hold contracts to provide the department's programmes. This allows them to have an understanding of how current provision allows progression and where gaps in provision may lie. The department will no doubt find the evidence that they have provided to this Inquiry very informative.

372. The Minister indicated in his response that the department's Employment Service has two main aims. These are to assist people to move towards and into employment and to assist employers to fill vacancies. The Service provides advisers in all Jobs and Benefits Offices and JobCentres. These services are generally aimed at those who are aged 18 and over. The Committee has communicated with the Minister in the past over issues that have been raised with Members regarding the Service and dialogue with stakeholders about these continues.

373. The Minister also highlighted a pilot scheme for unemployed graduates and long-term unemployed young people in his response which provides 100 places for six months. Members have become increasingly aware of the issue of graduate unemployment and believe that there are issues about the kinds of degrees young people are studying and the structure of degrees themselves which need to be discussed to improve this situation in the long-term.

374. Cross-departmental strategies were also highlighted in the Minister's response, for example, the 'Children and Young People' Strategy and the 'Care Matters' Strategy for young people leaving care. The Committee believes that these strategies should be considered when departments are developing an over-arching NEETs strategy.

375. The Committee recommends that DEL re-examines its programmes as part of the development of the NEET strategy and assesses whether there are gaps in its provision that should be addressed. This should be done with reference to relevant stakeholders.

Department for Social Development
Response from former Minister Margaret Ritchie MLA (Appendix 3)

376. The Department's key programme which targets deprivation in disadvantaged urban areas is Neighbourhood Renewal. This promotes economic activity and regeneration and connects residents to employment opportunities in the wider community. It is mostly delivered by departments and the third sector, providing services to tackle worklessness. The scheme encompasses all age groups, but there is a focus on young people. The Committee regards this programme as an excellent example of departments working together and it was highlighted in a positive light in a number of the submissions of evidence to this Inquiry.

377. The Modernisation Fund Capital Programme was established in July 2007 with £3m for projects involving disadvantaged children and young people. The Committee believes that this kind of fund, which could be created by departments pooling resources, provides the flexibility and responsiveness that is required and could be used as way of funding work that comes out of an over-arching NEET strategy.

378. The Minister also highlighted in her response that the department provides support through social welfare benefits and housing benefit. Job Seekers' Allowance (JSA) is available, but the recipient must be available for and seeking work. There are a variety of special cases for 16 and 17 year olds to access hardship JSA. Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) claimants must satisfy the conditions of entitlement.

Department of Agriculture and Rural Development
Response from Michelle Gildernew MP MLA (Appendix 3)

379. In her response the Minister indicated that her department is responsible for Further and Higher Education programmes at 16+ and also for a limited number of post-graduate studentships. There is also a Skills Training element to the Farm Family Options Scheme, under the Rural Development Programme, 2007-13. The Executive's Rural White Paper is led by the department and will include NEETs. The Committee believes that this element of the Rural White Paper must be linked to the cross-departmental NEET strategy. The Committee took specific evidence regarding rural young people who are NEET and they have particular issues that are not necessarily the same as young people who are NEET generally. There are issues specifically affecting rural young people which contribute to the likelihood of becoming NEET. The Minister indicated that she would be interested in receiving such evidence to inform the Executive's Rural White Paper.

Department for Regional Development
Response from Minister Conor Murphy MP MLA (Appendix 3)

380. In his response the Minister specifically mentioned the Sustainable Procurement Action Plan which was established by the Roads Service in March 2009 to ensure that sustainable development underpins all decisions and actions of the agency. It includes the requirement for all contractors bidding for Roads Service tenders to make the long-term unemployed and apprentices part of the contractor's workforce on a quota basis relating to the cost of the job. For schemes up to £10m there must be one long-term unemployed person per £5m of project value and an apprentice for each £2m. For larger projects, for example the A5 and A8 improvements, specific long-term unemployed and apprentice targets are set.

381. The benefits of 'social procurement' has long been an issue pursued by the Committee and Members have been impressed at how it has been used in both Scotland and Wales to enhance those jurisdictions' work with young people who are NEET and the long-term unemployed, as well as apprentices. The Committee believes that this kind of social procurement is readily achieved and would see it as being an issue which all departments should be actively pursuing.

Department for Culture, Arts and Leisure
Response from Minister Nelson McCausland MLA (Appendix 3)

382. The Minister outlined a number of ways in which his department's work helps young people who are NEET which the Committee found very interesting.

Libraries NI

Libraries have undertaken creative writing projects which have involved NEET young people. Libraries have also formed relationships with partner organisations which target NEET young people for work or training. For example, Strathfoyle Library is a Job Assist centre. Sure Start, which targets NEET groups of young people has a project based at Strabane Library called Peers Early Education Partnership (PEEP). Libraries provide a neutral safe environment with free access to resources. They can provide one-to-one sessions in basic ICT support and also accredited and non-accredited essential skills programmes. Digital Literacy is one such programme that is seeking accreditation. The Committee believes that the library environment is perhaps a less intimidating environment than a school or college might be to returning learners and could be used to host certain courses. It is also more accessible for many people than their local college. Libraries also provide an important signposting role, providing information and support for young people. The Committee believes that this function needs to be explored and libraries might be used as part of a system of 'hubs' providing services to young people who are NEET – i.e. a place where they know they will be able to access signposting and advice.

Sport NI

383. The Minister's response highlighted the Sport in Our Community Investment Programme (April 2006 to March 2010). This supported and delivered innovative and creative projects. The Programme had three cross-cutting themes and at least one had to be in evidence for a project to receive funding:

  • Development and improvement of physical literacy;
  • Development and opportunities for people with disabilities; and
  • Creation of sport or physical activity in areas of high social need for those who have not previously had a sustained interest in sport or physical activity.

384. The Minister also highlighted that a variety of local programmes funded by Sport NI target young people who are NEET, including Triax in Derry, DV8 Strides Project in Craigavon Borough Council, and the Change Your Future project in Castlereagh Borough Council. The Committee sees these and other kinds of sports programmes as a way that local government might be drawn into a NEET strategy.

Arts Council of NI

385. The Minister highlighted that the Council has a number of projects which target young people who are NEET, including targeting young offenders through the Prison Arts Foundation.

NI Screen

386. This body has an Access Programme which is a volunteering scheme providing mentoring and training through media and arts projects and includes young people who are NEET. The Committee believes that volunteering can provide a significant strand of any over-arching NEET strategy, as has been the case in both the Scottish and Welsh experiences.

Department for Enterprise, Trade and Investment
Response from Minister Arlene Foster MLA (Appendix 3)

387. The Minister highlighted in her response that there are Invest NI initiatives to assist young people to start their own business, such as the Youth Enterprise Programme. This is aimed at young people aged 16 to 24 and its purpose is to encourage them down the road to self-employment. The programme provides tailored and enhanced enterprise support in the pre-start, start-up and growth phases. The programme complements the Enterprise Development Programme and identifies role model mentors for the young entrepreneurs. The Committee is interested in this initiative and believes that starting a business may be attractive to particular young people who are NEET and may have all sorts of knock-on benefits for their local community.

388. During the evidence-gathering stage of the Inquiry the Committee heard from a young man called Brendan Clelland (Appendix 2). He was not a NEET young person, but he raised an issue that the Committee felt was important. Brendan was a young entrepreneur who had been heavily supported by a business preparation course he undertook at the South Eastern Regional College, led by Geraldine Boden. Geraldine had continued to mentor and support Brendan as he established a number of businesses. Members were particularly impressed by his constant search for gaps in markets which he can fill. The Committee was also deeply impressed by his taking on of apprentices who had found it difficult to settle in other placements. The Committee believes that the colleges and Invest NI can work together to better support young entrepreneurs like Brendan, and mentors like Geraldine. It is clear that entrepreneurial skills are important and should be embedded better into courses in our schools, colleges and universities. Self-employment, in the view of the Committee, is a viable alternative for many young people who have disengaged.

Department of Education
Response from Minister Caitríona Ruane MLA (Appendices 3 and 6)

389. The Committee sees the department as having one of the most significant roles in the development and implementation of an over-arching strategy for young people who are NEET.

390. In her response Minister Ruane highlighted that her department has a focus on the prevention of young people falling into the NEET group. The Committee would emphatically agree with this understanding and it reflects the view of the greater majority of respondents to this Inquiry. Departmental figures indicate that in 2006, 12,000 young people left school in Northern Ireland without five GCSEs grades A* to C. This figure was 11,000 in 2007 and 10,000 in 2008.

391. The department's School Improvement Policy aims to "promote equality and the raising of standards" across all schools, not unlike similar schemes that the Committee has been made aware of in the neighbouring jurisdictions. The department acknowledges that school needs to be "relevant" and suggest that the revised curriculum is less prescriptive as a result; allowing teachers more scope to tailor their teaching to suit the needs, interests and circumstances of their students. Personal Development and Mutual Understanding are taught at primary level and Learning for Life is taught at post-primary level to better equip students for life. The department sees the Entitlement Framework as offering wider opportunities to keep students engaged and interested. These issues have been flagged up throughout this Inquiry as factors in a negative school experience that causes some young people to disengage.

Youth Service

392. In her response the Minister indicated that the Youth Service exists to encourage children and young people to mature and reach their potential. It provides them with opportunities to build self-esteem, work as part of a team, to make friends and to socialise etc. There are a number of programmes which are supported by the Youth Service and provided, for example, by the Prince's Trust through its XL programme for 14 to 16 year olds, or the Bytes Project for 16 to 25 year olds. The XL programme is used in both Scotland and Wales and has been cited by a number of respondents to this Inquiry as a particularly good provision for young people.

393. The International Fund for Ireland and the department are developing a programme aimed at addressing the needs of disaffected youth from urban areas who are NEET. The 'Youth Works' programme will aim to identify and engage a target group of young people who are aged 16 and 17, who are NEET and without formal qualifications and from interface and deprived areas. It will aim to increase personal development, leadership, entrepreneurial and employability skills using a youth work methodology. The department has approved Youth Works and has appointed the Youth Council (NI) as the managing agent to implement it. It will run for 3 years from September 2010 with 270 young people the target for engagement over the period. The Committee believes that this kind of programme is exactly the sort of provision that is required for disengaged young people and commends the Minister for approving it.

394. The Minister also highlighted that each school has pastoral care arrangements which are augmented by support from the Education and Library Boards (ELBs), who also make alternative education provision. The ELBs also provide Behaviour Support Teams who can advise on programmes and modify pupil behaviour. Again, the importance of pastoral care in schools and colleges has been stressed by a number of respondents to this Inquiry.

Education Welfare Service (EWS)

395. The EWS supports pupils referred because of concerns about their attendance and disengagement. All schools have access to independent professional counselling support.

396. The department is currently developing a 'Pupils' Emotional Health and Wellbeing Programme' to contribute to the building of resilient emotional health. This programme will act as a vehicle for providing "glue" to integrate at school level, curriculum activities, policies and support systems which promote pupil wellbeing in a consistent and coherent way. The Committee is extremely supportive of this programme, particularly considering the high number of young people who have taken their lives in our community. Members would also see a provision such as this being reflected on a larger scale within a NEET strategy.

Inter-Board Youth Panel (WELB, SEELB, BELB, NEELB & SELB)
Submission on behalf of the ELBs' Youth Services (Appendix 3)

397. Although the submission from the Education and Library Boards' (ELBs) Inter-Board Youth Panel (IBYP) was not part of the Department of Education's submission, it seemed appropriate to the Committee to add it to the report just after the response from the Education Minister as the Boards act under the Department of Education.

398. Considering how often the 'Youth Work Model' was mentioned in submissions from respondents to this Inquiry, the Committee believes that it is important for the IBYP to make its comment on youth work. The IBYP response described youth work currently embedded within the Department of Education (DE), providing an opportunity for cross-departmental approaches to NEETs. The Committee agrees that the youth work function performed under DE will be an important consideration in any over-arching NEET strategy.

399. The IBYP's submission suggests that the Youth Service is well-placed structurally and geographically. The ELBs manage 8 outdoor education centres and provide volunteering opportunities. The Committee is particularly interested in the possibilities around volunteering as part of a NEET strategy and the Youth Service may have useful models to share in this respect. The Youth Service also provides outreach/detached youth work and an apprenticeship/trainee youth worker model. Again, in light of stakeholders' advocacy of the youth worker model, the Committee believes that the Youth Service also has a contribution to make to a NEET strategy in this respect.

400. The submission went on to outline some of the ELBs programmes.

Growing, Learning and Developing (GLAD) Programme

401. Developed by the WELB, the GLAD programme was initially a pilot delivering in schools as a means of acknowledging young people's achievements within the National Qualifications Framework. The target group was 15 to 18 year olds in youth groups and schools who are underachieving at school or who had left school with few or no qualifications. The youth groups are in the areas of highest need as defined by the Indicators of Deprivation. The programme consists of 150 hours over a year delivered by a team of professional youth workers, supported by assistant youth workers. The programme takes a themed approach based on the Youth Service Curriculum. Personal development and team working are key themes of the programme and there are also a number of compulsory themes, such as citizenship, health and community challenge. Again, the content and operation of this programme cover many of the themes that respondents to this Inquiry suggest are best practice and which should be included in any programme designed for young people who are NEET.

402. The WELB received funding from the Peace III Programme to establish a North West Youth Forum for Peace and Reconciliation and a second grant to develop a training programme for Cultural Diversity and Tolerance. Both these programmes made use of Peer Educators.

Shankill Area Project (BELB)

403. This project takes a two year approach to targeting young people from varied backgrounds. The project aims to be a progression route targeting young people of 15 to 20 with leadership potential. A great deal of evidence suggests that this group of young people can often channel this potential towards negative behaviour. The project operates in different contexts, such as unattached young people working with detached youth workers or attached young people in centres and schools. The project provides opportunities for young people to learn about themselves and others through personal and social development activities. The project also focuses on transition, with progression geared towards young people choosing the appropriate transition to a positive leadership role amongst their peers and within their community. The project also provides the opportunity to choose from taster courses and to embark on full qualifications in a range of disciplines. Supportive placements are also available working with young people on the streets and in youth centres upon completing the relevant child protection procedures. The Committee considers that this sort of leadership programme conducted in disadvantaged areas is very worthwhile and has considerable potential to channel young people's talents in a positive and constructive way.

Department for Health, Social Services and Public Safety
Response from Minister Michael McGimpsey MLA (Appendix 3)

404. In his response the Minister highlighted that his department is leading on the 'Mental Health and Wellbeing Promotion' Strategy which will combine a "population approach" to promoting positive mental health and a "life course approach" in which evidence-based action is targeted at people in different age groups. People of working age will be a separately defined category within the strategy. The strategy will also recognise that recognition at a much earlier stage in the life course can also have a crucial impact. Action to promote the mental health and wellbeing of unemployed people will concentrate on supporting their efforts to find and retain employment. This will largely be led by DEL and DSD through existing employment support programmes. The strategy is due for publication this Autumn. The Committee is very supportive of this strategy.

405. The department is also "refreshing" the Protect Life and Suicide Prevention Strategy. What will amount to a substantial overhaul is based on a review of the work of the strategy. There will also be a specific focus on reaching out to young males. The Committee agrees that the refreshing of this strategy is extremely timely considering the worrying number of young people who have committed suicide in our community over a sustained period.

Office of the First Minister and deputy First Minister
Response from Junior Ministers Robin Newton MLA & Gerry Kelly MLA (Appendix 3)

406. In their response the Junior Ministers highlighted that the department undertakes no direct work with NEET young people; however, the Ministerial Sub-Committee on Children and Young People has identified vulnerable children and young people and young people with disabilities as two of its priorities. The Committee is also aware of the work with children and young people undertaken by bodies that sit under OFMdFM, such as the Northern Ireland Commissioner for Children and Young People (NICCY) who briefed the Committee on her work (Appendices 2 and 3)

407. The Committee recommends that those developing the NEET strategy ensure that the provisions offered by individual Executive Departments (and their agencies and bodies) in respect of NEET young people should be referenced in the strategy; particularly where there is a need to align with other strategies. The Committee is especially concerned that there should be reference to the 'Protect Life and Suicide Prevention' strategy, the 'Children and Young People' strategy and the 'Care Matters' strategy for young people leaving care.

Conclusions

408. The Committee has come to a number of conclusions.

409. Participation and 'Joined-Up' working – it has been clear to the Committee throughout the Inquiry process that a NEET strategy must be based on the development of structures which encourage co-operation, collaboration, co-ordination, multi-agency working, well-considered referral, signposting and collective responsibility. The Executive Departments and their agencies and other bodies must work together with the community and voluntary sector and the various education sectors, including FE and HE, and business. The Committee has seen in other jurisdictions that this approach can be difficult to manage and sustain; however, Members are certain that it is the only way that a NEET strategy can be properly developed and managed.

410. Action and Implementation – the Committee has seen enough strategies launched to know that without a thorough action and implementation plan a strategy can easily wither on the vine. That is why the Committee will expect those involved in developing the NEET strategy to create such plans.

411. Educational Experience – significant evidence was presented to the Committee suggesting that a negative experience of education was a primary cause for young people disengaging from the system. Members were encouraged to look at ways in which education and school could be made more relevant and stimulating for young people. To this end there were a number of respondents to the Inquiry who suggested that a 14+ vocational alternative to GCSEs and 'A' Levels be examined. The Committee considers this to be a sensible suggestion as long as this route is well-resourced and represents a quality alternative to more academic qualifications. It must also link properly with further and higher education provision and should not be seen as "second best". The Inquiry also highlighted other issues around education which are dealt with more fully other sections of this report. On Page 35 of the Welsh NEET strategy (Appendix 5) it states: "We know that many young people are keen to enter the world of work, and that pushing them towards full-time education when this is the case may be counterproductive. That said, we need to ensure that young people don't churn between low-paid, low-skilled employment, with little hope of progression or sustainability";

412. Social and Economic factors – the Committee is clear that young people who are NEET are not a homogenous group. They are also more susceptible to external social and economic factors and a strategy must take this into account. Interventions must not only be about individuals, but they must encompass families and communities. Often the barriers that NEET young people face are cultural and inter-generational. It may be the case that there is no family history of further or higher education and, in some cases, unemployment can span the generations.

413. Mentoring and Key Workers – the Committee has no doubt that the provision of role models and the consistent presence of a Key or Support Worker has made a huge difference to a large number of young people who had disengaged from the system. Members received a very strong message that young people may not have any other significant adult in their life and desperately need this kind of support from someone that they trust and respect. These role models must be at the heart of provision for NEET young people.

414. Counselling and Pastoral Care – considerable evidence has been brought to the Committee regarding the need for counselling and pastoral care provision to be improved in schools, colleges and universities. Often at key transition points between different sectors of education or between school and employment young people are not able to find the necessary support that might help them to remain engaged. As a result Members believe that proper counselling and guidance and pastoral care must be reinforced and supported by the NEET strategy.

415. Careers Advice and Guidance – this issue links to that immediately above. Often poor careers advice and guidance at transition points can result in wrong choices that can cause young people to disengage. This might be a short-term disengagement, or it may be more permanent. The Committee has highlighted in its recommendations that professional careers advice and guidance should available to all young people. Again, this must be a key element of the NEET strategy.

416. Holistic Provision – the NEET strategy must focus on holistic provision. The Committee has received considerable evidence during the course of this Inquiry that suggests that provision that is more holistic in nature is more likely to be successful and is more likely to support the progression of young people.

417. Division of the strategy into pre 16, 16 to 18 and 19 to 24 – the Committee considers that a strategy that does not look at specific age groups will be less effective and somewhat unwieldy. A number of the respondents to the Inquiry indicated that the strategy should give cognisance to the need for interventions etc. to be differentiated by age.

418. Early Intervention – the Committee received overwhelming evidence during the Inquiry that early intervention to support young people who may be at risk of disengagement at a later stage is both sensible and cost effective. Members would suggest that prevention is considerably cheaper than 'cure'. Support in primary schools for those with literacy and numeracy difficulties is likely to pay dividends later. On Page 22 the Welsh NEET strategy (Appendix 5) states: "There is clear consensus that as most young people do not arrive at extreme need overnight, early identification and preventative work can reduce vulnerability and the necessity for future support. It is vital to prevent young people falling out in the first place, both for individual well-being and because it is more difficult and costly to re-engage people at a later stage";

419. Local 'Hubs' around which the strategy will operate – in Wales and Scotland the Committee was able to see that provisions for young people who are NEET within the strategies in those jurisdictions were often rolled out using local authorities or school clusters. Members are conscious that local authorities here do not have the same powers and responsibilities as those in GB or even in the RoI where programmes for NEET young people often use these local hubs. It will be important for the Executive Departments and stakeholder groups involved in developing the strategy to give consideration as to the possible local hubs which will co-ordinate and provide cohesion for the provisions and strands in the strategy. On Page 28 the Welsh NEET strategy (Appendix 5) states: "Children and Young People's Partnerships should establish assessment and referral processes, with the purpose of co-ordinating the provision of an individualised package of support matched to the needs, interests and aptitude of identified young people";

420. Information Sharing and Data Protection – this issue has been dealt with in the 'Tracking and Monitoring' section above and the section on the Careers Service, also above. The Committee believes that other jurisdictions have managed this issue better in terms of ensuring that young people at risk are not allowed to 'disappear'. However, members note that in its review of the Welsh strategy, the Welsh Committee for Enterprise and Learning highlighted that this was an issue which needed further work. The Committee believes, again, that the Executive Departments and stakeholders need to give this issue consideration and find ways that will allow better recording of the interventions that young people receive and better tracking of young people's progression. Members know that for a NEET strategy to work there must be proper information sharing that allows a more complete picture of the interventions that a young person has received. The Committee understand the issues around sensitivity that this provokes, but Members do not believe that inaction is an option in this case and would urge all those involved to be creative and co-operative. On Page 6 the Welsh NEET strategy (Appendix 5) states: "We know there is a correlation between reducing the numbers of young people who are NEET and the use of effective systems which engage and track them";

421. Volunteering – the Committee saw some excellent examples of the use of volunteering as part of other jurisdictions' NEET strategies. Members are aware that volunteering is used here; however, the Committee believes that there is considerable scope for volunteering to be better used as part of a NEET strategy.

422. Spending Cuts and Duplication – the current squeeze on public finance will be a further complication for those working on the development of the strategy. As indicated above, the Committee never saw this Inquiry as an exercise in drumming up more funds for provisions for this group of young people – although any additional funding will be greatly welcomed by Members – it has always been about collecting evidence of the need for a strategy and, once that was secured, has become more focused on what a strategy should contain. Members believe that there is duplication of effort and spending taking place currently amongst providers of interventions for NEET young people. The Committee believes that a strategy and frame of services provided will eliminate a great deal of this and allow resources to be used more effectively.

423. EU funding – the Committee has believed for some time that Northern Ireland does not make as much out of sources of EU funding as it could. The Committee has seen and heard of very creative ways of obtaining and using EU funds in neighbouring jurisdictions and considers that more could be done locally to match this creativity;

424. Mapping – the Committee believes that there are a number of mapping exercises that need to be undertaken for the strategy to be truly effective. Efforts need to be made to ascertain the full scope of the provision of interventions with regard to, not only NEET young people, but to those at risk of becoming NEET and those who have re-engaged after a period of being NEET. The Committee also believes that it would be useful to map the existing collaborations that occur with regard to the bodies, agencies, groups, etc. that work with children and young people, including clusters that involve schools;

425. Rural issues – the evidence that the Committee took from the Young Farmers' Clubs of Ulster is above and the Committee also engaged with rural young people at the Balmoral Show in May. Members have seen that rural young people face specific challenges that put them at risk of being NEET and the strategy must be cognisant of this. The Rural White Paper being prepared for the Executive by DARD must also tie in to the NEET strategy. The Committee has noted that transport and financial support for going on to further education or training are particular issues; as are broadband access and mobile phone coverage. Childcare is also another issue that was highlighted. On Page 16 of the Welsh NEET strategy (Appendix 5) it states: "…rurality can present barriers to the identification and to the re-engagement of young people who are NEET. Fewer local opportunities, coupled with poor transport links, may quiet disaffection turning to entrenched NEET status…";

426. EMA – the Committee heard from a number of respondents to the Inquiry what a difference the financial incentive provided by Education Maintenance Allowance makes to at risk young people's participation levels on programmes. The Committee heard from a number of organisations who provide programmes where participants were not eligible for EMA as they do not meet the criteria. The Committee had expected that the Review of EMA would have been completed and published before the completion of this Inquiry; however, that has not been the case. Members believe that the EMA may need to be targeted more specifically and the Committee has argued in plenary debate that the criteria for receiving EMA need to be focused more on those to whom it provides a particularly significant incentive to re-engage. EMA was also highlighted in rural issues above. Page 32 of the Scottish NEET strategy (Appendix 5) states: "EMAs represent the government's response to evidence which showed that finances are the main barrier to young people in and/or furthering their education". The strategy goes on to say on Page 33 that: "EMAs have proved to be effectives in achieving their primary objectives of increasing participation and retention"; and

427. Transition points – there are numerous references to transition points and transition management in the above report. The Committee has heard a clear message from respondents to this Inquiry that transition points, such as the move from primary to post primary school, or the move to GCSE studies, or the move to college from school, are all transitions which provide points where young people can disengage and fall out of the system. This would also include transitions between programmes etc. for those being re-engaged. The strategy must pay close attention to the management of these transitions as it has been suggested to Members that this could make an extremely positive impact on stemming the tide of young people becoming NEET.

428. Gaps in Provision – some of the respondents to the Inquiry suggested that there are gaps in the existing statutory provision for young people. The Committee believes that those developing the NEET strategy should seek to address this issue and have made recommendations to this effect.

429. Robust monitoring and Assessment of the effectiveness of the NEET strategy – the Committee is clear in its awareness of the need for the NEET strategy to be monitored to ensure that it is delivery on its aims and reaching its targets. Members consider this partly to be the Committee's ongoing role; however Members would also value some kind of independent assessment of its effectiveness and would task those developing the strategy to examine how this could best be done.

430. The Committee has considered the possible structures that might exist to allow the Executive Departments and stakeholder groups to develop the strategy. The Committee would suggest structures that are relatively simple. These would comprise a forum group for stakeholders with the same structure for departments and their agencies/bodies. These fora would then populate a joint steering and implementation body which would, with reference to the two fora, develop the detail of the NEET strategy and then formulate implementation and action plans for it, using four sub-groups: Intervention; Prevention; Information; and Employment Preparation. These may also reflect specific strands of the strategy. The Committee puts forward these structures as a suggestion, but Members do not want to be prescriptive.

Appendix 1

Minutes of Proceedings

Wednesday, 3 February 2010
Cherry Room, Lagan Valley Island Centre, Lisburn

Present: Ms Sue Ramsey MLA (Chairperson)
Mr Jonathan Bell
Mr Paul Butler MLA
Mr Trevor Clarke MLA
Ms Anna Lo MLA
Mr David McClarty MLA
Mr Pat Ramsey MLA

In Attendance: Mr Peter Hall (Assembly Clerk)
Mrs Sheila Mawhinney (Assistant Assembly Clerk)
Ms Leanne Johnston (Clerical Supervisor)
Mr Bill Kinnear (Clerical Officer)

Apologies: Rev Dr Robert Coulter MLA
Mr William Irwin MLA
Mrs Claire McGill MLA
Mr David Hilditch MLA

10.02 am The meeting opened in public session

2. Briefing from Assembly Research on Young People not in Education, Employment or Training (NEETs)

Dr Robert Barry, Senior Assembly Research Officer, briefed the Committee on his paper, "Young People not in Education, Employment or Training". The briefing was followed by a question and answer session.

10.07 am Mr Jonathan Bell joined the meeting

3. Briefing from the Prince's Trust on its research into NEETs

Members received a briefing from Aodhan Connolly, Head of Public Sector Fundraising and Communications, and Orla Major, Public Affairs Officer, on research conducted into NEETs by the Prince's Trust. Jessica Smyth, a Prince's Trust Young Ambassador, also spoke of her personal experiences and of the support she has received from the Trust. The briefing was followed by a question and answer session.

Agreed: Members requested some more detailed information from the Trust on its research.

Agreed: Members further agreed the Committee would conduct an inquiry into the issue of young people who are not in Education, Employment or Training.

[EXTRACT]

Wednesday, 10 February 2010
Room 30, Parliament Building

Present: Ms Sue Ramsey MLA (Chairperson)
Mr Trevor Clarke MLA
Rev Dr Robert Coulter MLA
Mr David Hilditch MLA
Mr William Irwin MLA
Ms Anna Lo MLA
Mr David McClarty MLA
Mrs Claire McGill MLA
Mr Pat Ramsey MLA

In Attendance: Mr Peter Hall (Assembly Clerk)
Mrs Sheila Mawhinney (Assistant Assembly Clerk)
Mr Andy Cooper (Clerical Supervisor)
Mr Bill Kinnear (Clerical Officer)

Apologies: Mr Jonathan Bell MLA
Mr Paul Butler MLA

10.03 am The meeting opened in public session

3. Briefing from Barnardo's on the NEETs Inquiry

Members received a briefing from Margaret Kelly, Assistant Director, and Mary-Anne Webb, Policy and Research Officer, on possible Terms of Reference for the Committee's inquiry into young people not in education, employment or training. The briefing was followed by a question and answer session.

11.15 am Mr Trevor Clarke left the meeting.

11.20 am Mr William Irwin and Mr Pat Ramsey left the meeting

Agreed: Members agreed to write to the Minister for further details on a scoping study undertaken by the Department on this issue.

Agreed: Members agreed to return to the issue next week and to finalise terms of reference for the Inquiry at that time.

[EXTRACT]

Wednesday, 17 February 2010
Room 30, Parliament Building

Present: Ms Sue Ramsey MLA (Chairperson)
Mr Jonathan Bell MLA
Mr Paul Butler MLA
Mr Trevor Clarke MLA
Ms Anna Lo MLA
Mr David McClarty MLA
Mrs Claire McGill MLA
Mr Pat Ramsey MLA

In Attendance: Mr Peter Hall (Assembly Clerk)
Mrs Sheila Mawhinney (Assistant Assembly Clerk)
Mr Andy Cooper (Clerical Supervisor)
Mr Bill Kinnear (Clerical Officer)

Apologies: Rev Dr Robert Coulter MLA
Mr David Hilditch MLA
Mr William Irwin MLA

10.04 am The meeting opened in public session

3. Briefing from Voypic in relation to the NEETs Inquiry

Mr Jonathan Bell declared an interest as a Senior Practitioner – Adolescent Social work/ Intensive Support Team - South Eastern Health and Social Care Trust.

Members received a briefing from Vivian McConvey, Director, and Alicia Toal, Assistant Director, on the specific issues relating to young people in care who are not in education, employment or training. Three Trainee Sessional workers with Voypic also outlined young peoples' concerns. The briefing was followed by a question and answer session.

5. Matters Arising

12.18 pm Mr David McClarty left the meeting

NEETs inquiry – Terms of Reference

Agreed: Members discussed the terms of reference for the NEETs inquiry and agreed various amendments

[EXTRACT]

Wednesday, 24 February 2010
Room 30, Parliament Building

Present: Ms Sue Ramsey MLA (Chairperson)
Mr Paul Butler MLA
Mr Trevor Clarke MLA
Rev Dr Robert Coulter MLA
Mr David Hilditch MLA
Mr William Irwin MLA
Ms Anna Lo MLA
Mr David McClarty MLA
Mr Pat Ramsey MLA

In Attendance: Mr Peter Hall (Assembly Clerk)
Mrs Sheila Mawhinney (Assistant Assembly Clerk)
Mr Andy Cooper (Clerical Supervisor)
Mr Bill Kinnear (Clerical Officer)

Apologies: Mrs Claire McGill MLA

10.04 am The meeting opened in public session

4. Matters Arising

Agreed: Members considered the draft Public Notice inviting submissions for the Committee's inquiry into NEETs and agreed that it should be published in the press and on the website

[EXTRACT]

Wednesday, 3 March 2010
Room 30, Parliament Building

Present: Mr David Hilditch MLA (Acting Chairperson)
Mr Jonathan Bell MLA
Rev Dr Robert Coulter MLA
Mr William Irwin MLA
Mrs Claire McGill MLA
Mr Pat Ramsey MLA

In Attendance: Mr Peter Hall (Assembly Clerk)
Mrs Sheila Mawhinney (Assistant Assembly Clerk)
Mr Andy Cooper (Clerical Supervisor)
Mr Bill Kinnear (Clerical Officer)

Apologies: Mr Paul Butler MLA
Ms Anna Lo MLA
Mr David McClarty MLA
Ms Sue Ramsey MLA (Chairperson)

10.05 am The meeting opened in public session

2. Briefing from ANIC on the economic challenges facing FE Colleges.

John D'Arcy, Chief Executive, together with Ken Webb, Principal and Chief Executive of the South-Eastern Regional College, and Trevor Neilands, Director and Chief Executive of the Northern Regional College, briefed the Committee on the current economics challenges facing colleges of further education. This was followed by Geraldine Boden, a training support officer and 'Enterprise Champion', and Brendan Clelland, a former student, who gave the Committee a personal insight into the impact of further education. The briefing was followed by a question and answer session.

10.39 am Mr William Irwin left the meeting

3. Briefing from the Young Farmers' Clubs of Ulster on issues facing young people in rural areas.

Members received a briefing from Martyn Blair, Chair of the Young Farmers' Clubs of Ulster Rural Affairs Committee, and Joe Hawkins, Chief Executive Officer, on issues facing young people in rural areas who are not in education, employment or training, as part of the Committee's inquiry into NEETs. The briefing was followed by a question and answer session.

11.40 am The meeting moved into closed session.

9. Briefing from Departmental officials on a Scoping Study for NEETs

Members were briefed by Dr Linda Bradley and June Ingram, Strategy and Employment Relations Division, on the scoping study currently being carried by the Department on young people not in education, employment or training.

12.12 pm Mr David Hilditch left the meeting.

12.20 pm Mr Pat Ramsey left the meeting.

12.35 pm Rev Dr Robert Coulter left the meeting.

[EXTRACT]

Wednesday, 10 March 2010
Council Chamber, Queen's University, Belfast

Present: Ms Sue Ramsey MLA (Chairperson)
Mr Jonathan Bell MLA
Mr Paul Butler MLA
Mr Trevor Clarke MLA
Mr David Hilditch MLA
Mr William Irwin MLA
Ms Anna Lo MLA
Mr David McClarty MLA
Mrs Claire McGill MLA
Mr Pat Ramsey MLA

In Attendance: Mr Peter Hall (Assembly Clerk)
Mrs Sheila Mawhinney (Assistant Assembly Clerk)
Mr Andy Cooper (Clerical Supervisor)
Mr Bill Kinnear (Clerical Officer)

Apologies: Rev Dr Robert Coulter MLA

10.04 am The meeting opened in public session

2. Briefing from Action for Children in relation to the NEETs Inquiry

The Committee agreed to proceed with agenda item 2.

Ross McCrea, Policy and Public Affairs Manager, and Paul Moore, Strategic Director, briefed the Committee on the work of Action for Children in addressing young people not in employment, education or training. The briefing was followed by a question and answer session.

10.10 am Mr William Irwin joined the meeting

10.23 am Mr Trevor Clarke joined the meeting

11.03 am Mr Paul Butler left the meeting

[EXTRACT]

Wednesday, 14 April 2010
Room 135, Parliament Buildings

Present: Mrs Dolores Kelly (Chairperson)
Mr Peter Weir (Deputy Chairperson)
Mr Paul Butler MLA
Mr Trevor Clarke MLA
Rev Dr Robert Coulter MLA
Mr David McClarty MLA
Ms Anna Lo MLA
Mrs Claire McGill MLA
Mr Pat Ramsey MLA
Ms Sue Ramsey MLA

In Attendance: Mr Peter Hall (Assembly Clerk)
Mrs Sheila Mawhinney (Assistant Assembly Clerk)
Miss Pauline Devlin (Clerical Supervisor)
Mr Bill Kinnear (Clerical Officer)

Apologies: None

10.00am The meeting opened in public session.

3. Briefing from representatives of the Northern Ireland Youth Forum in relation to the NEETs Inquiry

Chris Quinn, Transitional Director, and Neil Symington and Caroline McCracken, Participation Workers, briefed the Committee on the work of the Northern Ireland Youth Forum in addressing young people not in employment, education or training. The briefing was followed by a question and answer session.

10.59 am Mr Trevor Clarke rejoined the meeting

Agreed: The Committee discussed the proposed study visit to Scotland and Wales to see projects which are engaging with young people not in employment, education or training, and agreed that the Clerk should circulate a draft programme

[EXTRACT]

Wednesday, 21 April 2010
South-Eastern Regional College, Lisburn Campus

Present: Mrs Dolores Kelly (Chairperson)
Mr Peter Weir (Deputy Chairperson)
Mr Paul Butler MLA
Mr David McClarty MLA
Mr Pat Ramsey MLA

In Attendance: Mr Peter Hall (Assembly Clerk)
Mrs Sheila Mawhinney (Assistant Assembly Clerk)
Miss Pauline Devlin (Clerical Supervisor)
Mr Bill Kinnear (Clerical Officer)

Apologies: Mr Trevor Clarke MLA
Rev Dr Robert Coulter MLA
Mr William Irwin MLA
Ms Anna Lo MLA
Mrs Claire McGill MLA
Ms Sue Ramsey MLA

10.05am The meeting opened in public session.

3. Briefing from a representative of the School Completion Programme in relation to the NEETs Inquiry

Marlene Rice, co-ordinator of the North Monaghan School Completion Programme, briefed the Committee on the work of the Programme in engaging with young people to ensure that they complete their education. The briefing was followed by a question and answer session.

Agreed: The Committee agreed to obtain further information from different jurisdictions on the success of programmes specifically targeted at young people in danger of dropping out of formal education.

[EXTRACT]

Wednesday, 12 May 2010
Malone House, Barnett Demesne, Belfast

Present: Mrs Dolores Kelly (Chairperson)
Mr Peter Weir (Deputy Chairperson)
Mr Paul Butler MLA
Mr William Irwin MLA
Ms Anna Lo MLA
Mr Pat Ramsey MLA
Ms Sue Ramsey MLA

In Attendance: Mr Peter Hall (Assembly Clerk)
Mrs Sheila Mawhinney (Assistant Assembly Clerk)
Miss Pauline Devlin (Clerical Supervisor)
Ms Leanne Johnston
Mr Bill Kinnear (Clerical Officer)
Ms Dagmar Walgraeve

Apologies: Mr Trevor Clarke MLA
Rev Dr Robert Coulter MLA
Mr David McClarty MLA
Mrs Claire McGill MLA

10.03 am The meeting opened in public session.

2. Briefing from the principal of Glastry College in relation to the NEETs Inquiry

Errol McMaster, principal of Glastry College, Ballyhalbert, provided the Committee with a school perspective on the issues facing young people from a rural environment.

10.06 am Mr Peter Weir joined the meeting

Agreed: Members agreed to write to the Departments of Education and Regional Development on the provision of transport for students

3. Briefing from North Down Training Ltd in relation to the NEETs Inquiry

The Committee was briefed by Nigel Finch from North Down Training Ltd on the work of the organisation on providing alternative education for young people outside the greater Belfast area. The briefing was followed by a question and answer session.

Agreed: The Committee agreed to write to the Department of Education on the issue of funding for providers of alternative education

[EXTRACT]

Wednesday, 19 May 2010
Niacro, Amelia House, Belfast

Present: Mrs Dolores Kelly (Chairperson)
Mr Peter Weir (Deputy Chairperson)
Ms Anna Lo MLA
Mrs Claire McGill MLA
Mr Pat Ramsey MLA
Ms Sue Ramsey MLA

In Attendance: Mr Peter Hall (Assembly Clerk)
Mrs Sheila Mawhinney (Assistant Assembly Clerk)
Miss Pauline Devlin (Clerical Supervisor)
Mr Bill Kinnear (Clerical Officer)

Apologies: Mr Paul Butler MLA
Rev Dr Robert Coulter MLA
Mr William Irwin MLA
Mr David McClarty MLA

10.06 am The meeting opened in public session.

4. Matters Arising

North Down Training Ltd

Agreed: The Committee considered statistical information provided by North Down Training Ltd further to their briefing at the previous meeting, and agreed that it should be included as evidence in the NEETs inquiry report.

8. Briefing from Include Youth and NIACRO in relation to the NEETs Inquiry

Olwen Lyner, Chief Executive of NIACRO, and Heather Reid and David Murphy, also from NIACRO, together with Claire Meenehan, Anna Schulz and Koulla Yiasouma, representatives from Include Youth, provided the Committee with a joint briefing on alternative provision for young people and interaction with the youth justice system.

11.00 am Ms Sue Ramsey joined the meeting

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Wednesday, 2 June 2010
Room 135, Parliament Buildings

Present: Mrs Dolores Kelly MLA (Chairperson)
Mr Peter Weir MLA (Deputy Chairperson)
Mr Trevor Clarke MLA
Mr David McClarty MLA
Ms Anna Lo MLA
Mr Pat Ramsey MLA
Ms Sue Ramsey MLA

In Attendance: Mr Peter Hall (Assembly Clerk)
Mrs Sheila Mawhinney (Assistant Assembly Clerk)
Miss Pauline Devlin (Clerical Supervisor)
Mr Bill Kinnear (Clerical Officer)

Apologies: Rev Dr Robert Coulter MLA
Mr William Irwin MLA
Mrs Claire McGill MLA

10.05 am The meeting opened in public session.

6. Briefing from the Youth Council of Northern Ireland in relation to the NEETs Inquiry

David Guilfoyle, Chief Executive, Clare Conlon, Head of Training in Youth Action NI, Sean Madden, Project Worker in Youth Action NI and Harry Murphy, Senior Youth Worker, briefed the Committee on the development of an effective youth policy, as part of the Committee's inquiry into young people who are not in education employment or training. The briefing was followed by a question and answer session.

10.30 am Mr Trevor Clarke joined the meeting

10.37 am Mr Peter Weir joined the meeting

11.10 am Ms Anna lo left the meeting

11.10 am Ms Sue Ramsey left the meeting

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Wednesday, 30 June 2010
Room 30, Parliament Buildings

Present: Mrs Dolores Kelly MLA (Chairperson)
Mr Jonathan Bell MLA (Deputy Chairperson)
Mr Paul Butler MLA
Mr David McClarty MLA
Mrs Claire McGill MLA
Mr William Irwin MLA
Ms Anna Lo MLA
Mr Pat Ramsey MLA
Ms Sue Ramsey MLA

In Attendance: Mr Peter Hall (Assembly Clerk)
Mrs Sheila Mawhinney (Assistant Assembly Clerk)
Miss Pauline Devlin (Clerical Supervisor)
Mr Bill Kinnear (Clerical Officer)

Apologies: Mr Peter Weir MLA

10.05 am The meeting opened in public session.

2. Briefing from the Northern Ireland Commissioner for Children and Young People in relation to the NEETs Inquiry

Patricia Lewsley, Commissioner, and Jacqueline Melville, Policy and Research Officer, briefed the Committee on the role and function of the Commissioner, particularly in relation to young people who are not in education employment or training. The briefing was followed by a question and answer session.

10.08 am Mr William Irwin joined the meeting

10.28 am Mr Pat Ramsey left the meeting

10.32 am Ms Sue Ramsey left the meeting

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Wednesday, 8 September 2010
Room 135, Parliament Buildings

Present: Mrs Dolores Kelly MLA (Chairperson)
Mr Jonathan Bell MLA (Deputy Chairperson)
Mr David McClarty MLA
Mrs Claire McGill MLA
Ms Anna Lo MLA
Ms Sue Ramsey MLA

In Attendance: Mr Peter Hall (Assembly Clerk)
Mrs Sheila Mawhinney (Assistant Assembly Clerk)
Miss Pauline Devlin (Clerical Supervisor)
Mr Bill Kinnear (Clerical Officer)

Apologies: Mr Paul Butler MLA
Rev Dr Robert Coulter MLA
Mr William Irwin MLA
Mr Pat Ramsey MLA
Mr Peter Weir MLA

10.06 am. The meeting opened in public session

2. Briefing from Rathbone in relation to the NEETs Inquiry

Paul Fletcher, Director of Policy, and Colm Fanning, Youth Engagement Team Leader, together with George Philips and Kevin Gallagher, young volunteers with Rathbone, briefed the Committee on the outcomes of workshops carried out in relation to young people who are not in education, employment or training. The briefing was followed by a question and answer session.

Agreed: Members agreed to write to the Education Committee to request further information on issues raised by the workshops

10.58 am Ms Sue Ramsey left the meeting

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Wednesday, 22 September 2010
Room 29, Parliament Buildings

Present: Mrs Dolores Kelly MLA (Chairperson)
Mr Jonathan Bell MLA (Deputy Chairperson)
Mr Sydney Anderson MLA
Rev Dr Robert Coulter MLA
Mr Chris Lyttle MLA
Mr David McClarty MLA
Mrs Claire McGill MLA
Mr Pat Ramsey MLA
Ms Sue Ramsey MLA
Mr Peter Weir MLA

In Attendance: Mr Peter Hall (Assembly Clerk)
Mrs Sheila Mawhinney (Assistant Assembly Clerk)
Miss Pauline Devlin (Clerical Supervisor)
Mr Bill Kinnear (Clerical Officer)

Apologies: Mr Paul Butler MLA

10.03 am. The meeting opened in public session

2. Briefing from Alternative Education Providers (AEP) in relation to the NEETs Inquiry

Mairead McCafferty, Programme Manager, Integrated Services for Children and Young People, Conor Kennedy, Manager, Open Doors, Louise Brennan, West Belfast AEPs, Integrated Services for Children and Young People, and Pamela Shields, Director, Newstart Education Centre, briefed the Committee on the work of the AEP Forum with young people who have disengaged from mainstream education. The briefing was followed by a question and answer session.

10.06 am Mr Chris Lyttle joined the meeting

10.07 am Mrs Claire McGill joined the meeting

10.23 am Mr Robert Coulter joined the meeting

Agreed: The Committee agreed that Ms McCafferty would respond in writing to a number of questions raised by members

10.46 am Ms Sue Ramsey left the meeting

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Wednesday, 29 September 2010
Senate Chamber, Parliament Buildings

Present: Mrs Dolores Kelly MLA (Chairperson)
Mr Jonathan Bell MLA (Deputy Chairperson)
Mr Sydney Anderson MLA
Rev Dr Robert Coulter MLA
Mr Chris Lyttle MLA
Mr David McClarty MLA
Mrs Claire McGill MLA
Mr Pat Ramsey MLA
Mr Peter Weir MLA

In Attendance: Mr Peter Hall (Assembly Clerk)
Mrs Sheila Mawhinney (Assistant Assembly Clerk)
Miss Pauline Devlin (Clerical Supervisor)
Mr Bill Kinnear (Clerical Officer)

Apologies: Mr Paul Butler MLA
Ms Sue Ramsey MLA

10.10 am. The meeting opened in public session

2. Briefing from Departmental officials on the development of a NEETs Strategy

June Ingram, Director, Strategy & Employment Relations Division, and Jim Walker and Pascal McCulla, Migrant Workers and NEETs Branch, briefed the Committee on the work of the Department in developing a strategy to address young people who are not in education, employment or learning. The briefing was followed by a question and answer session.

Agreed: The Committee agreed to write to the Minister for further information on this issue

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Wednesday, 6 October 2010
Room 29, Parliament Buildings

Present: Mr Sydney Anderson MLA
Mr Paul Butler MLA
Rev Dr Robert Coulter MLA
Mr Chris Lyttle MLA
Mrs Claire McGill MLA
Mr Pat Ramsey MLA
Ms Sue Ramsey MLA
Mr Peter Weir MLA

In Attendance: Mr Peter Hall (Assembly Clerk)
Mrs Sheila Mawhinney (Assistant Assembly Clerk)
Mr Nathan McVeigh (Clerical Supervisor)
Ms Antoinette Bowen (Clerical Officer)

Apologies: Mrs Dolores Kelly MLA (Chairperson)
Mr Jonathan Bell MLA (Deputy Chairperson)
Mr David McClarty MLA

10.45 am. The meeting opened in public session

Election of Chairperson

In the absence of the Chairperson and the Deputy Chairperson, Mr Peter Weir moved the motion, "That Mr Pat Ramsey do take the chair of the committee". The motion was seconded by Mr Chris Lyttle.

2. Briefing from Newry Sports Partnership on supporting young people who are NEET

Malcolm Roberts briefed the Committee on the work of Newry Sports Partnership on intervention measures at pre-foundation level on learning and pathways to employment or further education for young people who are not in education, employment or learning. The briefing was followed by a question and answer session.

10.50 am Ms Sue Ramsey joined the meeting

11.23 am Rev Robert Coulter joined the meeting

11.25 am Mr Chris Lyttle and Mr Peter Weir left the meeting

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Wednesday, 13 October 2010
Room 29, Parliament Buildings

Present: Mrs Dolores Kelly MLA (Chairperson)
Mr Jonathan Bell MLA (Deputy Chairperson)
Mr Sydney Anderson MLA
Mr Paul Butler MLA
Rev Dr Robert Coulter MLA
Mr Chris Lyttle MLA
Mr David McClarty MLA
Mrs Claire McGill MLA
Mr Pat Ramsey MLA

In Attendance: Mr Peter Hall (Assembly Clerk)
Mrs Sheila Mawhinney (Assistant Assembly Clerk)
Miss Pauline Devlin (Clerical Supervisor)
Mr Bill Kinnear (Clerical Officer)

Apologies: Ms Sue Ramsey MLA
Mr Peter Weir MLA

10.08 am. The meeting opened in public session

2. Briefing from DEL Careers Advice Service on supporting young people who are NEET

Nuala Kerr, Director, Skills and Industry Division, and Frances O'Hara, Careers Service Delivery, briefed the Committee on the work carried out by DEL Careers Service to support and engage young people who are not in education, employment or learning. The briefing was followed by a question and answer session.

10.16 am Mr David McClarty joined the meeting

Agreed: The Committee agreed that Departmental officials would supply further information as requested.

10.59 am Mrs Claire McGill left the meeting

4. Briefing from Fasttrack to IT(FIT) on the Committee's Inquiry into young people who are not in Education, Employment of Training

The Committee received a briefing from Mr William McClean, Programme Manager, FIT NI, and Peter Davitt, Chief Executive, FIT Ireland Ltd, on the work of the organisation in providing IT training for young people who are not in education, employment or learning. The briefing was followed by a question and answer session.

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Wednesday, 1 December 2010
Senate Chamber, Parliament Buildings

Present: Mrs Dolores Kelly MLA (Chairperson)
Mr Sydney Anderson MLA
Mr Chris Lyttle MLA
Mr David McClarty MLA
Mrs Claire McGill MLA
Mr Pat Ramsey MLA
Ms Sue Ramsey MLA
Mr Peter Weir MLA

In Attendance: Mr Peter Hall (Assembly Clerk)
Mrs Sheila Mawhinney (Assistant Assembly Clerk)
Miss Pauline Devlin (Clerical Supervisor)
Mr Bill Kinnear (Clerical Officer)

Apologies: Mr Jonathan Bell MLA (Deputy Chairperson)
Rev Dr Robert Coulter MLA

12.13pm The meeting resumed in closed session in Room 29.

1. Committee Report on NEETS Inquiry

Agreed: The Committee considered the proposed recommendations of the report on its Inquiry into Young People Not in Education, Employment (NEETs) and agreed to reconsider the draft report after a number of amendments had been made.

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Wednesday, 15 December 2010
Room 29, Parliament Building

Present: Mrs Dolores Kelly MLA (Chairperson)
Mr Jonathan Bell MLA (Deputy Chairperson)
Mr Sydney Anderson MLA
Mr Chris Lyttle MLA
Mr David McClarty MLA
Mrs Claire McGill MLA
Mr Pat Ramsey MLA
Ms Sue Ramsey MLA
Mr Peter Weir MLA

In Attendance: Mr Peter Hall (Assembly Clerk)
Mrs Sheila Mawhinney (Assistant Assembly Clerk)
Miss Pauline Devlin (Clerical Supervisor)
Mr Bill Kinnear (Clerical Officer)

Apologies: Mr Paul Butler MLA

10.33 am The meeting opened in public session.

Apologies

Apologies are detailed above.

11.16 am The meeting moved into closed session.

5. Consideration of the Committee's report on its Inquiry into Young People who are not in Education, Employment or Training (NEETs)

The Committee considered a draft report on its Inquiry into Young People Not in Education, Employment (NEETs) and was content with the proposed amendments.

Agreed: Members were content that the report should be printed and that the required extract of the minutes should be attached unapproved.

Agreed: The Committee further agreed that a date should be scheduled after the Christmas recess for a Plenary debate on the Report.

11.21 am The meeting moved back into public session.

[EXTRACT]

Appendix 2

Minutes of Evidence

3 February 2010

Members present for all or part of the proceedings:

Ms Sue Ramsey (Chairperson)
Mr Jonathan Bell
Mr Paul Butler
Ms Anna Lo
Mr David McClarty
Mr Pat Ramsey

Witnesses:

Mr Aodhán Connolly
Ms Orla Major
Ms Jessica Smyth

Prince's Trust

1. The Chairperson of the Committee for Employment and Learning (Ms S Ramsey): The Prince's Trust surveyed 2,000 young people, including 200 here, and it has indicated that some of the statistics from that research are quite shocking. Hopefully, the trust will give the Committee a greater insight into the subject of young people not in education, employment or training (NEETs). The trust briefed the Committee last year.

2. I shall hand now over to Aodhán Connolly, who will introduce himself and his colleagues and give his presentation, after which the floor will be open for questions and comments. Thank you for coming.

3. Mr Aodhán Connolly (Prince's Trust): Good morning Madam Chairman and members. Thank you for affording us the opportunity to come before the Committee again to tell it about some of the research that we have done. My name is Aodhán Connolly, and I am the head of public sector fundraising and communications for the Prince's Trust. I am accompanied by Orla Major, who is the trust's public affairs executive. I convey apologies from our director, Ian Jeffers, who, unfortunately, was called to an education and skills authority (ESA) meeting, whatever good that will do. However, I shall introduce you to someone who is much more important. Jessica Smyth is a young person who has gone through our programmes. On very short notice, she has kindly agreed to tell her story to the Committee.

4. Members will have heard about the cost of youth unemployment, which amounts to approximately £250 million a year. In addition, it costs over £70,000 a year to keep one young person in care and double that amount to keep a young person in custody. The economic cost of young people not being in education, employment or training is phenomenal, even for an area as small as Northern Ireland. However, after giving a lot of statistics, I shall focus on the human cost — the short- and long-term effects on young people — that the statistics arising from our research into the area represent and on how we pull that research together.

5. To give you a bit of background information about the trust, we work with young people who are unemployed, in care or leaving care, and with educational underachievers and those who have been through the criminal justice system. We support between 3,000 and 3,100 young people a year, which is a huge jump in numbers in the past two or three years. Previously, we supported 1,200 young people. However, we are just scratching the surface. As the Chairperson said in a debate in the Assembly on 7 December 2009, approximately 47,000 young people in Northern Ireland are in the NEETs category, so we are only able to help less than a tenth of the people who need such help.

6. On 4 January, we published, 'Prince's Trust Youth Index 2010', which is the second such report to be compiled by YouGov. The report reveals how young people, both those in employment, education and training and those who are not, feel about their lot in life. We thought that this year's survey would have been along the same lines as last year's, and, in many ways, it is. However, there are some stark warnings about how not being in employment, education or training is affecting young people.

7. As the Chairperson said, more than 2,000 young people were surveyed, a sizeable proportion of whom are from Northern Ireland. Of the young people not in employment, education or training, 32% are down or depressed all or most of the time. A third of NEETs feel isolated all or most of the time. A quarter of them feel rejected all or most of the time, and 42% feel that their life has no direction. In addition, 33% of NEETs feel that they have lost their way in life, more than a quarter feel that they have nothing to look forward to and, most staggering of all, 35% of those not in employment, education or training had felt suicidal in the preceding year. The economic cost does not bear comparison with the fact that 35% of young people, of whom there are 47,000 to 50,000, have felt suicidal because of their situation.

8. 'Childhood in Transition' is second piece of research in which we were involved with Queen's University and Save the Children. It was conducted across the six communities in Northern Ireland, and, specifically, members of those communities who had been most affected by poverty and the legacy of the conflict here.

9. In every focus group conducted with children and young people, there was evidence of diminished self-esteem impacting on their emotional well-being. Some of the young people responded by being hostile, angry and volatile — often bolstered by alcohol. Others withdrew into themselves. Young people often explained that their negative or antisocial behaviour was a response to feelings of exclusion and rejection. Identified inhibitions to attainment, in the form of qualifications or jobs, included a lack of appropriate resources in their communities, the low value that some families placed on education, poor vocational or education training, and limited local job opportunities.

10. Some of the young people whom we deal with are in the second or third generation of benefit-dependent families. They have no aspiration to get a job. However, we have found that when opportunities are placed in front of them, they grab them with both hands. The 'Childhood in Transition' report also found that employment aspirations and outcomes were low and were related to whatever jobs were available in the respective communities. There are no aspirations to move outside their communities or to better their lot in life. The prevailing attitude was:

"If the local chip shop was good enough for my father, it is good enough for me."

11. Those young people have no sense of attainment.

12. On completion of compulsory education, many young people attended schemes or courses with limited employment prospects, which were even more restricted in rural communities. Many people think that the NEETs problem is solely urban: it is not. The Department of Agriculture and Rural Development (DARD) has reported on social exclusion as part of its research into rural development. As it has expanded into rural areas, the Prince's Trust has found that young people there feel social and economic exclusion just as acutely as their counterparts in urban areas.

13. There are several key issues for disadvantaged young people. The first is their lack of qualifications and the associated lack of self-esteem. The current economic situation has led to graduates flooding the job market. The simple truth is that people with fewer qualifications have been pushed down the pecking order, and those with no skills or qualifications have no jobs.

14. Secondly, there is the issue of low self-esteem. A lack of qualifications and constant rejection lead to these young people feeling isolated and worthless. As our research proves, that can lead to depression and, in many cases, suicide. Thirdly, a lack of skills makes it difficult to find employment. The fourth issue is the current buzz phrase — a rights deficit. 'Childhood in Transition' highlights that many of these young people feel that they have no place in society and that even if they want to make their voices heard, no one will listen. They have few, if any, rights. All those issues are compounded by, and contribute to, poverty and deprivation.

15. I could go through all our solutions. The Committee knows about the Team programme, which the Department funds. Other initiatives include the Business programme, the development awards, and our schools-based XL programme. Through the Department, we now have local employment intermediary service (LEMIS) funding for two Get into programmes. We could be delivering up to 12, but two is a start. Our 1:2:1 project, which is a support programme that aims to provide young people leaving custody with the help that they need to change their lives and to break the cycle of offending, is being piloted in England and we are starting to recruit young people to that.

16. I will be happy to answer the question about mentoring if the Committee wishes to return to it at the end of the evidence session.

17. That is basically what we do. The Committee is aware of our work from last year's briefing and from general briefings that we have given. I will now introduce you to Jessica, who could provide you with facts and statistics all day long. What Jessica has to say will put our work in focus.

18. Ms Jessica Smyth (Prince's Trust): I finished the Prince's Trust team programme on 4 December, and I am now a young ambassador for the trust. Before I did that programme, I had been using drugs heavily. I left school at 16, and I could not get the education maintenance allowance (EMA) or anything like that because my parents earned too much money. I could not apply for grants or loans because I did not fall into any qualifying category. I left school with no funding and applied for further education when I was 17. I completed my first year of a veterinary nursing course. However, I had no way to fund it, so I had to drop out. My drug using grew as I had nothing to keep me from living my life that way.

19. My parents kicked me out when I was 18. I was on the streets, heavily addicted to crack. I was not doing anything with my life. I went to the Carlisle House residential programme in April 2009, and I have now been clean for nine months. In that time, I have taken part in the Prince's Trust programme, and it was absolutely amazing. People have asked me to explain what I got from the Prince's Trust, and, in a way, I was given my life back. I was able to go out and be with people my own age, hang out, and go on residential trips, such as abseiling. Young people just do not get those opportunities. I had loads of opportunities.

20. I am artistic, and I got to use my creative ability as well. We went to Ballyduff Community Centre and redecorated the whole place. It looked amazing afterwards. The mayor came out to see it; it was really good. The Team programme was amazing. If I had been given the opportunity to do the Team programme when I was 16, or if there had been something different out there for me, I would have done taken part, but there was nothing. Now I am doing my A levels, so I am back in education. It is going well. I am doing two A levels in art history and art.

21. Ms Orla Major (Prince's Trust): Thanks, Jessica. I will summarise what we see as the key issues around the funding of NEETS in Northern Ireland. First, our experience in the sector shows that there is inconsistent funding. As Aodhán mentioned, we have local employment intermediary service funding from the Department for Employment and Learning (DEL), which will run two six-week programmes, but we are not guaranteed any more funding after that. We have pots of money here and there, but it is very inconsistent. We cannot really be sustainable in running programmes and in helping more young people.

22. We think that there is a fragmentation in funding. There are small pots of money in different areas, distributed by lots of different intermediary bodies, but there is no one focal point. We also feel that there is a lack of vision and focus, which has been a problem for a few years. However, it is getting worse because of the recession. The labour force survey released a figure of 47,000 people who are unemployed. Of that 47,000, the Prince's Trust estimates that there are around 15,000 young people who are disadvantaged, and without structure or intervention, they will never get their lives working.

23. There may be thousands of young people among that 47,000 who may be able to enter employment or get back into education when the recession lifts, but we think that there are at least 15,000 who will not be able to do that without structured help from the Prince's Trust and other groups that are doing similar things.

24. What we are really asking the Committee to do is to take the lead in challenging how the money is spent, and in forming collaborations. As Dr Barry said earlier, in England, three Departments have come together to formulate strategies. That is what is required. We have mentioned health, education and employment; they are all the responsibility of different Departments, which are working on different strategies. We need them to come together to take a focused, structured, co-ordinated approach to help those 15,000-plus young people who are disadvantaged.

25. With our knowledge of the sector — our organisation has been around for 30-odd years — we have very good positive outcomes. At the moment, 86% of young people involved with our organisation progress to further education, training or employment. We feel that we are a key player in developing a strategy for the future of NEETs in Northern Ireland.

26. The Chairperson: Thank you very much. Before we take questions, it would be remiss of me not to say fair play to you, Jessica; you are a credit. Sometimes we focus too much on the problems and do not realise that there are people who get their lives back on track. You are an ambassador for young people, and I hope that this afternoon's event shows that this Committee is willing to take the lead on this issue. We are not shy in coming forward, we have proven that, and if there is a need for joined-up government, this is the critical point where we need it.

27. I have a couple of specific points. The funding from the European social fund is due to end in 2011. Where is the forward planning on that? If we are talking about just under 50,000 young people under the age of 25 in the NEETs category, how can you be involved in forward work programmes, how can you target people such as Jessica when there is no funding available after next year? We will consider that, and speak to the Department about it. I have a specific question for Jessica — you do not have to answer it if you do not want to. If the Prince's Trust had not been involved in your life, where do you think you would be now?

28. Ms Smyth: I would be back to using drugs again; I know that. When I had just left Carlisle House, there was a two-month period when I was doing nothing; it was the hardest two months of my recovery. The Prince's Trust gave me a chance to get out of my comfort zone.

29. The Chairperson: That humanises the impact; it is one thing to consider the figures, but people such as Jessica humanise the issue.

30. Mr Connolly: One reason why we have such positive outcomes — this is related to what Mr Bell said about mentoring — is that we place small numbers of people on the Team programmes, with lots of those programmes running at the same time. Around 500 people each year go through the Team programme, but they do so in small groups, which creates the opportunity to form bonds and to build trust, and for people to get out of their comfort zones. That is coupled with long-term mentoring and support, which could last from six months to a year, depending on what the young person needs. It is not the sausage-factory mentality that some providers have; our mentality is about the quality.

31. The Prince's Trust supports over 3,000 young people every year; that is not a small number. The important thing is how that support is delivered. One of the most frustrating things from my point of view — when looking at the funding, what we are doing, what we are trying to do, what our vision is, and what other people are doing — is that some programmes that have 10%, 15% or 20% positive outcome rates are being funded for two or three years, whereas some of our programmes that have positive outcome rates of up to 85% or 86% are finding it very difficult to get that funding. For example, over the past three years, we have pumped £320,000 of private sector funding into our Get into programme. That money was raised through us running a few fundraisers, gaining some sponsorship, and that sort of thing. Those are short four-week programmes, involving two weeks of training and two weeks of site experience in different sectors, such as cooking, social care, and other growth sectors, and they have positive outcomes. About 68% of participants go on to jobs, and another 15% to education or training. However, we cannot find mainstream funding for that.

32. We support 60 to 80 young people through the Get into programme each year. However, we should be supporting 150 to 200, especially in sectors such as retail, which has taken off in the border counties, and outsourcing. Those are growth industries. They are crying out for people to fill jobs, but we cannot get the funding to give those young people the basic skills that they need to get entry-level jobs in those sectors.

33. The Chairperson: You spoke about an urban/rural breakdown. The Committee has invited people from rural areas, including young farmers, to the event this afternoon, because we are conscious that this is not just an urban issue. Your paper shows that 82% of the 370 young people who participated in the Team programme gained a positive outcome of progressing into training, education or employment, while 76% of the 87 who participated in the Get into programme gained similar positive outcomes. What became of the other 18% and 24%, respectively?

34. Mr Connolly: A comparison must be made with other programmes that are delivering 10% or 20% in positive outcomes, although that is someone else's problem. Our problem, as you said, is the 18% or 24% with whom we engage but cannot get to move on.

35. We do not claim to be a panacea for every young person. Young people such as Jessica have to decide that they want to change their lives, and some will not be ready. We try to feed those who are not capable of finishing the course back into our system through another programme. The Get into programme is for those who are more work-ready and need the basic skills. If they are not suitable for that, we would move them into the Team programme, and try to get them back round again. If they are not at even that stage, we try to signpost them.

36. Some young people dropped out of the courses because they had reoffended, taken up substance abuse again, or had family problems. We try to keep in contact with those young people, and tell them that there is a place for them when they are ready to come back. We are not a panacea. Our outcomes are very high. We try to do the best for every young person with whom we come into contact. Sometimes that means putting them through other programmes, and at other times, it means that we signpost them for future programmes. A lot of the time it is just to reassure them that the door is open for them should they want to come back.

37. Mr P Ramsey: Jessica, I am not sure whether you are in or out of full-time education, but I hope that you return.

38. Ms Smyth: I hope to return in September.

39. Mr P Ramsey: Your presentation and style today was commendable. Aodhán, you spoke about 80% of your participants progressing into full-time education or work. Can you provide more detail about that on a constituency basis?

40. Mr Connolly: I can provide the Committee with that information by next week, if that is OK.

41. Mr P Ramsey: You have, for example, the figures for 15-year-olds in England who leave school with no qualifications, and 25% who leave with minimal attainment levels. Have you done any research into the existing referrals in your programme?

42. Mr Connolly: Yes. We measure inputs by assessing the situation of individual participants when they enter our programmes, and we measure outputs when they leave. Usually, more than 85%, and as many as 97%, of our intake of young people are educational underachievers. That can change on a monthly basis. Those percentages are based on the Government-set attainment level, which is five GCSEs at grade C or below.

43. We do not have records of those people who have no qualifications. I attended two Team programme graduations at which some of the young people who joined our courses and obtained their first-aid certificates were in tears because it was the first piece of paper bearing their name that they had ever had. A very high proportion of young people are below the attainment level set by the Government. The vast majority of those young people have very few qualifications, if any.

44. Mr P Ramsey: Ms Major spoke about fragmentation — the cocktail of funding that you are trying to access. One of the main planks of our Programme for Government is the economy, and the Chairperson mentioned the difficulty in finding funding for mental-health services and suicide prevention. Ms Major said that there was a lack of focus. How would the Prince's Trust make funding more effective, efficient and focused?

45. Mr Connolly: I believe that we need a task force, comprising this Committee, the Department of Health, Social Services and Public Safety (DHSSPS), the Department of Education (DE), the Department for Social Development (DSD), and the Office of the First Minister and deputy First Minister (OFMDFM), given its responsibility for young people's issues.

46. The Chairperson: Some issues that should be added to that list, such as juvenile justice, are not yet devolved.

47. Mr P Ramsey: We will get there.

48. The Chairperson: I do not want to get into bigger political issues.

49. Mr McClarty: There are talks going on, you know. [Laughter.]

50. Mr P Ramsey: We may need to have talks about this as well, David.

51. The Chairperson: Whether there are talks going on or not, juvenile justice has a key role to play.

52. Mr Connolly: It certainly does. We work with the Probation Board, the Youth Justice Agency and the PSNI on a regular basis and get referrals from them all.

53. There are too many silos in government at the moment. In health, for example, there are issues that affect young people such as mental health and substance abuse, which Jessica Smyth mentioned earlier. However, young people who are in care or who are leaving care can be forgotten about. One of the Health Department's targets in the Programme for Government was to ensure that more than 50% of young people leaving care went into education, employment or training. The Department is failing severely in that regard; less than 1% of those young people go on to university.

54. University is not for everyone, but 1% is a terribly small amount. At least 50% should go on to education, employment or training. We are taking those young people to a certain level and pushing them out into the world, but the only thing that they can access is benefits. That, in my opinion, is a disgrace. We need a strategy that avoids a situation whereby the health and social care trusts or the Health Department tackle the issue of young people in care as a specific NEETs group and the Department for Employment and Learning tackles another group through LEMIS. We need a joined-up approach, and we must also look at how the money is being delivered.

55. The fragmentation of funding is a great problem. First, programmes are being funded that have low levels of positive outcome based on attainment. Secondly, there are too many barriers preventing funding being distributed, and, thirdly, people are setting up charities to access pots of money that deliver in one particular area of need. I am not saying that they should not do that, but if we take out all the chief executives and executive workers' salaries in particular areas instead of using providers who have proven programmes, there are smarter and wiser ways of spending money.

56. We are not the only group out there, and I am not asking for a huge cheque. However, there are wiser ways of spending the money.

57. The Chairperson: It is called efficiency savings.

58. Mr Butler: With regard to the funding, the Team programme was delivered by the further education colleges.

59. Mr Connolly: We have issues with the way in which it is funded through the funded learning unit (FLU).

60. The Chairperson: Is that seasonal?

61. Mr Connolly: It is chronic. The FLU funding is inconsistent, and it is also dependent on the young person. Some colleges are able to draw down up to £2,000 for each young person, and other colleges are able to drawn down up to £2,700 for each young person. That means that it is more beneficial for those colleges that can draw down the larger amount.

62. Mr Butler: Are you involved with all the colleges?

63. Mr Connolly: Not any more. Unfortunately, because of under resourcing, the South Eastern Regional College has been unable to deliver this year. That is a particular disappointment to us for two reasons. First, we had the wonderful PR boast that no young person in Northern Ireland was more than 25 miles away from a Prince's Trust programme. However, that is now 35 miles because we do not have a programme in the South Eastern Regional College. More importantly, it means that one fifth of Northern Ireland's young people are not able to access the Team programme.

64. Mr Butler: The South Eastern Regional College takes in from here to Bangor, Newtownards —

65. Mr Connolly: It covers Downpatrick to Bangor.

66. There are issues with resourcing, and part of that involves the fact that there should be more consistency in the FLU funding. If there was an extra £200 for each young person, it would not be a problem. Jessica was on the Team programme.

67. Mr Butler: Are the programmes funded by donations?

68. Mr Connolly: We have spent £320,000 over the past three years to deliver those programmes. We now have discretionary funding through LEMIS for two programmes, but after that, we have nothing.

69. Mr Butler: So, there is no funding from DEL?

70. Mr Connolly: No, and that is a programme that provides consistently high employment outcomes — around 70%. We support not only the young person but the employer over the training period and the following six months, so if there are any problems or issues that employers find it difficult to deal with, we are there to support them as well. Since the employers are involved in the design and delivery of the programme, they get what they need for their employees. Therefore, there is more chance that the young people will get an interview and — if they prove themselves — a job.

71. The Chairperson: Paul, we will find out what funding the Department gives to groups that deal with people in the NEETs category. We will also look to the Department of Education.

72. Mr Butler: Mr Connolly said that the young people get into programmes and into work, and some information on that would be helpful.

73. Ms Lo: I agree totally with Mr Connolly about the strategy. England, Wales and Scotland each have a strategy on NEETs, and we are the only region still falling behind — surprise, surprise. It is important for it to be a cross-departmental strategy, because DEL cannot solve the problem on its own. In many ways, DEL is inheriting the problem from young people losing out already in early years. The Department of Health, Social Services and Public Safety, DEL, DSD and even the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Investment (DETI) need to be involved. The Committee needs to keep on pushing for that and it should be dealt with urgently.

74. It is not just about the economic cost; it is about the human cost. We are losing so many young people, year in and year out. Those people, who are assets to our community, will lose their life chances and will never reach their potential, if we do not address and deal with the problem. We, therefore, need to push to get a strategy in place as soon as possible.

75. Jessica, thanks for coming here today. It was brave of you to talk to all of us, and it is great to hear that there are places where young people can seek help to regain their balance. You do not have to answer my next question, if it puts you on the spot. I spoke to Dr Robert Barry earlier about the research into young people's lives and asking them at what stage they fell behind in school or lost interest in education. Will you identify when and why that happened to you?

76. Ms Smyth: I went off the rails after I left secondary school because I did not get the support that I needed. Even though I was in full-time education at tech, I did not receive the same support from teachers there as I did in school. There was a transition period during which I did not have anybody. That is when I put my hands up and said that I could not do it anymore.

77. Ms Lo: Was the college too big and too impersonal?

78. Ms Smyth: My tutors were not personable, whereas my other teachers had been. I went to tech expecting the same experience, but I did not get that.

79. Ms Lo: At school, pupils are made to go to class.

80. Ms Smyth: I left school with seven GCSEs. I worked hard at school, and I did my best when I was there, so when I went to tech, I thought that it was going to be exactly the same, but it was not.

81. Ms Lo: I understand. I studied art at the age of 29 and look where I have ended up — I am politician. There are lots of openings after school.

82. The Chairperson: I do not know whether Ms Lo is boasting or complaining.

83. No other members indicated that they wish to ask a question. Therefore, on the basis of what we have heard this afternoon, I suggest that the Committee goes down the road of an inquiry. This is not just a DEL issue; it affects DE, DSD, the Executive and people involved in juvenile justice. Are members content for the terms of reference to be drawn up for next week? Are they also content to use next week's meeting to address some of the other points that were raised this morning?

Members indicated assent.

84. The Chairperson: Are you staying for the event?

85. Mr Connolly: We certainly are.

86. The Chairperson: Thank you for your presentation.

10 February 2010

Members present for all or part of the proceedings:

Ms Sue Ramsey (Chairperson)
Mr Trevor Clarke
Rev Dr Robert Coulter
Mr David Hilditch
Mr William Irwin
Ms Anna Lo
Mr David McClarty
Mrs Claire McGill
Mr Pat Ramsey

Witnesses:

Ms Margaret Kelly
Ms Mary Anne Webb

Barnardo's

87. The Chairperson (Ms S Ramsey): I want to take the opportunity to thank Margaret and Mary Anne for helping with last week's event on the issue of young people not in employment, education or training (NEETs) at the Lagan Valley Island conference centre.

88. At its meeting last week, the Committee agreed to have a public inquiry into NEETs. We have requested that the Official Report records it, and I thank Hansard. I will hand over to the witnesses to make a presentation, following which Committee members will ask questions or make comments.

89. The Committee Clerk: The version of the draft terms of reference in members' blue folders has been updated. We will copy that now and distribute it to members immediately.

90. The Chairperson: That is to keep you on your toes.

91. Ms Margaret Kelly (Barnardo's): I thank Sue and the rest of the Committee for allowing us to talk to you about this issue again. We agreed to give you a sense of what is included in some of the strategies that Scotland and Wales have developed and to help to inform your thinking about what an inquiry should cover.

92. We have re-examined the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Investment (DETI) figures for NEET young people, and, if members do not mind, I will update the Committee on that. The figures for 2009, which are the latest available, show that 52,000 young people are NEET. Between 2000 and 2009, the total number of NEET young people in Northern Ireland doubled, and not all of that is due to the economic downturn and the recession. In 2006, 40,000 young people were NEET, yet we did not have a recession at that point. Even though some of the current growth is linked to the recession, I want to emphasise that the issue of young people who are NEET is a long-standing problem here. The evidence suggests that the problem is continuing to get worse more or less year-on-year. On that basis, I very much welcome the fact that the Committee has decided to carry out an inquiry, which I hope will create programmes of action.

93. I also want to draw your attention to the fact that last year's growth in the figures was entirely related to young men. The number of young women stayed the same. There were 22,000 young women who were NEET in 2008 and 2009, but the number of young men increased by 8,000 during that period. It is important that we pay attention to who those young people are and what their make-up is.

94. A key element of all the strategies that have been produced is knowledge of who those young people are. It is essential to properly identify young people who are NEET and to know who moves in and out of NEET. I know that members are all familiar with the very high economic inactivity rate for Northern Ireland, and there is evidence that those young people who stay at the core of the NEET group, which is about half of the young people, move into economic inactivity in adulthood. Therefore, it is very important that you identify that core group and how to work with them to prevent that economic inactivity rate getting higher. There are young people who have not worked, and, in many cases, they will not work throughout their lives.

95. It is necessary to look at the geographical spread and at what are referred to in many of the strategies as NEET hot spots. Certainly, in other areas, there are particular geographical spots that have a concentration of NEET young people. Therefore, you might need to identify those spots here, because they might need a much more focused approach.

96. It is almost a year since the Minister asked the Department to undertake a scoping study, which was to report in September, but which the Minister then indicated would report early in the new year. I hope that that scoping study will have identified exactly the characteristics of NEET young people, including their gender and age breakdowns, and any hot spots. That will determine the kind of response that is given to those young people. I am sure that the Committee will ask for that information and use it to inform its thinking.

97. I have given the high-level picture of who the NEET young people are. It is essential to monitor and track them. As soon as Scotland, England and Wales recognised that the issue of NEET young people was an ongoing and core problem that they needed to do something about, they started to identify those young people. The Careers Service has told Barnardo's that one of the difficulties here is that, by the time it receives information — perhaps six months down the line — about young people who have moved out of school at the age of 16, it is almost too late. When the Careers Service follows up on those young people, it sometimes discovers that young women have become pregnant or that people have moved on and there is no contact address or mobile phone number for them. We literally lose those young people. However, that does not happen in the same way in the other jurisdictions.

98. The other jurisdictions have a connection service, which has a role in following up with young people, moving them from school into further education, and ensuring that, if they drop out, there is someone there to pick them back up. The other jurisdictions have legislated for that. When a young person drops out for more than three months, schools, further education colleges and universities have a duty to follow up with that young person to see what is happening. All the evidence shows that following up within three to six months makes a difference. If a young person has dropped out for six months or more, it is very difficult to re-engage them. If you get them before that time, you are more likely to get them back into the system.

99. As the Committee moves forward, it might need to think about areas in which legislation might be required. We might need to include a duty about monitoring young people and where they are going or a duty about having a responsibility to go back to young people when they fall out of the system.

100. The strategies in the other jurisdictions have legislated for a duty to co-operate to provide services. Although Barnardo's sees the Department for Employment and Learning (DEL) as having the lead role on the issue of NEET young people, it is not solely a DEL issue; it is a cross-departmental one. Other legislatures have included a duty that recognises the responsibility of health, education and the equivalent of DETI, as regards developing new jobs and strategies around that, to co-operate together to meet the needs of those young people. Again, as the Committee moves forward and is looking at what the inquiry might do, it might want to consider legislation on that.

101. Prevention is a key element of all the strategies. One of the key methods of reducing the number of young people who are NEET is to prevent the number of young people who are flowing into that category. It is important to reach those young people before they have left school. We tend to know those young people who are most at risk. They are young people who are not doing well educationally; who are absent from school; who have grown up in households in which no one is working and who are disadvantaged; who are young carers; who are in care; or who are disabled young people. We know quite a lot about who they are, so it is important that we put in place prevention. I encourage the Committee's inquiry to consider the role of prevention and what might need to be undertaken. Although that responsibility may lie with the Department of Education, the Committee should talk to and hear from that Department about the role of prevention.

102. I very much encourage the Committee to look at the proposals for the programmes of action that we want to put in place to work with young people so that we can begin to reduce the numbers of NEET young people and get them back into education, training and employment. We must recognise that some young people will be much more ready for that than others. There are young people in the NEET group who are ready to work or to go into training and will not require a huge amount of support to get them back into work or training. However, there are some young people who are far back down that line and will need more support. I encourage the Committee to look at the proposals and to consider what it might want to put in place.

103. Before I answer members' questions, I want to say that I have taken part in a number of Committee inquiries. I advise that, if the Committee is putting forward proposals, it should not simply say to others that it wants them to carry out its recommendations. It should attach a cost to its proposals, having looked at what that has cost in other areas. We cannot have a debate about what needs to be done if we do not also take account of the cost. A substantial number of initiatives with funding attached have taken place in Scotland, England and Wales, but not here. We are fairly far behind, and there is some catching up to do.

104. The Chairperson: Thank you very much, Margaret. Before I invite members to ask questions, I want to make a couple of points. If members agree, we will write to the Minister to ask for an update on the scoping study that was promised for September 2009 and then for early in the new year. That study would be useful to our inquiry.

105. Ms M Kelly: It would be essential. That work has been done, and there is no point in repeating it. It would inform the Committee's thinking.

106. The Chairperson: OK. The other key point is the funding or elements. Members can see from the terms of reference that we have included that point. We need to live in the real world, and we are faced with economic pressures. Some of this work may not cost a lot of money, but it is right that the point about elements/funding is included in the terms of reference that members will be asked to agree.

107. I make an appeal to members, witnesses and people in the Public Gallery. We want to get this right, and we want to make sure that we will have an impact on the lives of those 52,000-plus young people so that we do not lose another generation. I suggest that, if anyone knows any people in their constituency, community or voluntary groups, or other bodies who might be important to this inquiry, they should let us know. We do not want the inquiry to be Belfast-based or urban-based. We need to go to rural areas. At last week's event, representatives from the young farmers' clubs told us that transport and access were a factor. We want to adopt a holistic approach to our inquiry, and we are open to suggestions from members. We will put advertisements in the papers, but we will also actively target organisations that are dealing with marginalised groups in society.

108. Rev Dr Robert Coulter: Thank you very much for coming.

109. I have been interested in this issue for quite some time. I want to hear your thoughts on how other legislatures have been dealing with it, especially on an interdepartmental basis. As I have said in the Chamber, it is not something that only our Committee and our Department should be interested in. The issue goes much wider than young people of a specific age. In particular, the Department of Education must be brought in at a very early stage. What is happening in Scotland and Wales in relation to an interdepartmental method of moving forward?

110. Ms M Kelly: I recognise that the issue of young people not in employment, education or training is not simply one for DEL. However, it needs a lead and, to some extent, a champion. In Northern Ireland, we have 52,000 young people between the ages of 16 and 24 who are not in any kind of employment, education or training. The issue requires a champion, and part of what that champion must do is to bring in the other Departments and to get them to do what needs to be done.

111. In Wales, there is an excellent prevent-NEET programme, which is funded by the European social fund. That programme works with young people aged 11 to 14 who are already showing indicators that they are likely to drop out of education or out of the system. The programme goes in to work with them at a very early stage. For some of those young people, part of the issue is that there may be a lot of other things going on in their background, and, therefore, there may be other difficulties. Often, those young people have been turned off education and, sometimes, an academic form of education is not what they need and not what encourages them to engage. The programme in Wales looks at employability, through which employers work with young people and give them more options about partaking in shorter bursts of employment-based work and then coming back into school. That encourages those young people to think about their learning in a different way and to consider its impact on where they are going with the rest of their lives. Some of the early results from that programme are quite promising.

112. In Scotland, there has been an absolute acknowledgement that what happens in schools, and the early identification of young people who are likely to drop out of education, is very important.

113. Even here, I can point to work that the Department of Health, Social Services and Public Safety is doing with young people in care. I am sure that the Committee is aware that there are very poor educational outcomes for young people in care. The Health Department has put in place a programme of resources so that young people's foster or residential carers can work with them on an individual basis. Easter schools and summer schools have also been put in place for young people coming up to sitting their GCSEs, and there has been a very slow but steady climb in the number of those young people getting GCSEs.

114. There is a recognition that the issue of young people not in employment, education or training does not just belong in DEL and that other things need to be done. However, a sense of cohesion is needed. Individual Departments doing tiny bits of work will not address the whole problem; an interdepartmental approach should pull that work together.

115. The Chairperson: The Committee has always said that NEETs is a problem that DEL is faced with, but that DEL has not necessarily caused that problem. We have acknowledged that no single Department can deal with the issue and that we need a number of Departments, if not the Executive, to be involved. We want to work closely with other Departments, and we do not want that to be a battle. The issue is one that all Ministers have said that they want to deal with. Therefore, it is important to get the focus on that.

116. Ms M Kelly: In December, the Minister spoke at a Barnardo's event on NEET young people. He was very concerned about the issue and very willing to pick it up and address it. When I talked to him afterwards, he said that he absolutely recognises that something must be done about the issue, and that DEL can lead on that, but that it needs other Departments to come in. I absolutely agree with him on that.

117. Rev Dr Robert Coulter: The Education Department has an especially big role to play, and that is a point that I made during the debate on the education maintenance allowance. As members will remember, I was the only one who did not support the motion, and I was accused of being cantankerous. [Laughter.]

118. The Chairperson: You had an off day.

119. Rev Dr Robert Coulter: Apart from that, I feel that the issue is a very important one for our Committee, and, if we can champion it, by all means let us do that. However, let us do that in conjunction with the other Departments that have a real role to play.

120. Ms M Kelly: That would be wonderful.

121. The Chairperson: Colleges have an important role, too, in the academic versus the vocational.

122. Mr T Clarke: I support what Robert said and what Margaret said in response to Robert. Last week, it was very worthwhile when we broke into groups. Robert was in foreign parts last week on Assembly business with another Committee.

123. The Chairperson: We will let that go.

124. Mr T Clarke: I just had to get it on the record that he had to travel to a foreign part. However, it was on Assembly business, and I am sure that it was very worthwhile.

125. Rev Dr Robert Coulter: It was.

126. Mr T Clarke: Last week, it was very interesting. We were in groups of about 10, with people who are working directly with those young people. They were crying out for someone to champion the cause. Everyone at the table who was involved in or was representing alternative educational programmes said the same thing. Their frustration is that everybody has shied away from addressing the problem. The statistics show that the problem is getting worse, and we cannot let it continue. It may be DEL that takes the lead and champions the cause. I agree with Robert that the issue is cross-departmental, but someone has to take the lead. If everyone else is shying away, then we should not shy away from our responsibility for young people.

127. The Chairperson: I agree with you. Unfortunately, we are picking up the pieces when the kids become 16. However, we need to take the lead.

128. Ms Lo: I do not know the workings of it, but I see it as almost a joint lead responsibility to promote the strategy. Research has shown that, even in primary schools, teachers can identify the children in P5 or P6 who are at risk of becoming NEETs. Surely, therefore, the Department of Education has a big responsibility for the issue.

129. When primary school teachers are seeing children in P6 beginning to fall behind, a big part of the problem is that children with learning needs, such as mild autism or mild dyslexia, have not been picked up on at the right time. Those children are allowed to fall behind, and they are made to feel stupid and uninvolved by being made to sit at the back of the classroom. It is understandable that they then drop out and become marginalised. The Department of Education has a big role to play, and we are just mopping up and seeing the consequences of the failure of the Department of Education.

130. Ms M Kelly: A dual approach is needed. The issue has had a cross-departmental approach everywhere else. Part of it is about prevention. At the end of the day, however, we are sitting with 52,000 young people who need a response. The response for that current group of young people sits to a large extent with DEL in terms of intervention; certainly, the employment and training aspect of that.

131. We also need to look at how to reduce the flow of young people who are going into that group. That preventative element has a strong education focus, and it is about picking up those young people. However, it is also about integrating training and employment issues into education much earlier. I have looked at some programmes that do that. They do not simply leave young people in schools. They take an approach that says: you are finding this quite difficult, so let us look at another way of learning. Let us take you out to employment and show you other vocational options that are available. It is, to some extent, about being more creative.

132. We need two things: early intervention and prevention and a response to those young people who are NEET. The number of our young people in the NEET group is not that much smaller than the number of our young people in universities. Those groups are almost equivalent, so we do need to respond to the 52,000 young people who are NEET.

133. The Chairperson: That is why we are targeting all Departments in the Executive. We should not focus on only education or health, though they are both key. There are issues in which the Health Department needs to play a part. The Education Department's extended schools programme is relevant. The Department for Social Development has a role in supporting communities. DETI may also have a role. At last week's event at Lagan Valley Island, I commented that 1,600 young women had applied for hair and beauty courses. That means that 1,600 jobs are needed for them. When those young women finish training, they could be NEET for two or three years, so we need to reskill and upskill. Our focus is on how every Department in the Executive can play its part.

134. Ms M Kelly: Bringing in DETI is important. Certainly, the Scottish and Welsh Governments did not look at the issue only in the sense that it was a waste of young people's talents and skills and in terms of the impact that it would have on their lives; they looked at it with regard to growing the economy in a way that would make use of those young people and create jobs for them. They took an economic-regeneration line. If the Committee is going to hear from different Departments, it is important that it hears from DETI on growing the economy.

135. It would also be important for the Committee to hear from the central anti-poverty unit in OFMDFM. On the basis of studies that have been carried out, we know that a core group of young people who are NEET — about half of them — will remain NEET for a long time. They may well move into long-term economic inactivity, which is linked to poverty. Shortly, there will be a duty with regard to the creation of a child poverty strategy and employment responses to it.

136. Mr Irwin: You are very welcome.

137. The figures that you have provided are stark. Many of us believed that the economic downturn may have contributed to the issue. However, the figures for 2004, which had already risen by 50%, prove that that is not the case.

138. As others have said, the issue needs to be tackled as early as possible in the lives of teenagers. Many young people of that age do not realise the consequences of being lax about education. I am, perhaps, old-fashioned, but I believe that parents should be made aware too. Children do not fully appreciate the seriousness of the outcome of not making educational headway. It is important that strides are made to deal with that as early as possible in young people's lives, especially during their early teenage years.

139. Ms M Kelly: All the evidence shows that, when a young person drops out of education, the earlier that he or she can be brought back in, the more effective it is. The longer a young person is left out of the system, the more impossible it can become to bring him or her back in.

140. Mr Irwin: I understand that.

141. Ms M Kelly: Northern Ireland's economic inactivity rate is the highest in the UK. Part of addressing that issue is to address the NEET issue.

142. The Chairperson: Are members content with the terms of reference in the background paper and for the Committee to consult stakeholders and other organisations? I am keen to talk to young people, particularly those who have experience of being NEET. We should feed that in.

143. Mr P Ramsey: Are we formally signing off on this now?

144. The Committee Clerk: The Committee can do that now, or it can leave it. Chair, I want to make one small suggestion with regard to the first bullet point in the draft terms of reference, which states:

"What tend to be the common characteristics and experiences of those young people who fall into the NEET category and what preventative strategies might be useful to limit the numbers of young people becoming NEETs."

145. After the word "preventative", I suggest putting in a slash followed by the word "intervention", so that it would read:

"and what preventative/intervention strategies might be useful".

146. Given what people have said, I believe that that might be a good idea.

147. Mr P Ramsey: I suggest that we leave signing off on the terms of reference until next week.

148. The Chairperson: OK. We will consider it further and sign off on it next week.

149. The Committee Clerk: We will put the redrafted version in members' packs for next week. That will be a clean version.

150. The Chairperson: We have agreed to have the inquiry, so it should not stop any background work.

151. Ms Lo: Instead of saying "to limit the numbers", should that first bullet point say "to reduce the numbers"?

152. The Committee Clerk: Yes, that is more positive. That will be in the redrafted version.

153. The Chairperson: We will come back to it and sign off on it next week.

154. Margaret and Mary Anne, thank you for your attendance and, once again, for your help with last week's event. We will probably see a lot more of you during the inquiry.

17 February 2010

Members present for all or part of the proceedings:

Ms Sue Ramsey (Chairperson)
Mr Jonathan Bell
Mr Paul Butler
Mr Trevor Clarke
Ms Anna Lo
Mr David McClarty
Mrs Claire McGill
Mr Pat Ramsey

Witnesses:

Ms Vivian McConvey
Ms Alicia Toal
Ms Alison McStay
Ms Mary-Claire Glennon
Mr James Stewart

Voice of Young People in Care

155. The Chairperson (Ms S Ramsey): I welcome witnesses from Voice of Young People in Care (VOYPIC) to give evidence to the Committee's inquiry on young people who are not in education, training or employment (NEET).

156. Mr Bell: I wish to declare an interest. I am a senior practitioner in an intensive support social work team for another seven days until my career break kicks in.

157. The Chairperson: Members will recall that VOYPIC was present at our NEET event in Lisburn on 3 February 2010.

158. Vivian, we have run over time, but that is not to say that I will press you for time. I will stay here for as long as we have a quorum. Therefore, rather than make a long-winded introduction, I will hand over to you to make a presentation.

159. Ms Vivian McConvey (Voice of Young People in Care): Thank you very much for the invite to come along and give a presentation to the Committee today. We hope that this will be the first meeting in our developing a relationship. We know that the Committee is on a journey and has taken the NEET issue seriously. We want to be part of that journey. Although the Committee may not get all the information that it requires today, we assure you that we will work hard with you, particularly on care-experienced children and young people. The matter has been on VOYPIC's agenda. We are a unique organisation, which, since 1998, has been dedicated only to care-experienced children and young people from birth to 25 years of age.

160. We will divide our presentation into two parts. First, Alicia and I will give formal input and an overview of the agency. We hope to provide the Committee with an understanding of VOYPIC's uniqueness as an agency, because it operates across Northern Ireland. Some of our information relates to monitoring and supporting initiatives for care-experienced young people who are NEET.

161. We have brought with us three young adults who are part of our sessional workers' training programme. They have had three very different experiences. Sometimes, when people think of care and care-experienced young people, they think only of the myths around it and demonstrate a lack of understanding. Although Alison, Mary-Claire and James are a little nervous, they have been brave enough to come along. They welcome any questions from members. Again, we realise that this is the start of the journey. There may be some questions that members want to ask them. After Alicia and I have provided an overview, we will ask the three young people to join us at the table.

162. The Chairperson: I apologise that we could not seat all five of you at the table because of a lack of microphones. That is why the meeting will be in two parts. We are not trying to place more pressure on people who come to give a presentation. It is to ensure that the microphones can pick up what witnesses say. The meeting is being recorded by Hansard for the purposes of the inquiry.

163. Ms McConvey: That is great. Alicia has handed round a series of slides, which I will take you through. I will not cover all that information in detail, because there is no need to do so — members can read the slides. However, we will take you through the main points.

164. I am not sure whether you are aware that VOYPIC is an independent regional organisation that works right across Northern Ireland. We have four different offices. Our aim is to improve the life chances of care-experienced young people.

165. When we came together in 1993 to request that such an agency be set up, VOYPIC began as an organisation that had at its heart being the voice of children in care.

166. We have five core services. Each one of those services links into the others and can provide information to young people on education, training and employment. We have an advocacy service, which has 10 dedicated workers, two of whom are based in each trust area. Any child who has care experience can ring those workers to ask for assistance and help on any matter, such as care placement, decisions that have been made in looked-after children (LAC) reviews, and so on. Through the advocacy service, we gather a great deal of information.

167. We have a mentoring service, which we will discuss in more detail later. We train volunteers who must undertake a 90-hour accredited training course, in which they meet young people for up to three hours at a time during one year. We have 75 volunteers at any one time.

168. We have a participation project. One thing that it is important to understand about children in care is the need for engagement and coming together and the need to build self-esteem and self-confidence. We have a full range of programmes that we see as our front door into VOYPIC. Those programmes begin to get young people engaged and build up their self-confidence to get them into more detailed programmes.

169. Alicia heads up our policy project, through which we are involved in anything that relates to decision-making on children in care and assisting, in a different way, in making their voice heard. Our volunteers are not policy workers but workers who facilitate children's voices in order to try to translate for Government what a unique experience care is for one child and what that means for policy and legislation that the Assembly must consider. Throughout, we have gathered research. Later, I will discuss the looked-after children in education (LACE) research project. We deliver our services across the Belfast, Lurgan, Derry and Ballymena areas.

170. As background to VOYPIC, our interest in education, training and employment began in 1998, when young people began to lobby the agency about their poor experiences. From that, we tried to co-ordinate an interdepartmental and inter-agency initiative, and started the LACE research project with an initial study called 'Branded a Problem?' The study was funded by the Department of Health, Social Services and Public Safety (DHSSPS) and the Department of Education, and was the first research project really to look at the educational experience of looked-after children.

171. The project was never intended to be only research. With research, what can happen is that really good information is left on the shelf. More stages were always intended for that project, and, therefore, it developed on to stage 2 and stage 3. There is currently a LACE forum, membership of which made up of people from the Northern Ireland Office (NIO), DHSSPS, the Department of Education, the Department for Employment and Learning (DEL) and the voluntary sector. Over that period, we have tried to use initiatives to influence policy and other initiatives that are happening throughout Northern Ireland.

172. Through its sessional project workers' programme, VOYPIC has undertaken several pieces of research. From the beginning, VOYPIC has always employed care-experienced young people —we have had a unique experience with the three young adults who are with us today — to redress the losses in education that some young people have, and to ensure that, at the heart of our agency and at all times, we have care-experienced young people to inform and develop the work that is going on. Two pieces of research were undertaken. One, which Alicia undertook, was an examination of the employment situation of looked-after children and recommendations on how we could develop that in the agency. The other was an evaluation of the effectiveness of our training and development programme.

173. VOYPIC has a volunteer mentoring programme, which commenced in 2007. It is funded through the children and young people's funding package. Using a format of volunteer mentors, the programme looks at redressing young people who are specifically at risk of suspension, expulsion and non-attendance at school. Mentors have to complete an intensive 90-hour accredited training programme, because they are dealing, very directly, with children in care. For anyone dealing with children in care, the system is quite bureaucratic and involves dealing with residential children's homes, foster parents and LAC reviews. At any time, we have 75 young people on the programme, and those young people will have a mentor with them for up to three hours a week. It is a goal-focused programme, in which a young person can come in with any problem — he or she may be lacking in confidence or lacking experience in something that may seem simple to other youngsters, such as using a bus — and we will create an aim or goal for him or her. Some young people come in who are out of school completely, and, for them, the goal for the end of the year is to get them back into school. One of our great achievements was a young man who got back into school and received a pupil of the year award at his graduation, despite having only been in school for two weeks. He got that award as a result of the tremendous way in which, in those two weeks, he turned around his experience of the previous year. Volunteers are 18-plus and come from all walks of life. It is a very important programme.

174. What is important in VOYPIC is the understanding that young people have had a unique experience, not just of being in care but of pre-care. We assist young people in coming to terms with the care experience and in redressing many issues. The area that we think is most important is that of self-esteem, self-confidence and decision-making. The care system is very bureaucratic and diminishes young people's ability to make decisions.

175. We have copies of our promoting active citizenship and education (PACE) evaluation. Through our participation project, we undertake a huge range of programmes. However, of interest are the PACE programme and the Get That Job! programme. I hope that that gives the Committee a sense of some of the things that we are doing with young people.

176. The three young adults with me today, James, Alison and Mary-Claire, are part of our Working for Change programme, which recruits care-experienced young people between the ages of 18 and 25 to a trainee programme. All people on VOYPIC programmes, from the volunteers up, have accredited training. That training package is recognised and accepted, and, therefore, it is a passport to other things. In our agency, the most important thing is to get young people involved, give them something to take away with them and build up their CV. The young people come out of our employment programme with Open College Network (OCN) level 2 and 3 accredited training. We have made that training the baseline qualification for project worker posts, which are the next level of posts in VOYPIC. We have tried to establish a step situation for our volunteers so that people know what a volunteer does, and what is involved in the employment scheme and the project worker scheme.

177. People who have successfully completed that training are employed by us on a sessional basis for a set number of hours. We find money from various funding sources to attach to a programme so that those young people work directly for VOYPIC. That is real work. Some young people move on to full-time and part-time employment in other agencies, because they now have the training and the experience, as well as a reference. They can prove that they have worked, so we lose young people to other places. However, our loss is their gain, because they move on. Other young people move on to part-time and full-time training.

178. I will not cover the next few slides in detail, because we do not have enough time. One can cross-reference these observations with what we know about the barriers and challenges to employability that children who are in care experience. For example, our observations on personal skills have been shaped directly by young people's experiences, by the employability skills that are required and by other issues that we need to address. Stage 1 and stage 2 of our training and employability programme list all our activities in greater detail. Members may wish to ask the young people about the group work that they have done and their real-life experiences.

179. Our programme is unique; it is not just a training programme. A person has to have real employment experience for which other employers will look.

180. The barriers to engagement are important. When I attended the NEET event in Lisburn, I sensed that the stakeholders needed to know what those barriers are, and what they needed to deal with in order to make a difference, particularly for children in care. When talking about children in care, it is important to understand the pre-care experience. The poor outcomes for children in care can be attached to the experience of being in care. In fact, for many young people, non-attendance at school is established long before entry into care.

181. Following on from that, children in care have some complex learning and behavioural needs. We have to realise that the pre-care experience of children who come into care has been traumatic. They have had a series of experiences that will have an emotional impact on their learning and behaviour. There will probably have been an early failure to address literacy and numeracy problems. Our young people in care have the same experiences as the generic population.

182. The LACE research highlighted the low expectations of, and lack of encouragement for, young people in care. Without an aspiration in life, it is hard to get motivated, especially in the face of huge emotional challenges every day. We need to have a belief in our children in care, encourage them and have high expectations of them.

183. Children in care experience disruptions to schooling owing to family difficulties and placement moves, especially at exam times. Many things can happen to a child in care, in the family and in a placement, and that can have an effect on the child's schooling. Young people can often move to independence prematurely, which can lead to financial hardships and levels of debt. For example, children who leave care early at 16 or 17 years of age will have difficulty in sustaining their independence. However, the number of children who experience such difficulties is decreasing, and we will talk later about some excellent schemes that have been set up to help those children. Some young people vote with their feet and choose to walk away from the care system.

184. There is an absence of role models for young people in care, which is something that VOYPIC wants to challenge. Some young people have come through our programmes and have excelled, but because there is a huge stigma attached to being in care, coming forward and being a role model for children is really hard. Sometimes, there is inadequate information and guidance for young people coming out of care. That situation is improving because of the protocols that have been adopted. We will talk later about those protocols. The lack of information and guidance is one of the reasons that young people underachieve.

185. It is important that the Committee note that the rate of mental disorder is four to five times higher among looked-after children than it is among the general population. How emotionally well someone is and how that individual settles into school after they have faced a trauma in their family can indicate whether he or she is suffering from a mental disorder. We have found that some young people who leave school at 16 and who then want to get back into education and training when they are 17, 18, 19 or 20 can get caught in the poverty trap because they have to try to support themselves financially in order to do that. I will now hand over to my colleague Alicia, who will take the Committee through an overview of the policy.

186. Ms Alicia Toal (Voice of Young People in Care): Over the past number of years, there has been general recognition of the poor outcomes when it comes to health, homelessness and unemployment for young people who leave care before reaching adulthood. There have been a number of policy drives over the past couple of years to improve those outcomes, the first of which was the Children (Leaving Care) Act 2000. It tried to improve planning and preparation for young people leaving care and to dissuade them from leaving care at 16 and 17 years of age, because they would have a greater chance of stability and better outcomes if they delayed that until they were 18 years old.

187. The legislation also included planning and pathway plans. In the lead-up to his or her sixteenth birthday, a young people in care must undergo a comprehensive multidisciplinary assessment. After the assessment, a pathway plan is produced, which will change as it is reviewed, setting out a long-term plan for that young person's education, training and, later on, career planning, which is a particular focus of the pathway plan process, as the young person moves into adulthood.

188. Later, I will talk a little bit more about the detail of 'Care Matters' and its relevance for us. The Programme for Government sets out a range of targets for increasing participation in education, training and employment and for improving children and young people's school attendance. The trusts and the Government are, therefore, working towards several targets. It is also worth mentioning that the DHSSPS's 20-year vision for health and well-being in Northern Ireland has set some long-term objectives. One of its objectives is that 95% of young people in care should experience no more than three placements during any one period in care. It is clear from talking to young people and from carrying out a great deal of research that placement instability has a direct impact on whether they engage in education, training and employment. That instability can be caused by a young person's care placement, a lack of information about what is happening in the family or a lack of planning when determining where he or she will be placed next. That has a huge impact on young people's engagement in education and training. Another objective is that at least 75% of care-leavers in education, training or employment should be at the same level as other 19-year-olds. One of targets set out in 'Care Matters' was to double the proportion of 19-year-old care-leavers in education, training and employment.

189. Four strands underpin the proposals in 'Care Matters'. First, education services must be empowered to support looked-after children. Education and social services need to adopt better working arrangements, because those agencies were quite bureaucratic and often did not work well together. Moreover, trusts need to establish dedicated educational teams, and a number of pilots and different tools can be used to engage and maintain young people in education or training.

190. Secondly, much more emphasis needs to be placed on looking at who are the significant adults around children and young people and on giving better support to foster carers and key workers in residential care and after-care teams.

191. Thirdly, it is important that children be involved in decisions that are made about them in education and that they be informed about with whom their information is shared.

192. Fourthly, it is also important that they have access to a further range of learning opportunities. It is not always about whether young people have five GCSEs or about how good their academic record is but about what other programmes or initiatives children and young people can use to achieve positive outcomes.

193. I wish to provide the Committee with some statistics on children in education who are looked after continuously for 12 months. Generally, the care population for any one year is 2,500, but the number of children and young people who were looked after for a full period of 12 months, as of September 2008, was 1,626. Some 77% of those young people were of school age. Some 23% of those young people had a statement of special educational needs (SEN) compared with 4% of the general population. Therefore, different needs exist.

194. Some 1% of the children had been permanently excluded from school; 8% had been suspended from school; and 9% had missed at least 25 days of school. It is also worth noting that, of the looked-after children who were eligible to sit GCSE or GNVQ exams in 2007-08, 50% attained at least one of those qualifications with a grade between A* and G or the points equivalent, compared with 89% of the general population in Northern Ireland.

195. The 'Care Matters' strategy established the 16-plus service. Traditionally, leaving and after-care services had primarily focused on those who were aged 18 and above. However, to ensure better preparation for adulthood, there was a move to engage with people at age 16.

196. Following on from the 'Care Matters' strategy, a regional protocol for joint working was established among Careers Service, DHSSPS and the 16-plus teams to ensure that young people who require additional support in careers guidance or training are indentified early.

197. The strategy also aimed to increased participation in third-level education, and there has been a small but important rise in the number of people from care attending university. As I said, the document aimed to improve outcomes for young people in care and, therefore, double the proportion of care-leavers in employment, education or training of those aged 19.

198. Promoting Positive Outcomes is one of the other regional initiatives. That is a multi-agency approach to support care-leavers and makes recommendations to trusts on how they can improve the education, training and employability of the young people who move through care. It looks at all the issues that impact on young people in care, such as education, training and employment, identifies the types of support and training available, and tries to encourage the trusts, as corporate parents, to look within their own organisations to see how they can support placements or create entry-level jobs. People who run a family business will take their children in, support them, train them and show them the ropes, and this is similar.

199. The initiatives are just starting to roll out across the trusts. Some trusts are employing dedicated employability workers, and several of them are making great strides in providing supported placements and training opportunities.

200. The Foster Achievement scheme, which is run by the Fostering Network Northern Ireland, offers children in foster care the opportunity to avail themselves of a range of tools and equipment that will support them, such as computers or toys. The scheme also runs fun and learning summer schemes and a Letterbox system in which children can sign up to receive materials once a month through the post.

201. The GEM scheme — the former foster care scheme — is a particular initiative in foster care that allows young people to remain in their placement. Traditionally, young people left their foster placements when they reached 18 years of age, and the scheme allows them to stay until the age of 21 if they are engaged in education, training or employment. It also gives financial support to carers to help them to support the young people in the courses that they are doing.

202. The Frank Buttle Trust has also been working in Northern Ireland and awards Charter Mark status to universities that demonstrate that they are making a particular effort to support young people who have come from the care system. DEL is involved in a pilot with the Frank Buttle Trust and Belfast Metropolitan College.

203. It must also be remembered that, in the background, are the traditional children's services planning routes. Each of the four areas has a subgroup that is dedicated to looked-after children, to care-leavers and to looking at education and training initiatives. A regional group is being established to consider the employability initiative that is being rolled out regionally.

204. The next slide shows statistics for looked-after children and the care-leaver population aged 16 to 21 years from the most recent census. The number of those young people participating in higher education has been steadily increasing. The figure stands at 5·1%, which is more than the comparative figure in England.

205. Committee members can see from the statistics that young people who are aged 16, 17 and 18 are more likely to be engaged in education, training or employment. As they get older, they tend not to be engaged. We need to drill down a wee bit more and look at the statistics over a longer period, because that trend may be as a result of young people becoming more independent in their living arrangements and their finding it difficult to maintain their placements in education, training and employment.

206. Ms McConvey: A census of people in care is carried out every year, and we have provided the Committee with the latest to be published. It provides trust-by-trust information on every youngster between the ages of 16 and 21, and, for planning purposes, below that age. That has been undertaken over three years, so we are beginning to receive trend data. The type of information that is being produced on young people in care is getting better. The census provides statistics on age and gender, care placements and care-leavers by legal status for the entire care population. We have picked out for the Committee the elements of the census that relate to employment, further education and training. All that information is available.

207. Ms Toal: Almost 61% of those young people are engaged in some form of education, training or employment.

208. Ms McConvey: Around 40% are not, which is concerning.

209. Finally, we have tried to highlight for the Committee some of the issues that we think need to be addressed in order to break down barriers. Some of those issues are generic. Young people in care are the same as their counterparts, but they have some specific issues as a result of their being in care. The generic issues include the need to educate families on the importance of education, training and employment as a means of achieving long-term positive outcomes. We are talking about children on the edge of care. I spoke earlier about the pre-care experience. That is something that we have for other young people who are in need. We try to express the importance of education, training and employment. People are coming to us from several generations of families that have not been engaged.

210. Additional but non-stigmatising support is required for looked-after children in schools and colleges. Alicia mentioned the Frank Buttle Trust, which is really good in providing that support, but there is a need to get more people and schools engaged in understanding the needs of care-experienced young people, and to begin to address those needs. Some of the equality of opportunity initiatives for young people in foster care have been absolutely magnificent and have begun to show results. Over time, trend information will be compiled from the GCSE revision classes, and that information should enable measurement of what was set this year, next year and the following year. We should not forget about residential care, which is a big initiative in fostering. However, key to everything is stability in a young person's life. When we are looking at education, training and employment, we cannot forget about where young people live, about their placements or about the stresses on the availability of foster placements and residential care, and so on. Stability is a core issue.

211. Ms Toal: To return to one of the points that we made earlier, there is a high prevalence of mental ill health in that particular population, and they have difficulty accessing the right support, particularly as they get older. There is a need for therapeutic supports for vulnerable young people, who should be able to access that support when they need it, which may not be Monday to Friday, nine to five, but outside office hours and at weekends, particularly if they are living completely independently. Young people also need flexible training and development programmes that are tailored to meet their needs. One would be hard pushed to get a young person who has not been engaged in education, training or employment for a long time to turn up every Monday to Friday from nine to five. A staggered approach that is more supportive of their needs is required.

212. In our programme, although we expect them to come in, we do not expect them to be full-time. We agree what their commitment will be at the start of the year. We will also get an external support worker on board. Our colleague Sarah Reynolds will work with them on their training needs, employability and skills, and an additional person will work with them on the outside if they are experiencing personal problems that affect their ability to come into work or that affect the quality of the work. It is about how different supports and mentoring are set up, and also about providing training for the providers. What are the issues facing the young people who will be coming across their doors?

213. Finally, there is a need for financial support and incentives, which do not necessarily have to be financial incentives. Much good work is being done in the community and voluntary sector to provide non-formal training and support for young people, but that work is not always formally recognised by the statutory sector. Unless they are full-time education, young people are not eligible for educational maintenance allowance (EMA). We would like to see more flexibility and creativity in the attempts to encourage children and young people from a care background to return to education, training and employment.

214. The Chairperson: Thank you very much for your presentation. It strikes me that there is probably agreement on the need for a joined-up approach but that that approach is not having an impact on the ground. You talked about the 2002 study 'Branded a Problem?' and the LACE forum. The number of young people who are NEET has increased in recent years, although that is not necessarily to say that the number of young people in care who are NEET has increased. Has the joined-up approach helped to reduce the number of young people in residential care settings who are NEET?

215. I agree with your comments on children leaving care. To make officials realise the need to deal with people up to the age of 21 was a long battle. Are the pathway plans having an impact? Do you agree with the Committee's view that a cross-departmental approach is needed? The Department of Education and the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development (DARD) must play a part, although DEL should take the lead, because the issue concerns people who are aged between 16 and 25.

216. Ms McConvey: 'Care Matters', in itself, is a positive outcome of joined-up work. The LACE forum acted on the recommendations for us to be more committed in linking education and social work. At the beginning, it seemed as though there were two different sets of programmes and languages that did not cross over. However, the LACE forum addressed the outworking of the crossover. Many of the 'Care Matters' initiatives are informed by the LACE project and the work that we do on the ground.

217. In helping to prepare 'Care Matters', we spent a great deal of time with the community and voluntary sector to find out what initiatives and changes were needed. You are right to say that a cross-departmental approach is required. There is sometimes a view that DHSSPS has a responsibility towards young people who are NEET only because they are care-experienced young people. However, DHSSPS, the Department of Education and others have a huge role to play in the lives of those children before they even reach the age of 16. We must start to tackle the issues earlier.

218. The legislation on leaving care has led to excellent initiatives and crossover work. We faced problems with the review of public administration (RPA) and its reform of the health trusts and the Health and Social Care Board (HSCB). However, we welcome a cross-departmental approach generally and a specific cross-departmental approach to children who are NEET and to 'Care Matters'. Within the cross-departmental group, working groups will come together to progress on the 'Care Matters' initiatives.

219. Mr Butler: Thank you, Vivian and Alicia, for your presentation. Alicia talked about DHSSPS's vision that 95% of young people in care should experience no more than three placements during any one period in care. Another objective was that at least 75% of care-leavers in education, training or employment should be at the same level as other 19-year-olds. Have those targets been achieved?

220. Ms Toal: That is a long-term goal, but efforts are being made to improve the situation. I think that the latest statistics indicate that 20% of 19-year-olds in care have had at least one placement move.

221. Mr Butler: Therefore, the statistics have not really improved over the past four years.

222. Ms Toal: It was only in the past year that the figure has been at 20%. DHSSPS and the trusts have been trying to increase the choice of placements so that the range of placements can meet any assessed needs. That means that a child can have a choice of a kinship, or foster care or residential placement — whatever suits them. When there are poor assessments, or when placements are not available, that is when moves happen and relationships break down.

223. Mr Butler: Evidence given to the Committee for the inquiry involves a complex group of people. At one end of the spectrum is VOYPIC, and then there are carers, single parents, and people who take a gap year from university. What would you like to see come out of our report, given that you obviously deal with the very difficult aspect of having a whole NEET spectrum?

224. Ms McConvey: That is correct. I think that we should blow our own trumpet a little, because some of the initiatives undertaken have had proven results. It was fascinating to hear the Committee's evidence session earlier with the Employment Services Board (ESB). The trusts are trying to have a localised initiative, in which we look at corporate parents. The Belfast Health and Social Care Trust employs 22,000 people. In the South Eastern Health and Social Care Trust, even the chairperson is involved in a monitoring group that looks at how that trust is making real placements in training and employment available to young people.

225. We have begun to tackle some initiatives in order to meet targets. You asked a question about 19-year-olds. I attended a meeting last Friday, at which I learned that some trusts have between 50% and 62% of 19-year-olds in employment, education or training. We would like to have more of a conversation about scraping back some of the stuff that we have able to put in. Some of it is in infancy and some of it has moved along, but it has made a difference.

226. The Foster Achievement scheme recognises education as more than having five GCSEs. It is able to provide foster parents with finance to put towards tutoring. That encourages a range of other activities, such as hobbies, that will build children's confidence. Through that, they will get involved in other activities. There have been some good initiatives, but we tend to think of the care population as being in our own little house, and I think that we need to share some of our experience with the Committee. Does that make sense?

227. Mr Butler: Yes. That is the type of experience at which we need to look.

228. Mr P Ramsey: I will be brief. Your presentation was good, and I am glad that I was here for it. One main concern was also highlighted when the Prince's Trust gave evidence to the Committee. Its research found that 35% of young people involved in its study had serious mental health problems but were not suicidal. You state that rates of mental health disorder among children in care are four to five times higher than children in the general population. Have you carried out any further research on those young people after they reach the age of 25? How many of them are out of work or depending on incapacity benefit, for example? Are there any figures that we can match up with what you say?

229. Ms McConvey: I am sorry, but, no, we do not have that information, because we deal only with young people up to the age of 25.

230. To stay on the issue of mental health, VOYPIC undertook a research project called the CASPAR project, which looked at the emotional health and well-being of looked-after children. That project went into more detail about what was required. One thing that we find in care is that if interventions and therapeutic interventions happen at an early enough stage, the cumulative effect when children and young people reach the age of 17, 18 or 19 is not the same, and they do not have huge emotional problems.

231. In the employment and training initiative that the Committee is considering, several other strands need to be introduced, particularly for children in care. The Committee needs to work not just across Departments, but across whole areas, in order to include issues such as stability and mental health. Although at times it may not look as if employment, training and education are being dealt with, the foundations and the solid base on which to achieve success need to be tackled along with other Departments and areas of work. If the foundations are in place, the outcomes will be better, particularly for that group of young people.

232. Ms Toal: Although there is not a great deal of local research available, research in England found that people from a care background were over-represented in the prison population, the unemployed population and the homeless population, and much of that could be linked back to mental ill health.

233. Mr P Ramsey: You said that young people in care are four or five times more likely to have mental health problems. Can that figure be broken down further to determine whether those problems are mild, moderate, acute or suicidal?

234. Ms Toal: It can cover the entire range. Young people have difficulty in accessing child and adolescent mental health services (CAMHS) unless they have a diagnosable mental illness. Those young people are struggling because they do not always get the services that they need. Therefore, it is hard to distinguish between mild and more serious cases. Small, local studies have been carried out in the former Craigavon and Banbridge Community Health and Social Services Trust, so we may be able to tease that information out a bit more.

235. The Chairperson: Vivian, can you send the Committee more information on the impact that the educational maintenance allowance is having? I am conscious of the fact that you have brought other people along with you, and it is important that we get to hear young people's views.

236. I welcome James, Alison and Mary-Claire to the table. The Committee is conducting an inquiry into people who are NEET, and it will not be shy in looking across all Departments at all issues. You may not like my question, but given that you are actively involved in VOYPIC, what would you like the Committee to do or what should the outcome of the inquiry be? What is not happening and what needs to change?

237. Mr James Stewart (Voice of Young People in Care): Concerning employability?

238. The Chairperson: What needs to change in order to get young people involved in education and into employment?

239. Mr Stewart: Young people in children's homes do not get the support that they need to continue in education in the way in which they would if they were in a foster home. Young people in children's homes are left to fend for themselves when it comes to their education. People do not bother with them.

240. The Chairperson: Even though there is an issue when a young person reaches the age of 21, do you believe that the state pulls back further when a young person reaches 16 years of age?

241. Mr Stewart: Young people should be supported the whole way through.

242. The Chairperson: Is that not happening?

243. Mr Stewart: No.

244. Ms Alison McStay (Voice of Young People in Care): Children in foster placements feel that they are in a proper family, and, therefore, the support is there to go into education. I had a foster home placement, and that support was there. However, something needs to be put in place in residential care homes to allow for more encouragement and more personal care so that young people can be guided through from the age of 16.

245. The Chairperson: Therefore, the pathway plans do not always work.

246. Ms Mary-Claire Glennon (Voice of Young People in Care): I was in a foster placement before I went into care, and I never missed a day at school — believe it or not. However, the minute that I went into residential care, I just thought, "What is the point?" If I passed an exam, who was there to tell? There was no one there really to care whether I passed my exams or not.

247. The Chairperson: That is an important point.

248. I do not want to put you under pressure, but I want to leave this comment with you. The Committee wants to get its inquiry right. Vivian referred to many consultation documents, recommendations and information on what has been happening over the past 10 to 12 years. The Committee does not have all the answers. Therefore, if any of you have any suggestions, feel free to let the Committee know what it should be looking to do. If we are talking about there being a proper joined-up approach, we want to have a proper joined-up approach, and that will include VOYPIC as stakeholders.

249. Thank you all for appearing before the Committee. I wish you all the best in whatever you choose to do in the future.

3 March 2010

Members present for all or part of the proceedings:

Mr David Hilditch (Acting Chairperson)
Mr Jonathan Bell
Rev Dr Robert Coulter
Mr William Irwin
Mrs Claire McGill
Mr Pat Ramsey

Witnesses:

Mrs Geraldine Boden

South Eastern
Regional College

Mr Brendan Clelland

BMC Motors

Mr John D'Arcy

Association of Northern Ireland Colleges

250. Mr John D'Arcy (Association of Northern Ireland Colleges): I am pleased that Geraldine Boden from the South Eastern Regional College (SERC) has joined me. She works in the training organisation in the college and is also an enterprise champion. She will talk some more about that. I am particularly delighted that Brendan Clelland, who was a student at the South Eastern Regional College, is here. Although our paper outlines very important issues, we felt that it would be useful to give an example of how colleges work with young people. I will hand over to Geraldine to set the context and to outline her role, after which she will introduce Brendan, who will give an overview of his experience. Both colleagues are happy to take questions.

251. Mrs Geraldine Boden (South Eastern Regional College): I am employed in the South Eastern Regional College in two capacities: as a training support officer in the training organisation and as an enterprise champion, through which I raise awareness of how students can set up their own businesses. I have been doing that for the past eight years, and it has proved to be worthwhile.

252. In the area of entrepreneurship, owing to the economic downturn, we are now asking students to be more innovative with their business ideas. We raise awareness and ask students in the college to talk to us and to consider whether they have a viable business idea. We run various courses, such as the certificate in business enterprise, through which we identify what level students are at and determine what skills we can equip them with. They arrive with practical skills, and we provide them with technical skills, such as in marketing, finance and how to approach the legal status of the business. We also offer mentoring support on a one-to-one basis, whereby we sit down with students and consider their needs. Some students may have strengths in marketing but finance may be their weakness.

253. One major barrier that we need to remove is that students think that a phenomenal amount of money is required to start up a small business. When we consider the legalities of that and create their projected cash flow and profit-and-loss accounts, they realise that they can raise capital through part-time jobs. That also contributes to their personal development and is good for confidence-building.

254. I am accompanied today by a pure role model, who came to me at 17 years of age and said that he wanted to set up his own business. I tried to persuade him to go back to school, but he insisted that he wanted to set up his own business. He said that he wanted to avail himself of one of our courses that had been advertised in the local paper. I was very lucky to take on that young man, and he proved to be one of the most successful entrepreneurs in the Down area. His business is now thriving. He now wants to resource his business and he is developing other business ideas.

255. Brendan did a certificate in business enterprise and was a level 3 student. Of the 15 students, 14 were at level 2, and he proved to be at level 3. Brendan brought a retired principal, a lecturer from another college and his brother with him to the course. They all wanted to develop business skills. Brendan is here today to tell the Committee his story, how he felt about the course and how SERC helped him to enhance his business skills.

256. Mr Brendan Clelland (BMC Motors): My name is Brendan Clelland. I am 24 years old and I am the owner of BMC Motors accident repair centre in Castlewellan. I employ three workers, two of whom are apprentices. From an early age, it was always my dream to own my own business and to work for myself. I was never great at taking orders. When I left school, I immediately began work at the start of the summer in a job that I had lined up before I left. I trained with Pete, who helped me to develop the skills that I needed to run my own business, such as painting cars, and so on.

257. I knew that I did not want to work for someone else once I finished school, so I started to think about my old idea again. After I had saved up enough money from cleaning my teachers' cars — I sometimes took days off school to do so — I told my friends and family that I was going out on my own. They were a bit unsure because I was very young, but I told them that I was going to do it anyway. However, my friend, who is a former principal, and his wife, who is a lecturer, said that I needed more education before I started out on my own. Michael had seen an advertisement in the paper for a course, and he advised me to get in touch with the college. I knew that Geraldine ran the course, so I got in touch with her, and like the rest of the teachers, she said that I needed more education. That is when I decided to join the course and to learn more. The course was great; I enjoyed it, and we had good craic. I tried my best when I started level 3, and, thanks to Geraldine's help, I got my level 3 certificate. Geraldine has always been there for me. Even though it has been four years since I did the course, I am still in regular contact with her, and she is always helping me.

258. Mrs Boden: Brendan, tell the Committee how you raised the capital.

259. Mr Clelland: While I was still at school, I saved up the money that I had earned from cleaning cars and cutting grass at the weekends. However, I realised that I needed more capital, so I got a wee chip van. I had the chip van for a year or two and took it to fairs and similar events. However, it was quite hard to juggle two jobs. I often had to cut short my work during the day in order to be in my spot for, say, a Thursday night, so I sold the chip van, which helped me to raise more capital. However, I was still a wee bit short, so I took out a small loan with the credit union. After I completed my course, I started working straight away, and I was able to pay back my loan pretty quickly. In fact, I paid it back quicker than the credit union required. It is going all right at the moment. However, I definitely think that my going to college helped me a lot, because that is where I learnt about profit and loss.

260. The Acting Chairperson (Mr Hilditch): It certainly sounds like you put in a lot of hard work in a short space of time, Brendan.

261. Mr Clelland: I did.

262. The Acting Chairperson: It is always good to have young people along to share their experiences. We have certainly heard an entrepreneurial story this morning. Well done, Brendan. What is the weather like at the moment for car accidents?

263. Mr Clelland: It is good. [Laughter.] I also got my lorry licence at Christmas, because I want to grit roads at night.

264. The Acting Chairperson: Thank you for telling us about your first-hand experience.

265. Rev Dr Robert Coulter: It is really exciting to hear your story, Brendan. Thank you for coming along today. Geraldine, your work, naturally enough, centres heavily on students. What is your role, in conjunction with Invest NI, in helping small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) to develop?

266. Mrs Boden: At the moment, we are identifying a number of small businesses in the Down area with which we will do a business assessment. A number of the businesses want to grow their business and equip their staff with NVQ experience.

267. Therefore, we are identifying whether there are marketing or finance courses. Exporting is a major module at the moment, and we refer students and business owners to Invest NI, as it runs workshops. If 20 businesses in the area are looking for a specific module, such as exporting, which is in major demand at the moment, we will contact Invest NI, and one of its mentors will come to speak to the businesses on site in the college. We then take it from there.

268. We have a close relationship with the small and medium-sized enterprises in the Down area, and we are drafting up a proposal for the Ards and Belfast areas, because we have the expertise in the college. I do some delivering for Invest NI, and its marketing and financial growth is there and the potential is there for the SMEs. Therefore, we work very closely with them. In fact, one of the units of the certificate in business enterprise looks closely at small and medium-sized enterprises in Northern Ireland. There has been a major growth in SMEs between 2000 and 2009.

269. Rev Dr Robert Coulter: A number of people have contacted me lately, and one person in particular owns a little firm that is not exporting, and she is having difficulty with Invest NI because of that. It is a bakery business, which sells locally, but the lady who owns it with her two sons feels that they need training in management. We have discovered that there is a grant available for that, but she does not know where to avail herself of it.

270. Mrs Boden: Has she approached Invest NI?

271. Rev Dr Robert Coulter: Yes.

272. Mrs Boden: Has she approached any of the local enterprise agencies?

273. Rev Dr Robert Coulter: I do not think so.

274. Mrs Boden: Where is the business based?

275. Rev Dr Robert Coulter: It is based in Ballymena.

276. Mrs Boden: She should approach the local enterprise agency in Ballymena, which will provide her with guidance and support. The agency will do an initial assessment with her to see where she needs help and where she can source funding.

277. Mrs McGill: Thank you for your briefing. Congratulations on what you have achieved, and congratulations on coming here and giving the briefing to the Committee. It was very well done. You are someone who wants to work, and it seems to me that, from an early age, you had your own ideas and dreams about how you would progress, and you are living your dream. There is a lot of hard work in that, and I get the sense that you are not afraid to do that work.

278. What were the difficulties and barriers faced by your college friends who have not achieved in the same way as you have done? I just wonder what keeps those young people from achieving in the way that you have achieved. Is finance and funding a difficulty? I have spoken to some people who have said that it is almost impossible to get finance. They have said that it is not worth it, and they cannot cope with the financial burden, so they go away and do something else.

279. Mr Clelland: Some people on my course, and even school friends, have gone on to set up their own businesses, but a few have not, because of the financial end of it, and, particularly, because of the fear factor of taking that risk.

280. I took a very small risk, because I built up a lot of my own capital by putting in the hard work. People need to put in the hard work and save, rather than drink, their money. One of my friends asked me how I got my possessions, such as the five Audis that I have lying about the place. I told him that whereas he buys a new shirt for going out at the weekend and wastes all his money, I put everything that I get back into my business. I did not really even have the time to do my course, but I took the evenings off and put in the effort, because I knew that I needed to finish it.

281. There is a wee fella working with me who is with the training centre, and he has trained in bricklaying, plastering and plumbing. He was the sort of wee fella who did not care and messed about in tech. I was asked whether I would take him on, and I said to send him up before I would decide. I did a wee bit of homework on him and knew that he was a messer. The last apprentice who I trained won an award for being painter of the year. He is now going for an Olympic award in painting. The wee fella who was a messer is now saying that he cannot wait until he is working on Hummers. He is thriving, which shows that people will put in the effort if they are pointed in the right direction. He is a really good example of someone who did not want to know, but I think that he will make it.

282. Mrs McGill: Thank you for that example. What happens when someone is not interested? You wanted to do everything that you did, and you gave the example of the young person who was not interested until he came to you. What should lecturers, teachers, or whoever it happens to be, do to encourage people not to drop out? How do you get people to do things that they do not want to do in education?

283. Mr Clelland: Firstly, you need to find where someone's interest lies. When you find that interest, you need to set a goal for the person and say that he or she will be able to do what they want to when they achieve that. A lot of people do not know what they want to do, but that is where the colleges are useful, because they can make a lot of suggestions. I used to get wee books telling me what courses were available. I was happy enough just to do a level 2 to get the certificate and get to work, but Geraldine saw that I had the potential to go for the level 3; she was like a dog with a bone and would not take no for an answer.

284. Mrs Boden: I knew that the potential was there and that all we needed was another bit in the business plan to crack it. The most important thing was getting the best out of him.

285. Mr Clelland: The college has had students out at my business, and I can see that it is trying to point them in the right direction. However, at the end of the day, it is up to the student.

286. The Deputy Chairperson: Thank you all for your evidence; it has been very beneficial.

3 March 2010

Members present for all or part of the proceedings:

Mr David Hilditch (Acting Chairperson)
Mr Jonathan Bell
Rev Dr Robert Coulter
Mrs Claire McGill
Mr Pat Ramsey

Witnesses:

Mr Martyn Blair
Mr Joe Hawkins

Young Farmers'
Clubs of Ulster

287. The Acting Chairperson (Mr Hilditch): As part of the Committee's inquiry into young people who are not in education, employment or training (NEET), we will now receive a briefing from the Young Farmers' Clubs of Ulster (YFCU) on issues that face young people in rural areas. I welcome Martyn Blair, who is chairperson of the YFCU's rural affairs committee, and Joe Hawkins, who is its chief executive officer. I thank you both for coming before the Committee this morning. The briefing will be recorded by Hansard.

288. As members will recall, the Committee has already identified a number of barriers to access to training and employment opportunities for young people in rural areas. The Committee will look at those issues as part of the inquiry into young people who are NEET.

289. Mr Martyn Blair (Young Farmers' Clubs of Ulster): I thank the Committee for inviting us to give a presentation. The YFCU welcomes the opportunity to meet the Committee to highlight some of the issues faced by people who are not in education, employment or training. In particular, we want to illustrate how those issues can be compounded by living in a rural area, as most of our members do.

290. The YFCU was founded in 1929, and we are in our eightieth anniversary year. It is an open and non-political body that operates through an association of individual clubs throughout Northern Ireland. We have 60 local self-governing young farmers' clubs across Northern Ireland, throughout all six counties. At the end of August 2009, our membership, which comprises mostly 12- to 25-year-olds, stood at 2,378, with 112 associate members. We have a further membership of an estimated 3,500 young people who take part in local young farmers' clubs' activities and events.

291. Internally and externally, accredited courses, competitions and events are delivered under one of three main categories: agriculture, culture and the arts, and sports and social events. The association is strategically managed by a peer-elected board of directors, which is known as our executive committee.

292. The YFCU vision is of a robust rural community that recognises and values young people as key stakeholders. Our mission is to encourage individual development, creativity, initiative and contribution for the benefit of members, the association, industry and the community as a whole. High among the values that underpin the work of our organisation is a commitment to fostering self-reliance and individual responsibility. The development and growth of young people in our rural communities is one of the key elements in which we believe.

293. Mr Joe Hawkins (Young Farmers' Club of Ulster): Some of the common characteristics, experiences and barriers that young people who are not in education, employment or training talk about apply in urban and rural settings. For example, low educational attainment, additional educational needs, behavioural issues, family circumstances and poor personal and social skills. The Committee will have heard about all of those before, so we do not want to repeat them. However, many young people face a multiplicity of experiences and barriers, and the impact on their future life choices of that combination of factors can be great.

294. The increase in the number of unemployed young people appears to be as prevalent in rural settings as it is in urban settings. Again, Committee members will know the cost to the future well-being of young people who are caught in youth unemployment, and to the economy, if that unemployment extends beyond six months.

295. Our members have identified the additional barriers that young people in rural areas face, the primary one being access to transport. That is compounded by a number of other related issues, including the affordability of transport, reliance on family members for transport and the additional travel time that is required to get anywhere. Ultimately, those barriers are a manifestation of rural isolation. Not only does rural isolation act as a barrier to young people accessing education, training or employment, it may also diminish their ability to participate in wider educational, social, recreational or community learning opportunities and volunteering, which, in turn, can hinder further their employability.

296. Providing wider community volunteering and developmental opportunities is a significant feature of the work of YFCU. We have about 300 volunteers who gain practical experience and transferrable skills in communication, management, organisation and leadership, from which they can draw increased confidence. That experience is gained from the office-bearer roles that they perform in their local clubs or at a county or central level. All of that is about enhancing the employability of our membership.

297. Opportunities for young people in rural areas to secure employment are already limited. Over the past two years, there has been a reduction in the number of opportunities for them to secure local part-time employment. That reduction has been particularly rapid over the past couple of months. Young people have reported that they have been let go or that they have not been able to get an interview for a post for which they would have easily been qualified only a few months ago.

298. The low-paid nature of some of the work can sometimes mean that up to a quarter of a young person's daily part-time earnings is spent on transport costs. That might be twice as much as the costs incurred by a young person in an urban setting who works only four hours a day; it may cost only a couple of quid to get into Belfast City centre. In addition, it might take around two hours to get to and from work because of public transport timetables. If someone has to get a lift with a family member, they may have to leave the house very early and be in work very early. Coming home, they may have to wait around the town for a bus that leaves at a particular time or wait on a parent to come back from somewhere. All of that further reduces the time that a young person has available for recreational opportunities or study.

299. Increased unemployment, coupled with the already-limited job opportunities for rural young people, has a negative effect on those participating in apprenticeship schemes. One of our members is currently training as an apprentice joiner, and he told us that it has been wild hard to get a placement this year. Of the 12 rural young people on his course, only four currently have placements. As the Committee heard from the previous set of witnesses, courses will continue. However, apprentices from rural areas are unable to move to the next level as they have not gained the necessary on-site experience. Therefore, the length of a course could be extended from three to five years, which increases the chances of non-completion, and, of course, there is fallout from that.

300. Those who work on family farms are in a seemingly fortunate position, but they face the less obvious barrier of always being at work. For some, the pressure to work on the family farm means that education often ends after initial training at the lower end of NVQ level, and they miss out on further educational, economic and other benefits that may come from undertaking a HND or degree course.

301. Finally, our rural affairs committee met just last night, and its members asked me to emphasise that rural childcare, broadband access and mobile phone coverage are major impediments to rural young people taking advantage of training opportunities and finding work online.

302. The Acting Chairperson: Thank you for your briefing. You have highlighted some of the severe difficulties and barriers that the rural community face when trying to establish links with further education.

303. Young farmers' clubs are best known for their social activities and for bringing the rural community together, but perhaps the Committee did not appreciate the barriers that the rural young face until it saw it in writing. How have you found working with the further education sector in trying to overcome some of those barriers? Has it been enthusiastic or have those encounters been difficult?

304. Mr Hawkins: I have been with the YFCU for 14 months, and its 16- and 17-year-old members generally speak positively about their experience with the FE sector. However, without wishing to repeat myself, what falls in behind that is the time issue. Rural young people must get up early to get connecting buses to local towns, and a trip that may take only 20 minutes by car can take up to an hour by bus.

305. Rev Dr Robert Coulter: I thank the witnesses for coming before the Committee today. I live in a rural area and young farmers are in constant contact with me.

306. You hinted that the problems faced by the rural young are often compounded by other issues and that multiple government agencies have a role to play. Do you have any examples of good practice involving the Department for Employment and Learning as a key Department, working in partnership with others to address the needs? What are the benefits of a cross-departmental approach to addressing the problems that rural young people are experiencing?

307. Mr Hawkins: I do not have a specific example of the impact that the Department for Employment and Learning has made, other than its work through the FE colleges and the opportunities that they provide. However, there are benefits to a cross-departmental approach. I have already mentioned transport, which is the responsibility of the Department for Regional Development (DRD), and careers guidance and educational attainment are two other areas that could be improved through the development of a cross-departmental strategy. Currently, careers guidance is offered formally in schools and FE colleges, and, therefore, requires the input of both the Department of Education and the Department for Employment and Learning. However, the sparsity and isolation of rural communities means that there may also be some benefit in taking that guidance on the road rather than providing it in particular settings.

308. The Department of Education also has a role to play in educational attainment. During the previous presentation, the Committee heard that it is necessary for young people to achieve essential skills in English, maths and science by a certain age, and the Department has a job to do in making early interventions. There are obvious benefits for the rural community in having a cross-departmental approach and strategy to address its needs.

309. Rev Dr Robert Coulter: What is the scale of the problem in Northern Ireland compared with elsewhere?

310. Mr Hawkins: I have read only some of the information that will have been presented to the Committee, and it does not appear that Northern Ireland is any worse off than anywhere else. Indeed, we may even be a little better off than England, Scotland or Wales as regards the numbers of rural young people who fall into the NEETs category. Interestingly, the word "rural" did not appear in some of the information that we read in the Committee's papers.

311. Northern Ireland does not appear to be any worse off. Some of our issues may have been compounded by our recent history, by the division in the delivery of education and the question of where young people may feel safe or comfortable. In that respect, it does not matter whether it is a rural or urban setting.

312. Mr P Ramsey: Martyn and Joe, you are very welcome. It is good that you are participating even though we have not yet commenced the inquiry.

313. I am from an urban setting, but I understand the complexity of the barriers facing a young person in a rural environment. Are there any statistics available on that? Perhaps we could look into finding some research on that. You make a good point about broadband and internet access for young people. We cannot do without it these days, particularly for learning and researching. Those are barriers that we have not looked at. Again, perhaps we could examine that as we go through the inquiry. We have already set out the inquiry's terms of reference, but it is something that we could examine. The additional transport difficulties that are faced and the cost of those must also be barriers. You are making valid points that we will have to take on board. There has to be a cross-departmental approach to everything that we are doing here, or it will simply fail.

314. Mr Blair: To give an example, I was at a rural affairs meeting last night at which the discussion on broadband access and mobile phone coverage got very heated. Such issues are never a consideration in an urban setting. One member of the club has no mobile phone coverage at all on his farm. He is a farmer, and the only way that people can get hold of him during the day is to go to his farm.

315. Mr P Ramsey: Perhaps he is lucky. [Laughter.]

316. Mr Blair: That has an effect of increasing the rural isolation felt by that person.

317. We work very closely with the College of Agriculture, Food and Rural Enterprise (CAFRE) and Greenmount College in trying to move some of our members towards education. In my area, when a young farmer is coming to the end of their schooling at around 16 years of age, there is a tendency to panic and get excited about going straight onto the farm. They think that that is it: the books are closed, they will get onto a tractor and be happy. Through our work with CAFRE, we try to encourage young people to move into some sort of further education; perhaps just a basic one-year NVQ course on a part-time basis, studying one day a week at Greenmount.

318. There are members of my club who, having been bothered by their parents who have tried to get them to do their GSCEs, go straight onto the farm the minute that they hit 16 years of age. However, there are 22-year-old men who now regret that. They look back on their lives and wonder, "What have I done? I am scunnered already but I am stuck in this rut; my father depends on me too much."

319. We are now being encouraged to access the internet to do VAT returns and online applications for different types of funding and grants. Farmers who cannot access the Internet cannot do that. That is a problem in the rural setting.

320. Rev Dr Robert Coulter: I was involved in setting up distance learning many years ago. Would there be any benefit in the lecturers from Greenmount going out to young farmers' clubs, say, once a week and providing a couple of hours' worth of learning in the locations where farmers live? Is there anything like that going on, or would that be of benefit? I would like to hear your views.

321. Mr Blair: That would be of major benefit. We offer courses through the young farmers' club. We offer first aid courses as well as hoof-trimming courses, although those would not be for everybody. We also have our Millennium Volunteers programme and our child protection courses, which are all fully subscribed. The minute that we offer those courses, they are full. They are well attended.

322. Rev Dr Robert Coulter: Are those courses offered in the clubs?

323. Mr Blair: They are offered through the clubs and facilitated through our headquarters and its staff. Therefore, an initiative like that would definitely be of benefit.

324. Mrs McGill: You are both welcome. Did you make a submission to the rural White Paper that is due to come out?

325. Mr Hawkins: We were part of the rural stakeholder group. I played a small part towards the end of that work, on the people and places subgroups, but Martyn was heavily involved in it.

326. Mrs McGill: Are you hopeful that something will come out of it?

327. Mr Blair: We were part of the stakeholder group from the start and we voiced our opinion on a lot of issues, including how we could become more involved with the administration of a rural White Paper. Therefore, we are hopeful, and the rural White Paper is now being launched.

328. Mrs McGill: Have you spoken to any companies about mobile phone coverage?

329. Mr Blair: The coverage is not too bad in my area, but, last night, I was taken aback by how bad it was in an area just outside Cookstown. It is a matter that needs to be looked into.

330. Mr Hawkins: I have not spoken to any companies, but we could become an advocate on the issue. I have attended some county meetings in Fermanagh, and one of our executive committee members said that he does not have an e-mail address because he does not have broadband access. He could get it, but it would cost over £1,000. Alternatively, he could get plug-in access, but it would cost a massive amount of money and the speed is not always as the same as you would get in the Belfast area. We have not tackled that matter as a campaign, but it could feature in our next set of work plans.

331. The Chairperson: OK, gentlemen. Thank you very much for your attendance this morning. Your briefing will be very useful as we move forward with the inquiry.

10 March 2010

Members present for all or part of the proceedings:

Ms Sue Ramsey (Chairperson)
Mr David Hilditch (Deputy Chairperson)
Mr Jonathan Bell
Mr Paul Butler
Mr Trevor Clarke
Mr William Irwin
Ms Anna Lo
Mr David McClarty
Mrs Claire McGill
Mr Pat Ramsey

Witnesses:

Mr Ross McCrea
Mr Paul Moore

Action for Children

332. The Chairperson (Ms S Ramsey): As part of the Committee's inquiry into young people who are not in education, employment or training (NEET), we will receive a briefing from representatives of Action for Children. The meeting will be recorded for Hansard. I thank the staff from the Assembly, including Hansard, for making the journey with us today. It makes our work a lot easier when these evidence sessions are recorded by Hansard.

333. On behalf of the Committee, I thank Ross and Paul for coming. I will hand straight over to you so that you can get on with your presentation, after which members may have questions or comments.

334. Mr Ross McCrea (Action for Children): I thank the Committee for the invitation to appear. I work as a policy and public affairs manager with Action for Children.

335. Mr Paul Moore (Action for Children): My role is as strategic director for the UK on young people's issues.

336. Mr R McCrea: We provided members with information packs, which we will refer to throughout the presentation. Those packs comprise some information on Action for Children and a number of research reports and briefings.

337. Action for Children works across the UK. We provide around 420 different types of services to almost 160,000 children, young people and families. We speak out for and support the most vulnerable and neglected children and young people in the UK and, in doing so, we provide a range of services. Some of the developments in Northern Ireland include the Sure Start projects, early intervention services for children and young people, and mentoring services. We work through family centres and provide a regional young carer's service in partnership with Barnardo's. We also have a regional fostering service. That provides a sense of the services that we provide for young people from nought-to-18. That also includes floating support services for young people who are at risk of homelessness and for young carers.

338. The Committee is conducting an inquiry into reducing the numbers of young people who are not in education, employment or training, which is also a strategic objective of ours. We focus a lot of work on that through the young people's services that we provide and in working with parents and younger children. We are conscious of the terms of reference of the inquiry and will try to address those as we go through our presentation.

339. I will address the first point about the characteristics, experiences and barriers that are faced by young people. I draw members' attention to the 'Growing Up' report that is included in the pack. The report is based on research and it details some of the issues around supporting young people to help them to make a successful transition to adulthood. That is the context in how we help young people aged 16 and over with that work. Some of the issues that young people are faced with are detailed in that report. I know that the Committee has taken evidence on some of those issues previously.

340. The report deals with issues such as low educational attainment and disengagement, what happens to young people of school age and the fact that young people often disengage at quite an early age. We completed a research report entitled 'Stuck in the Middle', which looked at what is sometimes referred to as the middle years age groups, namely, seven- to 13-year-olds, and how often the transition between school and other transition points for vulnerable young people can be particularly testing times. That is when they need additional support.

341. Other issues include those to do with aspirations and low self-esteem for young people who are looked after; instability of placement; young people at risk of offending or antisocial behaviour; housing problems; mental health issues; and those who may have disabilities of different types. Such issues and barriers can be faced by young people because of disengagement with school or disengagement at an older age. Paul will talk about the concept.

342. Mr Moore: One of the key issues for Action for Children around employability projects and in response to all our projects is the social return on investment. We are keen to ensure that, in any project, we build in that research element to ensure that there is a return on the investment that is put in. Evidence of that can be seen in our early intervention work, particularly the family intervention programmes, which have been highly successful in dealing with antisocial behaviour. One benefit of that is increased employability, not just among young people, which is important, but among parents, which enables a work habit to be modelled through the generations.

343. Mr R McCrea: As regards areas of best practice that would help young people, I refer members to our 'Growing Up' report, which deals with some of the issues that I identified, including disengagement at an early age and mental health issues. Action for Children has developed a range of models and services to try to meet the needs of young people who are experiencing such issues. Throughout the report, examples and case illustrations of the various employability schemes are given. For example, the Youthbuild scheme, which was developed in Scotland and is linked to the construction industry, works with young people who are at risk of offending. It engages with young people on key issues, such as the degree of support that they need in order to develop routines. Before we got here, Paul and I were talking about the difference that services such as the Youthbuild scheme can make to how young people are seen in their communities.

344. Mr Moore: I came across an interesting story when I was in Port Glasgow in the Inverclyde area of Scotland. I was talking to a young lad who had been engaged in an employability programme, and I asked him whether it had made a difference for him. He said that it had, and he went on to tell me that when he used to hang around street corners wearing a hoody and a cap, an old lady used to give him grief. She was always at her gate shouting at him, and what she said was not very polite. When he started work — he was a painter — he was walking down the street in his overalls when she suddenly appeared in front of him. He thought "Here we go again, I'm going to get a real laldy now.", but she stuck a Kit Kat in his hand and said, "Son, that's for your piece" — for his break time — "because it's a real pleasure to see a working man walking down there, rather than some wee thug." I told Ross that story because it is not about what programmes do for young people; it is about what they do for the community. That women's perspective on that young person changed. Her aggression came from her fear of what young people might do, and that feeling changed to one of pride in her community. I was particularly touched by that anecdote.

345. Mr R McCrea: That was an illustration of working with young people with whom it is often not easy to work. We work with some of the most vulnerable people whose communities may see them very negatively. Things can change, not just for young people but for those who have had to deal with them, and I stress that positive aspect of working with young people.

346. Rather than using the term "not in education, employment or training", we prefer to use the language of creating positive opportunities, because, in our experience, children and young people, at various stages, from early intervention at school through to dealing with older age groups, often need second, third or fourth chances.

347. The Committee's terms of reference cover people up to the age of 24. Young people who left school having not invested in and shown little commitment to it often begin to show an interest in returning when they are 18, 19 or 20, or, sometimes, in their mid-20s. Those are all points at which people may need a second, third or fourth chance, and they need those additional forms of support. Through the report, we are trying to give the Committee some examples of how we have worked and how effective that work has been. Many examples have been evaluated as well.

348. Through our chance for change initiative, we work with children of primary-school age. We work with children, parents and teachers in all the primary schools in the north-west in the Derry/Londonderry area. The work focuses on emotional and behavioural issues, and young people are referred by schools, educational welfare or parents. We engage in intensive work with young people and parents, and we support teaching staff. That initiative has been independently evaluated and has proven an effective intervention. It is making a significant contribution to keeping children in school. However, those children face issues when making the transition to the next stage, and we do other work on early intervention and prevention of offending elsewhere, which makes a contribution.

349. Mr Moore: A programme outline for the step ahead programme is included in the submission. That stems from work that we undertook with a number of large companies, such as Hays, Ernst and Young, and the Volkswagen Group. From talking to those companies, we began to understand that a range of aspects contribute to a person's employability, and our projects provide young people with much experience. If this session had been longer, we would have brought a young person with us today. It is a big deal for a young person to make a presentation to a government body, and the step ahead programme seeks to capture that and recognise qualification for experience. If a young person could take that experience to Tesco or Sainsbury's, it would give them a sense of value and provide value for the employer.

350. Work still needs to be done, and we are still working on the initiative. We referenced the English, Welsh and Scottish qualifications, and we still need to overlay the Northern Irish qualifications. As Ross said, the idea is to give a second, third, fourth or fifth chance, because not all young people are ready to go into employment. It starts with a taster day, progresses to external opportunities and, ultimately, leads to apprenticeships. It gives young people, often from families with no history of employment, an opportunity to make a staged entry into employment.

351. Mr R McCrea: In a way, the diagram in the pyramid model in the information that we provided for the Committee represents the different levels of need or stages that young people can pass through. That is a useful model.

352. Mr Moore: That applies to all our projects. The Sperrin Lakeland Trust's floating support service is primarily a leaving-care service, and the responsibility might be one of a social care nurturing function. Employability offers young people a way out of despair and out of mental health issues. Employability is a generation breaker that will break some cycles of deprivation that arise as a result of disrupted relationships and when children are not cared for properly.

353. Mr R McCrea: Paul cited the example of so-called floating support services. Staff consider stability as one of the most important issues. It is a recurring theme in the evidence that the Committee has received. Stability is important in the lives of young people who are at risk of leaving the family home or who are coming out of the care system. Our project staff believe that the first priority is to achieve stability in young people's tenancies before they start to address issues such as employment, training, and so on. Incidentally, that is often a care experience of looked-after children. I know that the Committee received a presentation from the Voice of Young People in Care (VOYPIC). Stability is important for looked-after children. There are a lot of issues for looked-after children, but there are also some very good examples of what works.

354. Although we are talking about an issue that is difficult for many young people, there are very good examples that we should recognise and highlight. We should also recognise the work that is done between the sectors and in and across Departments. Good work is taking place, and part of the issue is publicising that. Hopefully, you will find that out that during the inquiry.

355. For school-age children who are at risk of disengaging, the school register is the obvious monitoring system. Children of school age should be registered as they come into school. A key indicator that there will be problems down the line is when a child misses significant periods of school, which is confirmed by all the evidence.

356. However, we recognise that there is only so much that teachers can do. They have to teach classes; manage classes; develop lessons; try to tailor their teaching in a classroom situation; and provide a nurturing situation to children. Teachers cannot do individual work with families, and we know that a lot of the issues for children who disengage are about family, school and home/school relationships. That is where organisations in the voluntary and community sectors come into their own. The education and welfare sectors play key roles in diverting young people to other forms of provision where necessary.

357. A teacher may see that a child is starting to miss school, but there may be legitimate reasons, such as illness, for his or her absence. The young person may be a young carer and have additional duties. As an organisation that runs a young carer's service, we have some questions about those young people who are not attending school fully due to caring duties that they have undertaken at home.

358. The evidence from America shows that a principal or a teacher should phone a pupil's house to ask why he or she has not been in for two or three days, rather than waiting for an absence note to come in after several days. That link should be made, or, if necessary, an organisation such as Action for Children should be contacted to see whether it can offer any support. That is for children who are of school age. Paul will talk about learning from the connexions programme in England.

359. Mr Moore: The connexions programme was never used in Northern Ireland, which, given the experience in England, may be an advantage. There are some disadvantages with that model, because it eventually focuses purely on the young people who were most likely not be in employment. It could be said that that is a good thing, but the problem is that a whole generation of children have been denied effective careers advice as a result.

360. One of the strengths of the connexions service was its ability to target young people and track them, so there may be something to learn from it. We cannot speak with great expertise on the connexions service, but we thought that we would highlight it to the Committee as a possible area of interest that it may pursue at another time.

361. Mr R McCrea: One of the issues that our research points to is that, unfortunately, as young people miss out on the latter stages of school, not only are they missing out on their formal lessons and teaching, they are missing out on careers advice. Therefore, there is a question about who should provide that advice for young people who have missed out on it. I do not want to speak for the alternative education sector, but it may be worth thinking about how to help those young people.

362. We have found that there is perhaps too much focus on educational attainment and not enough on achievement and on building the confidence and self-esteem of vulnerable children and young people, particularly those who are missing out. I know that that is a reoccurring issue in the inquiry. It is so important that those children are able to build their confidence.

363. I will outline the most useful elements of other strategies. We included our recent report on deprivation and risk in the information pack to give the Committee a sense of the children and young people who are missing out and who will eventually be NEETs, because they come from families who have experienced severe forms of deprivation. The report includes a number of aspects. It starts with expert pieces on the thinking behind certain issues. Then, there are 12 life stories that focus on the experiences of children and parents who have lived through deprivation and some of which touch on the issue of disengagement in education, training and employment. One of the case studies is about the north-west. The report also has a section at the end that deals with what works in practice. I say all that because I genuinely believe that we must think about where a preventative NEETs strategy sits with the work on addressing poverty and child poverty. The strategy must find its place within that.

364. As the Committee knows, the Committee for the Office of the First Minister and deputy First Minister's inquiry into child poverty did not really focus on young people who become disengaged at an older age. That that issue could be addressed through this inquiry. In addition, any strategy will need to fit around a number of other strategies, such as Every School a Good School and special educational needs strategies. Paul will now speak about the approach that has been taken to the integrated youth service in England.

365. Mr Moore: We recently successfully bid for a contract with Halton Borough Council, which is a smallish unitary council in the north of England, to provide an integrated youth service. We did that by effectively forming a coalition with a number of charities and voluntary organisations, which Action for Children led, to provide an integrated youth service to the young people of Halton. The service will provide youth clubs, outreach workers and services to young carers. The service will help to address unemployability, because our workers will now be able to more easily identify young people in the community who are at risk of being unemployed or of not taking up education and training opportunities. The outreach workers will meet young people in a range of settings and will set up signposting for them to assist in their making positive life choices.

366. That is a unique service, because it is the first to be awarded to a group of voluntary sector organisations that is outside a local authority. That work has demonstrated the maturity of organisations in the voluntary sector, because, rather than competing with one another, they are working in collaboration. The major charities are, therefore, working together effectively to meet need.

367. Mr R McCrea: I also want to highlight the importance of positive structural activities and how those support and benefit young people, particularly the most vulnerable. For example, outdoor activities that are run by youth clubs engage young people and help them to build confidence in working with one another. There is scope for that to be developed further by encouraging young people to contribute to society through a volunteering role. A social enterprise approach could also be used in that respect.

368. Finally, I will make a few points about the kind of funding that would be required for a cross-departmental strategy, which I am sure the Committee wants. To make it an important driver, it needs to find its way into the Programme for Government as a key goal. If it cannot be a key goal in that document, it must be included in one of the public service agreements in some form. There is some reference to that, but it needs to be focused around a prevention and needs strategy. To be a driver, it needs that focus, attention and priority.

369. Paul referred to the importance of a social return on investment. We included a briefing in the members' pack entitled 'Backing the Future'. It makes the case for investing in children, who are the future, because it makes economic sense. The human costs and the benefits are all there. However, if we continue to have to deal with preventable social problems, we will end up paying high costs. The Committee has taken evidence and received examples of that. Placing children in a looked-after, secure situation costs a phenomenal amount — let alone all the costs of social security and benefits. That briefing highlights two aspects: it provides a UK-wide analysis; and it looks at particular approaches in working in early years and how we can get a much better return for social investment in that way.

370. Mr Moore: A useful example is provided by Youthbuild in Scotland, which works with young people who are most at risk of being incarcerated for serious criminal activity. It has an 80% success rate. No institution for young offenders or prison can rival that. The Youthbuild programme is not cheap, but it delivers success where so often we see failure.

371. Mr R McCrea: That concludes our presentation. I hope that we remained within the allotted time.

372. The Chairperson: Thank you for your presentation and for the documentation that you provided. Members will take it away and read it more fully.

373. Paul mentioned aspects connected with juvenile justice. Everyone is chasing pounds at the moment. We talk about the lack of a joined-up approach or strategy across Departments. Has there been any discussion in the community and voluntary sector or among alternative education institutions or colleges to get together and take a joined-up approach to the issue of young people who are NEET? We received presentations and documentation from a number of charities, which do good work. However, if we call on government to show a joined-up approach, should that conversation also be taking place in the community and voluntary sector?

374. I just glanced at the projects that are referred to in the documentation, and some of them seem very good. Have you discussed the issue with the Department for Employment and Learning or other Departments?

375. Mr R McCrea: One of the huge benefits of holding an inquiry is that it provides a scoping opportunity for the Committee to provide a focal point for organisations such as Action for Children and others to come together and to tell it what they do and what their views are. It also offers the opportunity for us to focus on this issue in a strategic way. You asked whether there is a strategic response to this. A lot of work is going on with and between certain organisations. We work with the Prince's Trust, for example. Young people who are involved in Sperrin Lakeland Trust's floating support service are linked into Prince's Trust courses etc. A lot of that is happening in local areas and are built around and linked to services on the ground on behalf of individual people. Your question is perhaps a bit more about strategic response, and maybe the inquiry is an opportunity for that to start to be considered.

376. You asked about discussions with the Department. We, like other organisations, contributed to the scoping study and are waiting for the outcome of that. I know that the Committee had a closed-session briefing from departmental officials last week, and I hope that that went well. We are looking forward to the publication of the study and the next stage.

377. We see supporting young people in getting into employment, education and training as a strategic focus, but we also support work that is going on alongside other types of work. The floating support service often involves the important work of tenancy support and stabilising young people's lives. I do not want to say that education, training and employment is entirely a by-product of that, but it is part of that, and I sense that other organisations are also doing that. There is further work to do and further discussions to be had, and hopefully what comes out of the inquiry will facilitate that and bring great benefit.

378. Mr Butler: Some of the information that has been provided is not necessarily Action for Children's policy.

379. Mr R McCrea: We deliberately engaged external people to put those pieces together.

380. Mr Butler: This inquiry is, obviously, about young people who are NEET, but you are saying that it will be more fundamental, looking at child-centred policy and particularly the family, on which very little work has been done. You also make a fair point about the welfare system and benefits traps. The issue of young people who are NEET is ongoing, and is probably worse in the past three or four years given the economic downturn. The issue is challenging no matter what policies are in place. What do we need to get right with regard to policy change and legislation? There seems not to have been much policy change in Britain with regard to the family, but more a question of addressing the economic downturn by putting a plaster over it, so to speak.

381. Mr R McCrea: We do not necessarily need to follow initiatives in England, although at the same time, they could be of huge benefit to us. I think about the future jobs fund and the significant investment or money set aside from the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) and what that could provide.

382. Mr Butler: Is that the jobs fund that Barnardo's and other organisations are linked into?

383. Mr R McCrea: No, that was a Government initiative.

384. Mr Butler: Yes, but are Barnardo's not tapping into it?

385. Mr R McCrea: Yes, they are.

386. Mr Moore: Those are moneys coming down from DWP, which we tapped into in England and Scotland to ensure that young people are employed in our charity. We decided that we should not only address some of those issues but be part of the solution.

387. Your broader point about policy is the classic situation: Government can always do more. Although developing extended children's centres may seem distant from the young people who are NEET, it is an early prevention of it, because we see mothers going into employment as a result of gaining self-confidence through the experience of the children's centre. Their children then see a working household, and we get that modelled into the family.

388. Mr Butler: Does the jobs fund apply to here or to just England and Wales?

389. Mr Moore: We do not know. According to Jim Knight, it applies to Northern Ireland. We are doing some research on that.

390. Mr R McCrea: I sense that the Committee may want to explore that further. I understand that the current Minister for Employment and Learning said that there would be a pilot of some sort, which would be rolled out here. I do not yet know what that means, and perhaps we need further information.

391. As Paul said, government can set aside a significant fund and have a central driver around which all sectors, including the one in which we work, can do something. They can take on what, in some cases, amounts to corporate social responsibility and benefit from it by having an employed workforce that may also be subsidised to some extent. That can act as a strong lever.

392. The linkage of taking a lifetime approach and breaking the cycle of poverty in early years' investment, to which Paul referred, is critical. If young people are not engaged through their school and by being supported at home, the cycle will, unfortunately, continue. Those inter-generational issues are very strong.

393. Mr Butler: Thanks.

394. Mr P Ramsey: I welcome the witnesses and acknowledge and commend their organisation for all its work with children and young people. I want to follow up on a point that was raised by Paul. We have seen and heard that families of low-educational achievement have historically low levels of motivation and morale that extend to their children. Our inquiry is looking at best practice and models, and the Scottish model was referred to earlier. The Committee would like a wee bit more detail on that.

395. However, when talking about value for money and social return, we are also looking at other organisations —

396. The Chairperson: Sorry, Pat. Somebody must have their mobile phone on silent and it is interfering with the recording equipment to the extent it can actually be heard. It is not mine this time; my phone is off.

397. Mr P Ramsey: My phone is also off.

398. The Chairperson: Please switch off phones, because the witness session is being recorded. Sorry about that.

399. Mr P Ramsey: No bother, Chairperson. Ross, you said that your organisation provided services to 5,000 children, not necessarily all of them NEETs. Tracking and monitoring is crucial to any inquiry. Do you have statistics and information about how many of the children with whom your group has worked have progressed into employment or education? Does Action for Children track them itself?

400. Mr Moore: Yes. Are we doing it well? The answer is no. I have been looking at that recently. Part of the reason is that we have not been collecting the statistical information effectively. We have got that matter in hand and we are monitoring it. That said, as an organisation, we can give the information that we must provide to other funding bodies. For example, that is where I get my Youthbuild statistics — 80% do not reoffend within the specified period — because that is what we must report on. I am being very honest. Could we, as an organisation, do better? The answer is yes. Do we track results? Yes.

401. Mr R McCrea: I will respond slightly differently. Our organisation and others are used to being contracted to provide services, usually on a three-year cycle but sometimes longer. That can pose difficulties for organisations, because we are, in a sense, contracted to work with young people for only a certain length of time. Consequently, we cannot consider the outcomes beyond the involvement of a young person or family in our service unless a mechanism is in place to continue to have contact with them, and even then it is quite difficult. To some extent, the same applies to other sectors. That is not to say that often our young people will be linked into other types of provision and services, but it is about building up that picture over time. Research tends to do that, but it does it on a collective basis. For instance, people may or may not complete training and employment programmes, and we need to have a mechanism in place to find out what is happening six months or a year down the line, because we need to know whether that investment is worthwhile. I do not think that there is an easy answer to that, but I think that we need to have a mechanism in place for it.

402. Mr P Ramsey: I would like to have an opportunity to visit the Clooney Family Centre to see how things are developing, particularly with regard to breaking the cycle, and to see the family involvement, particularly with parents.

403. Mr R McCrea: On behalf of our organisation, I extend that invitation to all members of the Committee. You are very welcome, Pat, because I know that the centre is in your area. We would be more than happy to try to make arrangements so that you can visit and talk to the parents and young people who are involved in the process.

404. Mr Moore: We would like to extend that invitation outwith Northern Ireland. If you would like to visit any projects in Scotland, England or Wales, we can arrange that.

405. Mrs McGill: You are both welcome. Pat mentioned the Clooney Family Centre. Obviously, that is in the Western Trust area and in the Western Education and Library Board area. Does your organisation operate in Omagh or Strabane, which are in my constituency of West Tyrone?

406. Ross referred to the Sperrin Lakeland Trust, which is now part of the Western Health and Social Care Trust. What kind of engagement do you have with the education board or with the Western Trust? Do they contact you or do you speak with them?

407. Mr R McCrea: All our work has developed out of working closely within the children's services planning processes. Committee members who are familiar with that will know that that is an opportunity for inter-agency working. It is largely led by the health and social care sector boards, and it allows agencies and multi-agencies and sectors to come together to look at planning for children. That is one mechanism through which we have all sorts of connections. One of my colleagues who oversees the management of services in the west has very close connections with that.

408. We have a couple of initiatives around Omagh, Enniskillen and Fermanagh. I will need to check what services extend as far as Strabane, but there is a strengthening families project, which is similar to the Clooney Family Centre. We are developing it around the notion of a service hub. The Committee may not be familiar with that, but it is trying to link a range of different services into a hub setting, so that families can access a universal hub and then be linked if need be through outreach or some sort of specialist or targeted support. Therefore, those developments are starting to take place, and there is work in that area. As far as I know, a colleague is involved with the extended schools programme through the education and library board. However, unfortunately, the funding for that programme is under threat at the moment, but there is a linkage there.

409. Mrs McGill: Does someone in your organisation have direct contact with somebody in the Western Education and Library Board? Do you know each other?

410. Mr R McCrea: Yes, absolutely. I cannot speak about all the forums on which that colleague sits, but I can come back to you on that.

411. Mrs McGill: I know quite a number of the officers on the education and library board. Thank you.

412. Mr Bell: I could ask a lot of questions, but they would only reaffirm what we have already heard, which was an excellent presentation. I agree with it, so I am not going to ask those questions. I feel a bit old, because I left here 16 years ago after doing a masters degree in social work. However, I saw Ross, and do not feel so old, because he was a research lecturer at the time.

413. Mr R McCrea: Thank you very much, Jonathan. See what I mean about cycles?

414. Mr Bell: I run a youth club in Newtownards, and I am also involved with the Boys' Brigade and Girls' Brigade. We get a lot of kids, some of whom display very aggressive behaviour against other young children. I am talking about children under the age of 10. The minute juice and biscuits are provided, however, their behaviour changes. That is mentioned in your report.

415. The call is for one healthy meal a day. I work with a lot of children with chaotic lifestyles, and it is hard to believe but they do not get one healthy meal a day. Is there any way to track the research on this issue, locally or wider afield? In Scotland, one healthy meal a day is provided to see whether that affects educational attainment. Is there a link between one healthy meal a day and children's educational outcomes?

416. Mr Moore: My wife is a foundation stage teacher working with three- and four-year-olds. Speaking anecdotally, she sees that until they have had something to eat, their behaviour is fragmented and they lack concentration. Mind you, I always wonder how much concentration you want from a three-year-old, but she tells me that it should be at a certain level. However, until they are fed, and given water, which is one of the key issues, their concentration deteriorates. We are certainly calling for children to be given one healthy meal a day. We will track the Scottish experience to ensure that it validates what we all intrinsically know, namely, without an effective nutrient base, kids' behaviour deteriorates massively.

417. Mr R McCrea: The issue also harks back to tackling deprivation. A breakfast is the one thing that most benefits children. School breakfast clubs have been so successful, not least because that may be the only proper meal for some children. It also sets them up for the day. We all intuitively know that going anywhere on an empty stomach is not great. However, when people are settled, particularly with healthy food, they are set up for at least the first part of the day.

418. The Chairperson: The Committee will look at that. The cross-departmental Investing for Health strategy is being reviewed, and included the school meals issue.

419. Mr Bell: If children are coming into school with chaotic behaviour as a result of a chaotic lifestyle, and then not fulfilling their education and getting qualifications, it is almost like tracing the steps back to try to find the point at which something real can be done for them.

420. Ms Lo: Thank you for the presentation. A lot of research and evidence shows that fizzy and coloured drinks also cause hyperactivity.

421. The Committee hosted a seminar a few weeks ago to which a number of voluntary organisations working in this field were invited to come to talk to us and among themselves in discussion groups. At my table, the point about fragmentation in the voluntary sector in working piecemeal with projects was mentioned again and again. I was interested to hear that a number of organisations in Glasgow work together. Who instigated that and how did it happen?

422. Mr Moore: It was instigated by Action for Children in Halton, in the north of England, which we identified as an area in which we wanted to work. We met a number of local charities, such as the Canal Boat Trust, which provides canal holidays for children. We worked positively with them.

423. No charity can be strong in every area, and we knew that we were not strong on the more universal services, so we partnered with the Brathay Hall Trust, which provides more universal services to young people. That was the starting point. It links strongly to our charity's view that, if we are to be relevant, we have to start to become community leaders; and, to be a community leader, we have to work in partnership. If we do not, we do not have a community. It stemmed from a clear understanding that we could not be all things to all people. We took the mature approach of asking who we needed to talk to, who we should partner and deciding what we did not have and what others did have that could be melded to provide a strong service.

424. Ms Lo: Is that what is behind your instigation and leadership?

425. Mr Moore: Yes.

426. Ms Lo: How many projects came together?

427. Mr Moore: There are a lot, because they are integrated. I am being vague, because I found out only yesterday that I have inherited two larger buses. They were not within the remit of the tender. We have brought together something in the region of 12 to 15 project areas and we have pooled them to give a cogent response to young people.

428. Ms Lo: Does that come under a different name or under the umbrella of Action for Children?

429. Mr Moore: It is under the umbrella of Action for Children. I will provide Ross with further information about that.

430. Mr R McCrea: Interesting work is ongoing on the preventative strategy, in particular, around NEETs in Wales that is linked to regeneration work at community level. Through the regeneration process and, at a different level, around the future jobs fund where economic and community regeneration is happening, it provides an opportunity for children and young people to engage in that process. It is also providing opportunities for sectors to come together to engage in that.

431. That does not entirely address the question of fragmentation in the sector. I recollect that some of those issues related to the nature of the funding of certain projects or project staffing for individual sessions, for instance. The hourly rate for teachers or the alternative provision of one-to-one mentoring support will always pose a problem, because they are getting paid for only the hours worked, and it raises workforce development issues, etc, which go with that. That was part of the issues that went with that. That is the difficulty, but a more strategic and leadership approach can address some of those issues.

432. Mr Irwin: You are welcome to this morning's Committee meeting. There is no doubting the importance of Action for Children's identifying children when they are young. Statistics show that children are impressionable from a younger age than what we used to think. They are impressionable before they are 7 or 8. You say that early identification is important. How do you go about identifying them at a young age?

433. Mr R McCrea: The nature of our services, which are for early years and beyond, offers that through a number of ways. For example, the Clooney Family Centre links with the Sure Start programme in its area. There are a range of services for age nought to 18 in its geographical location. Hopefully, health visiting and referrals that are being made to services from Sure Start will result in early identification. Although some of that is centre-based and people go to the centre, it also has an outreach element. People will often go out and visit families and try to break down some of the barriers. Some of the children might be as young as babies.

434. There is a linkage at preschool age and, after the Sure Start stage, provision is made through the family centre up to the age of 12. You may wish to address the suggestion that Sure Start provision be extended to an older age group. In any case, the opportunity is available at a young age to identify children and to meet their needs.

435. That point links to the question of how that is done through the common assessment model that has been introduced and led by the Health Department. It is supposed to be a common assessment that all practitioners, not just social workers, should use. It is at an early stage of being rolled out and, in time, hopefully, it will help.

436. All sorts of people and professionals are involved with children and families, and they sometimes need a point of contact. They need to know who to contact, and that is the reason for the neglect appeal campaign that we launched recently. We have taken evidence from people who are not social workers but are likely to be the professionals who are in early contact with families on the issue. They raise questions about who the best people to contact are.

437. The Chairperson: That was a useful presentation. It is useful for the Committee to get its head around the issues to do with NEETs. You mentioned the Department's scoping facility, on which the Committee received a briefing last week. Our terms of reference are available. We wrote to all the stakeholders to let them know that the inquiry is taking place. We hope to go to Scotland and, possibly, Wales in May or June to look at models of good practice. If you have any suggestions on that, feel free to let us know.

438. Mr R McCrea: We hope to have a longer process of engagement with the Committee, and I should have prefaced my comments by saying that. Please let us know when you firm up your travel plans. We have some initiatives in which you may be interested in looking at, and we would be happy to facilitate that.

439. The Chairperson: You have been very helpful to the Committee. On behalf of the Committee, thank you for your presentation and the documentation that you provided.

440. Mr R McCrea: Thank you for the opportunity.

14 April 2010

Members present for all or part of the proceedings:

Mrs Dolores Kelly (Chairperson)
Mr Peter Weir (Deputy Chairperson)
Mr Paul Butler
Mr Trevor Clarke
Rev Dr Robert Coulter
Ms Anna Lo
Mr David McClarty
Mrs Claire McGill
Mr Pat Ramsey
Ms Sue Ramsey

Witnesses:

Ms Caroline McCracken
Mr Chris Quinn
Mr Neil Symington

Northern Ireland
Youth Forum

441. The Chairperson (Mrs D Kelly): I welcome Chris Quinn, transitional director of the Northern Ireland Youth Forum, and his colleagues Caroline McCracken and Neil Symington.

442. Included in the Committee papers for members are the terms of reference for the inquiry into young people not in education, employment or training (NEETs), which may be useful for those of us who are new to the Committee. As part of its inquiry, the Committee has already heard from a number of groups, and, following on from the formal event that the Committee hosted in February to launch the inquiry, it is hoped that members will travel to Wales and Scotland next month to see examples of projects that feed into the NEETs strategies in those areas.

443. You are very welcome this morning, and we look forward to hearing what inspirational ideas you have and how those might be taken forward.

444. Mr Chris Quinn (Northern Ireland Youth Forum): We are very happy to be here today. As I speak, my colleagues are circulating our paper among members. One is a report on NEETs that, through consultation with our membership, staff and executive, tries to pull together some information for the Committee. The other is our presentation, which Neil will go through in a few moments. The paper breaks the issue down into the terms of reference as specified in the documents that we received.

445. The Chairperson: Thank you very much, Chris. Normal procedure is to spend five or 10 minutes on the presentation, which allows time for members to ask questions or make comments.

446. Mr Quinn: In that case, I will pass over to Neil and Caroline.

447. Mr Neil Symington (Northern Ireland Youth Forum): NEETs is an important issue for us, and, as Chris said, we welcome the opportunity to come to the Committee. We meet young people from across Northern Ireland, particularly those within the specified age range, and we encounter the NEETs issue all the time.

448. Let me begin by presenting an analogy, which has relevance. We are in the middle of a recession, which is supposed to be lifting, although I do not believe it. I have a £10 note, and I offer it to anyone in the room who wants it.

449. Ms S Ramsey: We cannot take bribes. [Laughter.]

450. Mr Symington: It is not a bribe.

451. Ms S Ramsey: You owe me money from about 20 years ago.

452. Mr Symington: I will owe it to you.

453. Would anyone like this £10?

454. The Chairperson: Of course people would take it.

455. Mr Symington: You do not know the history of the £10 note. It is about 16 years old, but you do not know its history. Let me tell you its history, and then you can make a decision. This £10 has a colourful background. At the age of eight, when it was in P5, it was expelled from primary school. It was one of the first primary school children to be expelled. At the age of 11 or 12, it was admitted to a mainstream secondary school. It did not do too well there either. It found it difficult to sit in school and had anger issues. It attacked a few children in the class and a few teachers as well. It got involved in crime at the age of 13, and stole its first car at the age of 15. Ever since, it has been living a life of crime, and it has been in all sorts of difficulty. A few attempts to intervene have been made, but none has worked well. My question now is: do you still want this £10 note? Anyone?

456. We have entitled this presentation, 'Worth and Opportunity'. We believe that the £10 note, even with such a colourful background, is still worth £10. It will still get you £10 worth of food in Tesco, as would another £10 that we do not know the history of. That has a bearing on what we want to talk about. We meet young people all the time who feel that they have no worth at all, and that is the biggest issue for the inquiry. Our question is: who will provide the support or opportunity so that those young people can once again feel a sense of worth? We have called the presentation 'Worth and Opportunity' because you can have all the worth in the world, but, without opportunity, you do not get too far. Likewise, with all the opportunities in the world but no sense of worth, you do not get too far. That is what we want to talk about, because it is a critical issue.

457. I want to reflect on my life and on the lives of some of the young people we have met, so our presentation is rather anecdotal. For that we apologise, but the Committee probably knows the statistics far better than we do.

458. Let me begin with the predictable careers talk. When I was in fifth year, at the age of 15 or 16, there were 90 pupils in my year. Each of us was asked which youth training programme (YTP) scheme we wanted to do. There was no talk of any of us going to university. It was not on the radar. Most worryingly, it was not on the radar of the teachers or the principal either. We were asked whether we wanted to do joinery, catering or another trade. At a school five miles away, pupils were filling in universities and colleges admissions service (UCAS) forms and planning what A levels they would do. We were all from the same areas, but all we were doing was planning what YTP scheme we wanted to join. There is nothing wrong with YTP schemes, but that is all that we were being offered.

459. That had an effect on us. At a very young age, life was set out for us. I went on a catering course because I knew that people always need to eat and that I would always have a job. It was as simple as that. At what age do you stop having dreams of being all those wonderful things? Even if you dream of being a superhero, at what age does it stop? That is what we want to talk about. There are many reasons for that, and they are critical to this inquiry.

460. We want to talk about self-limiting beliefs and the lack of role models for many young people. Opportunities are limited in certain areas, rural and urban. Many young people struggle in school. There is a division among schools. Even in Belfast, there are schools whose pupils are absolute geniuses and know exactly what they want to be and where they want to go, while at other schools there are pupils who do not even care where they live. The division is huge; it is the greatest inequality that we face.

461. There are also personal issues and community issues, and it is important to consider how they are dealt with and how they can be overcome. I have already talked about how we were laughed at in school if we talked about going to university.

462. Before we finish, Caroline will talk a little about the hedonistic lifestyle. Young people tend to live for the moment, and tomorrow does not matter too much to them. We come across so many young people whose lives are just about living for the moment. There is nothing out there for them. They ask: where did my dream go and how did I become worthless? At what age does that happen? For different people, it occurs at different ages. There is also negative reinforcement that tells them that they are not worth much.

463. We were asked to look at how those factors impact on young people. We find that the impact is that young people lack confidence, self-worth and self-belief, are less likely to gain meaningful employment or training and have a greater chance of experiencing poor physical and mental health and long-term unemployment. It is no coincidence that our mental health is in the state that it is in. Unemployment and a lack of meaningful training are strongly linked to poor mental health, and a lot of research could be carried out on that link. Young people become harder to reach and motivate and less likely to have goals and aspirations. They may enter a cycle of deprivation. I used to talk about third generation unemployment: it is now probably fourth generation. People drop out of numerous training organisations, placements and NVQ after NVQ. I know that the Committee spoke to officials from the Department for Employment and Learning (DEL) earlier, and they will be aware of the issues.

464. My short story involves a group of young people who attended one of our residential events in August, after the GCSE results came out. I asked various young people what they were going to do. One young fella said that he was going to tech next year as he was going to take up a trade. I asked what trade he was going to take up — this is his plan for his life, his career — and he said that he was getting "a lucky dip". I asked what a lucky dip was. He replied that his daddy was going down to Workforce Training Services on the Springfield Road to pick something for him. That lad had no idea what he as going to do as his life's career — upholstery, catering, joinery, mechanics or whatever. His dad was going to pick it for him.

465. I move on to the reference to "joinery in September and catering by November" in our presentation. The Youth Forum has done a lot of work in recent years, as have I in my past employment, with training organisations, such as Workforce Training Services, Springvale Training and Paragon Training, and with education other than at school (EOTAS) programmes, alternative education providers and young people who have been expelled from school. We have found that, particularly in the Training for Success models, young people might do joinery in September, catering by October and something else by November. They are flipping courses. A lack of placements for young people is one reason that they drop out of tech and school. I do not know the statistic, but the drop-out rate in further education (FE) colleges is huge, and that needs attention.

466. Training for Success is not meeting real needs. Some young people face severe difficulties. We provided a democracy programme for young people on the Training for Success programmes in Larne, Carrickfergus and Antrim. I remember thinking that the issue was totally irrelevant to those young people. The issues relevant to them are the huge problems with drugs and alcohol and lack of self-belief — their heads were way down near the ground. Therefore, Training for Success was not meeting their needs.

467. What has worked? We run a programme on community change called Making it Happen. It is based on Paulo Freire's work in South America, particularly in Brazil, which focuses on everybody having the ability to solve their own problems. That belief must start from within a person and work outwards.

468. Springboard programmes have worked well. They are funded by DEL and the International Fund for Ireland (IFI). The Youth Action community leadership programme has also worked well. Job Assist centres have been successful in west Belfast. Others successes have been the Bytes project; Drive for Life in Ballymena; volunteering schemes; the Prince's Trust team programme, which works with young unemployed people and young people employed in the Civil Service; and the Time for Change programme, which is run by Challenge for Youth. I could go on providing great examples of good practice. However, they are sporadic and in bits and pieces.

469. In our submission, I talk about the uniqueness of youth work, because we are youth workers from youth work organisations. Therefore, we believe that the introduction of youth work skills in England, Scotland, Wales, America or anywhere else has led to hugely significant change. Why is that? It starts with the belief that all people have potential and everyone has the power to change. Taking that as our starting point places all possibilities for growth within a meaningful and trusting relationship where there is mutual respect, and it meets young people where they are at, with no predetermined outcomes. When your job is to get someone a job, sometimes you are not meeting that person's real needs. Youth workers work in a way that attempts not to judge, and youth work can be creative in how it meets young people's needs. A programme's design is based on a person's needs; each programme can be completely different, depending on the person. Youth workers are ideally placed to deal with young people who are identified as NEETs. Youth workers work with those people every day, perhaps not in an employment capacity, although they constantly deal with employment figures.

470. What is the impact of youth work on young people? It provides opportunities, and, again, they are vital. I would welcome research into personal development, training and jobs, because if it were not for youth work, I would not be here today — I would not have gone to university and studied to be a professional youth worker. Youth work and social work have a huge impact on young people who are becoming professionals in their trade. Youth work creates role models for young people and helps them to create an identity. It encourages volunteering, and it helps young people to find a career and develop a sense of self-worth.

471. We end by suggesting a five-point way forward, and those points are detailed further in our paper to the Committee. The first point concerns investment in transitions programmes at key stages in a young person's life, in or out of school. Children in P6 and P7 are at a particularly critical stage, given that there is so much uncertainty at the moment. I have a daughter in P7, and this year has been an absolute nightmare for her. It is important to identify the issues facing young people who are already struggling at that age, and probably even before that. There must be dedicated resources. We run a programme called the P7 power experience, which, up until now, has required no funding. It has only ever been delivered in Ballymena, the area that it was piloted in. That programme has huge benefits for young people who are making the transition to post-primary education.

472. The second point deals with resources for teenagers in school and out of school and with identifying young people who are at the edge. It refers to alternative education provision, which has been vital in meeting the needs of young people who perhaps do not fit into the formal education system, who are struggling or who, for whatever reasons, have been expelled from school. The organisations involved in that provision are doing fantastic work, again, with little or no money.

473. The third point states that relevant professionals should ensure that the most marginalised young people are not allowed to fall through the net, as has happened all too often. The integrated services model operating in England, which is being piloted in west Belfast, tries to catch those young people and get them working together. A one-stop shop approach is being piloted in north-east England, which tries to provide young people with everything that they need in one place and under one banner, regardless of whether that is benefits advice, drug and alcohol advice, counselling or therapies.

474. My first experience of anything to do with employment was through careers advice in school. I was sent to Marks and Spencer for work experience because I was "alright" in my class and because the advisers thought that I would do a good job. However, I never wanted to work there. Careers advice is absolutely vital. We meet young people all the time who want to do weird and wonderful things, yet they go to the nearest shop for their work experience. The system is not meeting their needs. Young people may have a vision of where they want to go, but they have no idea of which pathway to take to get them there. That area could be developed.

475. The fourth point concerns young people in training and FE colleges. As the inquiry will find out, not all young people leave school and go somewhere. There are some who do not go anywhere. However, those who do go somewhere need to have a very good experience to be incentivised to stay. Many of the young people who drop out do so before Christmas or in January. The numbers are astronomical, and that is something that must be looked at. For example, I do not know the policies that are in place to get young people into joinery, but if students cannot find a joinery placement, they are, all of a sudden, thrown off the course. As far as I am concerned, training organisations should not take people on unless they know that placements are available. There are huge issues around that and around young people dropping out of FE colleges.

476. We are aware of the underspend last year on pastoral care in FE colleges. That almost took our eyes out. Our organisation is struggling for money, and we provide that type of service for young people. That money was given to FE colleges to enable them to provide pastoral care and look at the life skills of young people, so that young people with difficulties could go and see somebody. The benefit of the service is that, as well as dealing with young people's issues, it makes them more likely to stay in college. We believe that the Youth Forum and other organisations have a part to play in that.

477. The fifth point concerns those who are identified as NEET; it states the importance of programmes and services that treat them as important and that value their contribution. Some existing programmes and services are absolutely brilliant. However, there are gaps. Young people who are not involved in anything are the hardest group to engage with. We have to go out on to street corners just to find them in the first place. Those young people are not even attempting to get money from the local Training and Employment Agency. They are nowhere.

478. Delivering transitional programmes is something that the Youth Forum can do. We have developed programmes around inspiration and aspiration and around creative consultation with young people to find out what the issues are. The Youth Forum has vast experience of working with young people in training organisations, EOTAS provision and alternative education provision, and with different communities in other areas.

479. Lastly, we are the organisation that promotes the voice of young people. That voice is one of the hardest to hear, but it is one that needs to be heard. The Youth Forum has a role to play in that.

480. Ms Caroline McCracken (Northern Ireland Youth Forum): I will draw out a few key points that Neil made. The issue of NEETS is not simplistic. Young people not in education, employment or training have different issues and face a range of inequalities. There are also serious health consequences for those young people. Yesterday, I read a startling statistic from a study that was developed in the north-east of England. It said that one in seven young people between the ages of 16 and 18 who are NEET will be dead in a decade. That completely blew my mind, and it supports what young people are telling us in the Northern Ireland Youth Forum. Neil and I are in the privileged position of working across the country with a vast array of young people from varied backgrounds, and they are telling us the same thing over and over again: they do not feel that the support mechanisms are there for those vital transition times, from as early as when they move from P7 to secondary school.

481. We have a culture whereby young people go through school and adults tell them what to do, and they are not asked to make decisions for themselves. However, when they reach the age of 16, they have to make their own decisions and supervise their own study, and young people are telling us that they are not prepared for that. They are also telling us about the hedonistic lifestyle that, apparently, I am an expert on. They are saying that drug and alcohol abuse is still the foremost problem, and that leads to mental health issues. Those are some of the reasons why young people do not attend further education colleges or look for work.

482. A more basic point is that young people are saying that they do not even have the aspiration to think what they want to do. It comes down to the issue of whether they care if they live or die, never mind making a choice on further education or gaining employment. Therefore, we in the Youth Forum have worked really hard to challenge that mindset and flag up the problems. We have developed programmes with young people. We sit down with them, and they explore their own identity, their ethics, their skills and the things that they enjoy. We also flag up the decision-making process with them, because a lot of young people do not know how to make decisions. They do not weigh up their options, they do not think about what is best for them in the long run, and they do not see that they have to map out a plan.

483. We have run highly successful programmes with more than 1,000 young people in socially and economically deprived areas. We have seen young people excel and gain entrance into work and further education through our work with them to highlight what makes them tick, how they make decisions and how to work through the process. It sounds like such a simple thing, but it has a huge impact. That is what our studies highlight for us.

484. Neil gave the example of what is happening in Manchester and mentioned the idea of a one-stop shop with the strategic linking of vital partners. That shows an acceptance that addressing the NEETs issue requires more than a one-pronged approach. A variety of issues make a young person NEET. Therefore, it is about taking a holistic approach, bringing vital partners together under one roof and making those partners accessible to young people. If they are having housing issues, mental health issues or benefit issues, they can get all that support in one place. That is what young people are feeding back to us.

485. Mr Symington: Lastly, there is a huge issue for young people who are motivated to seek employment, because they are now competing in a market with adults who are extremely skilled and experienced, and they are all applying for the same work. Without getting into other issues, there is an extremely enthusiastic and motivated student population who take on part-time, low-paid work to enable them to get through their courses. The young people with whom we work are being compared with those guys, so they are already at a disadvantage when they go for an interview. There is no comparison between somebody who has a lot of zest and confidence and somebody who is being coerced into even going to an interview. Volunteering is also a huge issue that will need to be looked at in future, because it can help young people to build up experience and training.

486. The Chairperson: Thank you very much for one of the most vivacious presentations that I have heard in a long time, if ever.

487. Mr Symington: I am glad that you do not have to take the tenner, by the way. [Laughter.]

488. Mr McClarty: Chairperson, he had convinced me, so I wanted the tenner.

489. Mr Butler: I congratulate the Chairperson and Deputy Chairperson on their appointments, and I thank Sue, the previous Chairperson, for her work.

490. I thank the witnesses for their presentation. You deal with vulnerable young people, and we could come away with the perception that there is no hope for any young people. What exactly is it that works for you? A lot of young people get jobs and are very successful. I take on board what you say about the importance of early years education. That is a common theme. There are many difficulties to be faced, particularly in the economic downturn. Take alternative education, for example. What is its success rate? There are young people who have had difficult histories and backgrounds, but some have been successful and have jobs. How can we monitor and assess the value of the work that is being done?

491. Mr Symington: Chris will laugh at this, but we were having a yarn about that issue this morning. I do not think any of this is rocket science. I heard the Chairperson use that phrase just before we came in.

492. I am from west Belfast, where there are three providers of alternative education in a small area: Lagan Valley Education Project, Conway Education Centre and Newstart Education Centre. They have had huge success. One of the key factors is the relationship with the young person. That sounds simplistic, but it is about someone treating you as an equal, being on your level, giving you respect and not telling you off or demeaning you. That said, sometimes a telling-off is needed; if people are going mad, you need to deal with it. That element is important, and there are programmes that meet the needs of young people.

493. I had a yarn the other day with someone involved in alternative education provision who talked about how young people who do not fit into the formal system and have been expelled from school are being encouraged to sit GCSEs. Already, we are facing the same issue. Such a high value is placed on those qualifications. However, the important point is perhaps to find out what the needs of young people are and to meet them. That will impact on all their other issues.

494. Mr Butler: Where else are alternative education providers based?

495. Mr Symington: There is one not too far down the road, which is called the Bridge Alternative Education Project. In the north east, where I am based, there is EOTAS provision, which is formal education. I do not think that it has had the same success as alternative education has had. I hope that I am not speaking out of school by saying that. I do not know about the provision of alternative education outside Belfast. I imagine that it is run on a voluntary basis.

496. Ms McCracken: The Joseph Rowntree Foundation compiled a study on alternative education. The Committee may know of it. It is about tackling poverty in Northern Ireland. It flagged up the success of alternative education. It presented some clear statistics on the fantastic impact that alternative education has on young people's chances of entering further education and gaining employment.

497. Mr Butler: We have so few providers of alternative education in the North of Ireland.

498. Mr Symington: Those groups developed on their own initiative; they had identified a need. I worked in Newstart Education Centre for three years, a long time ago. At that stage, it got no money from the Belfast Education and Library Board. It was financed by trusts and foundations. We argued that the money should follow the students. If a pupil is expelled from a school, the school should no longer get money for that pupil; it should go to whoever provides the service.

499. We fought that battle for years, but I do not know whether it was ever won. I know that the board now gives financial support to Newstart Education Centre, but I do not know to what extent. I work on EOTAS provision in the north east, and I know from working in that set-up that it is different, because it is run by the statutory board. There are teachers, which is not a bad thing. Youth workers are attached, and without them the service would struggle to operate. Youth workers build the relationship with the pupils.

500. Mr McClarty: I formally welcome the new Chairperson to her position, and I look forward to working with you over the next weeks, months and, I hope, years. [Laughter.] I also pay tribute to Sue for all the work she did as Chairperson. I always found her easy to work with. I have no doubt that the new Chairperson will be equally —

501. Ms S Ramsey: That is why they took me off it. There were not enough fights on the Committee. [Laughter.]

502. Mr McClarty: Your presentation was probably the best one that I have heard for a long time. Your enthusiasm really came across, Neil and Caroline. I have a simple, short question. How do you actively try to reach young people who are in the NEET category?

503. Ms McCracken: We actively recruit young people in that category in a variety of ways. For instance, as Neil said, we go out and speak to alternative education providers and the EOTAS group. I do not know whether the Committee knows much about that group. It is usually made up of young people who have dropped out of further training or education after school because they feel excluded, they are about to be excluded or they have been excluded from school at some stage. We engage with them, and we also engage with young people who are not in employment groups, such as those run by the statutory Youth Service. We also actively search for groups that are already engaging with those types of young people, and we run our programmes in conjunction with them.

504. We run programmes within the forum, but we do not stay with the same group of young people for long periods. We use a two-pronged approach: we train youth workers to work with those young people on a long-term basis, and we run our programmes. We do not stay with the same group of young people for years at a time; that is the role of the other youth workers. Neil and I are, therefore, more akin to youth-work trainers.

505. Mr Symington: I cover the north-east area, including Newry and Coleraine. I spoke about workers and organisations that go out onto the street to help young people. That is their thing. However, they may be helping those young people to address only one specific wee issue. However, the Youth Forum is about helping young people to realise their abilities and to see what they can give back. Some of our programmes centre on community change, which has a huge bearing on many different issues. If young people believe that they can do something for themselves, they are more likely to do something for other people too. It is all about giving something back.

506. As Caroline said, we work with other agencies and organisations. We work wherever there are young people, such as residential care homes. Usually, other people are already helping young people in such places, and they are our points of contact.

507. Ms McCracken: We believe in a holistic approach. If young people have other needs that are not being met by us or by another group, we put other partners in touch with them. We, therefore, try to work in a strategic and genuine manner to meet young people's needs. Most of the young people with whom we deal do not have just one issue, but three, four or five, so their situations are not so simple to resolve. One of our roles is, therefore, to link them with key partners.

508. Mr Quinn: The situation that Caroline has just described is akin to that age-old question about the chicken and the egg. How do you reach the unreachable? That is a big hurdle to jump in youth work or in any profession, and it presents a long-term challenge. Neil talked about the transition from childhood. Meeting the needs of young people and building up their confidence so that they can take the first step will enable us to meet that challenge, but that is a long-term goal. It is hard to reach the unreachable with a short-term quick fix. Street-based youth work and rapping on doors are important, but it is ultimately up to the young people themselves to take a step towards us. Much of our work is about building capacity inwards. Making young people feel empowered to take that first step and to realise what they are interested in is a big issue. If young people are interested and enjoy something, they will come to us. That links back to the point about meeting needs at an early age.

509. Mr McClarty: Thank you for your presentation. I wish you well in your work. Had you more funding, you could do much more.

510. Ms S Ramsey: Thank you for your presentation. At the outset, I want to say that the Committee is acutely aware of the NEETs issue. That is probably why all its members supported the inquiry into NEETs. I want to put that on record.

511. I was struck by a number of issues in your comprehensive presentation. It is useful to hear the statistics. However, it is also useful to hear suggestions on how to move forward. Everybody is well aware of statistics and the impact of NEETs.

512. I declare an interest because my father is involved in the Lagan Valley Education Project, which is an alternative education provider. I believe that I have already put that on record.

513. There is frustration in the community and voluntary sector because Departments do not seem to take a joined-up approach. Although that is fair enough, we are now in a new dispensation. The inquiry should highlight that issue and possibly make suggestions. We are in a new era.

514. Although you receive funding from DEL — I am not sure whether you get funding from the Department of Education (DE) or other Departments — has it ever asked for your input, as a partner, in tackling the issue of NEETs, because it funds you, or have you simply been involved in the consultation exercise? Because you do A, B, C, D and E, have civil servants in DEL, your parent company, asked you how to tackle NEETs?

515. You said that you are trying to reach people who are unreachable. We must reach those young people before they become unreachable. We currently deal with more than 52,000 young people who are categorised as NEET. Do we want to have to deal with another 52,000 in 2011 and 2012? A joined-up approach is needed.

516. There is also concern about unspent pastoral-care money in colleges. The Committee must follow that up. It is a concern, especially when you consider the increase in suicides and related matters. It is a mental-health issue.

517. We must also tackle the mindset that exists in formal education. Neil, I am well aware of where you were coming from when you made some of your comments. People look down on alternative education. I left school at 17 years of age to take up a trade. That does not mean that I am stupid, but that was the school's mindset. That school has changed. We must break that mindset. People enter alternative education for a multitude of reasons, not all of which are bad. The money that goes after the child needs to be channelled. It happens in some areas. However, it does not happen across the board. Therefore, my question relates specifically to your involvement with the Department. If you have any more information about pastoral-care money, that would be useful.

518. Mr Quinn: Your first point was about joined-up working between Departments. Our core grant comes from the Department of Education. In the past, we received money from DEL; however, we currently do not. Neil and Caroline are employed through money that we secured from lottery funding. That gives you a snapshot of where we get our money.

519. It is encouraging that the Department of Education talks to us about strategies, such as Priorities for Youth and the extended schools programme. We consult young people on such matters. However, we can go a step further. Young people have told us that they want to have a say. They want to tell you guys, Departments, and their schools and training colleges what they need. Therefore, we would very much welcome more of that engagement.

520. To answer your question; this is the first time that we have engaged with a Committee such as this on the issue. Historically, therefore, there has been no engagement beyond the work that we have done with DE on consultations. What was your third point?

521. Ms S Ramsey: I asked about pastoral-care money.

522. Mr Symington: This is how simple it was: in April 2009, an article appeared in the 'Belfast Telegraph'. At the time, we were in a team meeting. I nearly dropped to the ground when I saw the article. I thought, "Flip, what could we do with that money?" I did not go off the rails or anything. However, having spoken to young people, we knew what issues existed in further education colleges. I am not saying anything against further education colleges: I went to one and quite enjoyed it. However, it was difficult. As you said, young people go to college from school, where they are pushed. Perhaps they are not pushed, but there is a lot of discipline and structure. Then, they go somewhere where they are supposed to sort themselves out. I went to college in Belfast city centre, and, once I discovered the attractions of the city centre, I found it difficult to motivate myself and stay tuned in.

523. There are huge retention issues and huge issues around pastoral care and life skills development, and even in mental health support, yet we discovered that there was a big pot of money that had not been spent. I wanted to pinpoint who was responsible for that. Right away, we thought that organisations such as ours could use that money to carry out work that is needed. We could sit down and compile a written response outlining how we think that the money could be spent.

524. Mr Quinn: We became aware of that statistic. Like staff in every voluntary organisation, we do not know where our next wages will come from, especially in the current economic climate. The situation is as bleak as that.

525. As Neil said, when we became aware of that money, we could see a natural linkage between pastoral care and the work that we do through the Big Deal project in providing inspirational expertise and so on. Therefore, it was a bit of a shock.

526. What we are talking about is not rocket science; it is very basic. We need to go back to the basic needs. There is a need for further education colleges to focus on personal and social development as well as academic issues; learning is not all about reading, writing and arithmetic. There are other aspects, and it is hard for a person to progress without those basic skills.

527. The Chairperson: That is a question that we will take up with the Department. We will ask the Department for a report on the spent and unspent budget allocation across all FE colleges in time for the next Committee meeting.

528. Ms Lo: My background is in social work and community work, so I know the Youth Forum and the good work that it does very well. You are all great role models for young people who have fallen through the net and want to do better.

529. The Committee hosted a meeting of representatives of the voluntary sector. I do not know whether you were at that meeting, but, at my table, we were talking quite a bit about the fragmentation in the voluntary sector. A large number of small projects work in different areas, and they are, perhaps, duplicating each other. Although those projects are good in themselves, they have short-term funding, work on a shoestring and do not make the impact that they should. What is your view on that?

530. We talked earlier about a lack of partnership between the statutory and voluntary sectors. How can we make the voluntary sector stronger and more co-ordinated? I do not know whether we should make it compulsory for young people who become NEET to go to a group in the voluntary or statutory sector to help to them get out of that situation.

531. You provided us with examples, and I have heard it all before. I was devastated to hear about the report that you mentioned; it was horrendous to hear that one in seven of the young people who are not in employment, education or training would die within 10 years. What are we doing about that urgent problem?

532. Is it better to group the voluntary sector organisations to help young people? Should it be made compulsory for young people to go to an organisation in either the voluntary or the statutory sector?

533. Mr Quinn: We are sensing a lot of frustration on that issue for a number of reasons. For as long as I have been involved in the sector, youth work in this country has been described as fragmented and duplicated. The review of public administration and all the changes that have gone on in the youth sector have further exacerbated that problem. We are in a situation where if, for example, I was a greengrocer and Neil was a butcher, I might start selling meat.

534. Ms S Ramsey: You could open up a branch of Asda.

535. Mr Quinn: That analogy sums up the way that the sector is; Neil might selling the stuff that I sell, and I might start selling the stuff that he sells, and, instead of talking to each other, we would be competing. That is how things work at present, and how they have worked here historically.

536. Every stakeholder in the statutory and voluntary and community sectors, and in even the private sector, has a role to play. However, there is a real need for us to sit down, talk and get back to basics. Why are we here? Why did we get involved in youth work in the first place? Was it to help young people, or for personal gain? I sometimes become very frustrated because of the competition, and I wonder what the motivation is. We need to meet young people's needs and not be precious about ourselves or our organisations. The real business can happen only when that baggage is left at the door and people get round the table.

537. How that is to be done, I do not know. I feel that, over the next few years, we will be forced to form coalitions with other organisations. I would much prefer that to happen naturally. We try to work with others in the same field. I really like the one-stop-shop idea that Caroline and Neil talked about. We tried to establish a "door" project in Belfast a few years ago where young people could access services when they needed them. A lot of work is going on in England to establish lads' and girls' clubs. They are state-of-the-art youth centres with everything under one roof: the connexions service, counselling and mentoring.

538. I suppose that we will get away from the fragmented approach when we start to have conversations that are open and honest. We need to remember the needs of young people and look towards more joined-up working. From what I hear, the funding that we are applying for will require us to work more closely, and that is a good thing. However, we need to make more of an effort to remember the needs of young people, as opposed to personal or organisational gain.

539. Ms McCracken: Before I took up this post, I worked with a strategist, doing an audit of youth services in north Belfast. I saw at first hand the amount of duplication, with six youth clubs in the one area doing the same thing and wasting money, blah, blah, blah. Before that, I worked in England, where such duplication just does not happen. As a result of our historical and political conflicts, youth clubs and youth provision have become territorial. In addition, because of the way in which such programmes are funded, every programme lasts for only one, two or three years; there is no strategic approach. The voluntary and community sector cannot be expected to move forward in leaps and bounds if it can plan for only two or three years ahead.

540. Even worse, when I was carrying out that audit, youth workers told me that they planed their strategies around the targets set by funders, rather than building programmes based on needs. They are chasing money to exist and to keep going, rather than identifying the needs and deciding what they will run and how they will look at the issue strategically across the board.

541. I was one of those young people who finished a degree at Queen's University — in my case, it was in English and psychology — and ended up working in River Island, a clothes shop. So, I went to England. I did a master's degree in community and youth work at Durham University and walked straight into a management post in children and young people's services. Youth services are much more advanced in England because they have not had the same struggles that we have had in Northern Ireland. They taught me that strategic partnership working was the key to moving forward and that funding, especially, should be more strategic and sustainable and not just short term.

542. Ms Lo: That would have a much bigger impact in the long run, rather than everyone doing small pieces of work that are not linked.

543. Ms McCracken: Groups do not know what the others are doing. That showed in the audit. There might have been duplication all over the area, but groups were unaware of what other people were doing. That was not done on purpose; they just had no link-up.

544. Ms Lo: Should the Department be giving more leadership in this area?

545. The Chairperson: It is a useful debate, but time is running on, and other people wish to speak. The Committee could write to the junior Ministers, who have specific responsibility for issues relating to children and young people, to ask whether a way forward in the form of a youth strategy is an issue that they might address in their ministerial subgroup. Are members agreed?

Members indicated assent.

546. Mrs McGill: I thank all three of you for your briefing. You presented us with a paper and you spoke to it; I always find that very helpful. Do young people know the meaning of the term "NEETs"? How do you feel about the use of that term? I note that you mentioned EOTAS. The teachers are struggling, and that is an issue.

547. Mr Symington: The term "NEETs" sounds a bit derogatory. I heard new acronym this week, which is GRUB — graduate returner, unemployed and broke. [Laughter.] You might be having an inquiry about those soon.

548. The Chairperson: I know quite a few of those.

549. Mrs McGill: Should we use the term "NEET"?

550. Mr Symington: I am not aware of any young people who know that term. I might be wrong.

551. Mr Quinn: Caroline and I had a conversation yesterday about the fact that many of the youth work professionals that we engage with are not familiar with what "NEETs" means. Those people are involved at quite senior levels.

552. Mrs McGill: The term came from England, did it not?

553. Ms McCracken: Yes. To be honest, when the term appeared in England, academics such as Mark K Smith, the editor of Infed, the encyclopaedia of informal education, and other champions of youth work went nuts about it. They wrote papers in protest against that terminology.

554. Mrs McGill: That is interesting. We should look at that.

555. Mr Symington: Was the term formerly "status zero"? That sounded quite cool. [Laughter.] It was a term that was used in the late 1990s.

556. The Chairperson: It pigeonholes people.

557. Ms McCracken: The term "NEETs" takes away from the real issues that young people face. They may not be in education, employment or training, but that term deflects attention away from why that is happening.

558. The Chairperson: The inquiry had to have some sort of a title. We will take your comments on board. The majority of the people whom we are trying to influence will understand which young people we are talking about. I am new to this inquiry, and it seems that the presentations that we have had are looking at the cure. However, I have not heard much about prevention, which is something that I am interested in. I serve with Sue and Claire on the Health Committee, and we have asked it to do some research into the way in which Scotland has moved young people from the criminal justice system into health provision. What is the role of families in all this?

559. Mr Symington: We could have talked all day about prevention, because we believe that that is the answer, but we were conscious that we were here to answer question about young people who are presently NEET.

560. The Chairperson: We want to break the cycle. If you have more papers, we would be happy for you to return at another time.

561. Mr Symington: The mental health issue starts when a child is born. The answer does not lie in providing £4 million worth of counselling. I would be shot in some quarters for saying that. However, it is totally a matter of building resilience and coping skills and the ability to have emotional intelligence. Emotional intelligence is included in our new curriculum, but the question is how much will that really be taught. Sexual health is not even being taught in half of our schools in Northern Ireland.

562. There are huge issues. Prevention starts with good nursery schooling. Sure Start projects are doing great work, and there are some other great projects. Half of these services should not have to exist, in all honesty. It is often a matter of empire building. Good work with children should eliminate youth probation services, youth justice services and youth conference services. It should eliminate the majority of those services because good work with children will have long-lasting effects. People are not always interested in that view because the results are too far down the road. It does not look good in reports, because we will not see a result from that work for another 10 years.

563. Mr Quinn: There is no quick fix. It starts at pre-school level. We were talking this morning about subjects such as home economics not being on the curriculum any more. Young people are losing out on life skills, and that is part of the problem. We have mentioned needs, and we need to recognise what the needs of young people are and design training, capacity building or whatever is required to meet those needs. It is definitely a long-term project.

564. It is interesting that support was mentioned. We carried out a survey around a year ago and had responses from more than 1,000 young people. They mentioned the need, at times, for information and support that was presented in a way that they understood. They also said that they would go to the Internet for information. Some respondents said they would go to family or to friends, and some said that they would go to professionals such as teachers, youth workers or social workers. That support and information is crucial. Often, it is needed in a time of crisis. How do we respond when young people need information, and how do we deliver it to them? That is a key question.

565. Ms S Ramsey: On a point of information for the record, the Education Committee and its Chairperson have been kept up to date with what this Committee has been doing. We are well aware that some of the prevention issues are outside our remit and control. However, the Education Committee is keen to play a part, and I think that it is important that that is brought to the fore, particularly as there are new Committee members here today.

566. The Chairperson: It is good to hear that there is some co-ordination.

567. The terms of reference for the inquiry include prevention, so, if you wish, you could submit further papers to the Committee.

568. Ms McCracken: We have brought another paper with us today.

569. Mr Symington: Yes; I will give that out.

570. Ms McCracken: That paper maps clearly where we think the cultural shift has come from and our prevention techniques, which are mainly for children of primary-school age.

571. The Chairperson: Thank you. That will be included in the inquiry report.

572. Mr Symington: Thank you very much.

573. The Chairperson: We have no further questions. Thank you for your attendance and your presentation.

21 April 2010

Members present for all or part of the proceedings:

Mrs Dolores Kelly (Chairperson)
Mr Peter Weir (Deputy Chairperson)
Mr Paul Butler
Mr David McClarty
Mr Pat Ramsey

Witnesses:

Ms Marlene Rice

North Monaghan School Completion Programme

574. The Chairperson (Mrs D Kelly): We now move to a briefing on the North Monaghan School Completion Programme, which will form part of the Committee's inquiry into young people who are not in education, employment or training (NEETs). I welcome Marlene Rice, who is the project co-ordinator. Marlene, I ask you to outline succinctly the key points in your paper for five or 10 minutes, after which Committee members will have an opportunity to comment on or ask questions about the programme.

575. Ms Marlene Rice (North Monaghan School Completion Programme): Thank you very much for the opportunity to brief the Committee. I am the co-ordinator of the North Monaghan School Completion Programme. The school completion programme (SCP) is a Department of Education and Science initiative that aims to have a positive impact on levels of pupil retention at primary and post-primary level and on the number of pupils who successfully complete the leaving certificate or equivalent. The SCP has been in existence since 2002, and 124 projects are in operation nationwide. A total of 464 primary schools and 227 post-primary schools are involved in the programme.

576. The main aims of the school completion programme are to retain young people in the formal education system until completion of the senior cycle or equivalent; to improve the quality of participation and educational attainment of targeted children and young people in the education process; to bring together all local stakeholders — the home, schools, the youth sector, and community, statutory and voluntary agencies — to tackle the problem of early school-leaving; to offer positive supports in the primary and post-primary sectors to help prevent educational disadvantage; to encourage young people who have left mainstream education to return to school to complete their exams at junior cycle, leaving certificate or equivalent; and to influence, in a positive way, any polices that relate to the prevention of early school-leaving in the education system.

577. We have identified some characteristics and barriers that are common to students who are at risk of early school-leaving. First, the issue of school attendance as far back as at primary school is important. Family circumstances have a huge impact, and, if the family has a history of early school-leaving, the child is more likely to do so. Little parental support or involvement with the education process is a factor, and, in many cases, we have found that that occurs owing to a lack of understanding of the education system. Students who display disruptive behaviour that is allied to poor motivation in class are at greater risk.

578. Other characteristics identified include low self-esteem; if a child becomes withdrawn; severe emotional, social or behavioural difficulties; and learning difficulties in basics such as literacy and numeracy, as indentified by teacher observation, standardised assessment tests or educational psychological assessments. We also found students from a Traveller or Roma culture, and, increasingly, students from a foreign national culture, to be disadvantaged.

579. Students say that the main reason for their dropping out is a negative experience of school. Previous academic achievement has a strong bearing on early school-leaving. Early school-leaving has its roots in early experiences of educational failure and academic struggle as far back as primary school. Allocating students to class according to their academic ability has negative consequences for those allocated to lower-stream classes, resulting in a climate of low expectations and negative student/teacher interaction, thereby promoting early school-leaving. The school climate, which is basically the quality of relations between teachers and students, is a key factor in school engagement and retention.

580. There is a need to identify as early as possible students who have learning difficulties and to put in place appropriate supports to foster their academic progress. A shift away from streaming to mixed-ability classes would have the potential to counter the low expectations and lack of academic challenge reported by students in lower-stream classes.

581. The school completion programme is based on a number of best-practice principles, the main one of which is partnership. Primary and post-primary schools, parents and relevant agencies collaborate formally through local management committees and informally through local co-ordinators. The programme is young person-centred. Each targeted young person who is at risk of early school-leaving has supports tailor-made to suit his or her personal and academic needs.

582. The programme is preventative. Young people who are at risk of early school-leaving are supported from an early age, in recognition of the fact that home, school, environmental, social and economic factors influence the patterns of early school-leaving. The programme is based on a bottom-up approach. A range of supports is offered in each cluster, or project area, depending on local needs, mindful of the fact that local factors are also important in influencing early school-leaving.

583. The young person's inclusion in the programme is based on an agreed set of criteria that target those most at risk of early school-leaving. A whole school approach can be used to minimise the potential for stigmatising those most at risk of early school-leaving. Supports are offered in and out of school, after school and during holidays, in recognition of the fact that continuous support must be given to such young people. The programme's primary aims are to break the pattern of early school-leaving and to tackle educational disadvantage.

584. Those who disengage from the education system can be tracked and monitored by the education welfare officer, who works closely with all schools and has records of early school-leavers. The school completion co-ordinator tracks the attendance of targeted students and liaises with local agencies and families on the destination of school-leavers. An annual progress report that tracks targeted students and where they go is sent to the Department of Education and Science annually. The report includes the stage at which drop-out occurred.

585. The Chairperson: Your paper is very helpful, Marlene, and covers many points. Members can speed-read it and pick out points from it. Perhaps you can pick out the key points.

586. Ms Rice: One of the most useful elements of the SCP is attendance tracking and monitoring. We monitor the attendance of targeted students and liaise with principals and with students' parents on attendance. We increasingly find that issues in the home affect attendance. A psychologist on the programme liaises with parents. Moreover, we have integrated meetings with the education welfare officer and the National Educational Welfare Board (NEWB) at the school for students who pass 20 days' absence. Targets are set with students and parents to improve attendance.

587. Students who may drop out are offered one-to-one out-of-school tuition from a qualified teacher in the hope that they can sit at least five examinations at junior certificate, leaving certificate or equivalent. Homework clubs are another vital support, because in many cases parents do not have the skills to help their children at home. Demand for homework clubs has increased, especially from students from Traveller or foreign national cultures, because there is, obviously, a difficulty in understanding the language. The children are given a meal, which is funded by the Department of Social and Family Affairs. They receive two hours of supervised homework; that is, one hour of homework, followed by an hour of leisure activity, sport or art.

588. Another support that we find beneficial is parental programmes, whereby we identify parents whose children are at risk of early school-leaving. We offer them parenting programmes. Parents get the opportunity to meet other parents from a similar background to talk about problems and issues that they have. Parents find that a useful support.

589. The Chairperson: Marlene, thank you very much. I apologise for having interrupted you.

590. You have painted a picture of a very holistic programme, which offers support for families. It leaves a legacy, in that once the child or young person finishes with you, support mechanisms are present for the next step forward. It is a very commendable programme. A number of Members have indicated that they want to ask questions.

591. Mr Butler: Thank you, Marlene, for your presentation. Does the programme entail taking the children out of the classroom environment?

592. Ms Rice: No. The students who have left school and dropped out of the education system have to be in education until the age of 16. Some of them, especially those from a Traveller background, typically leave school early and refuse to re-enter the school grounds. We set up a programme with the NEWB, whereby those students attend a local youth centre two or three days a week. Teachers go down there for a few hours and give them support with literacy and numeracy.

593. Mr Butler: You mentioned the leaving certificate. How is the success of the programme measured?

594. Ms Rice: The Department of Education and Science receives an annual progress report containing statistics on the number of students who have left school and successfully completed the junior certificate or leaving certificate examinations.

595. Mr Butler: What do the statistics tell us about the programme? Is it successful?

596. Ms Rice: I can speak only for my own sector. When I arrived, there was an 80% completion rate for the junior certificate, and that has now risen to 98%.

597. Mr Butler: Has the South a strategy for dealing with NEETs?

598. Mrs Rice: It has the delivering equality of opportunity in schools (DEIS) system, which takes an integrated approach. It provides for education welfare officers, home-school liaison officers and visiting teachers for Travellers. DEIS helps the Department identify and tackle the problem of students leaving school early.

599. Mr Butler: That strategy deals only with post-primary schools.

600. Ms Rice: Yes, but it ensures that students enter third-level education or its equivalent.

601. The Chairperson: It may be helpful if, as Mr Butler asks, we knew more about the evaluation of the project. If you have presented any findings to your Department, perhaps you will send them to the Committee as further evidence. This is all very interesting.

602. Ms Rice: Yes. That is no problem.

603. Mr Butler: Thank you, Marlene.

604. Mr Weir: Thank you, Marlene. Your presentation was very useful. I want to pick up on the issue of how success is measured. We need to find out what measure, or cocktail of measures, should be put in place to tackle the problem of early school-leaving in Northern Ireland. We must be realistic and keep in mind the limitation on resources, and consequently try to ensure that whatever measures are put in place are both affordable and produce good results for the investment.

605. It would be useful to obtain from the Department of Education and Science in the Republic any statistics that it has. Much of the school completion programme is focused on prevention. Prevention measures can tackle the problem and would prove very useful. Some of the evidence that we have heard or received concerns dealing with the situation that is created after the problem has arisen. I have noticed that one of your objectives is, for want of a better word, to recapture young people who have left the school system and try to bring them back in. Statistics on how that objective evolved would be most useful.

606. I have only one question. You mentioned an acronym, which I cannot now recall, when you spoke about targeting young people who have left school early. One is in danger of acronym overload. Is the school completion programme universal across the country, or is it heavily targeted at areas of social deprivation and where there has been a problem with high drop-out rates?

607. Ms Rice: It is specifically targeted at areas where there is problem with early drop-out or a history of early school-leaving in the community. We also look at the number of students in the school who have access to medical cards. Provision is based on need. Schools with DEIS status — disadvantaged status — have the school completion programme.

608. Mr Weir: It may be an unfair question to ask, because I do not know whether you have the statistics, but do you have a rough percentage figure for the number of schools that the programme covers in the Republic?

609. Ms Rice: I do not know the answer to that. I can speak to Aidan Savage, the national co-ordinator, who will have that information.

610. Mr Weir: It would be useful if you could supply that information to the Committee so that we know whether the programme covers the most disadvantaged 10%, 20%, or whatever.

611. Mr P Ramsey: Marlene, you are very welcome. Your presentation contained a great deal of good detail. The Committee is conducting an inquiry into NEETs, but we are also examining models of good practice where, as Paul Butler rightly said, there is clear, qualitative evidence of measurable outcomes. Your figures are very interesting. You talked about concentrating on young people who have literacy and numeracy problems. That is key, because those are barriers to the next stage, which is training or employment.

612. I want to ask about the joined-up, cross-departmental approach, because you referred to justice, health and education. Is there a formal link between you and other Departments to deal with the outputs of the school completion programme?

613. Ms Rice: The SCP's board of management is made up of representatives from Dáil Committees. We work with them, because, at the end of the day, students at risk of early school-leaving will be those identified by, for example, the Justice Committee. The juvenile liaison officer deals with many of students that have been in trouble with the guards. Those students are then referred to us. An integrated approach is taken, in that we work together to identify students. The juvenile liaison officer deals with students who are as high risk as some of the students with whom I deal.

614. In the Republic of Ireland, there is a neighbourhood youth project that deals with students who are in trouble with the guards. The project offers programmes that cater to specific needs and address issues such as alcohol abuse, drug abuse and educational —

615. Mr P Ramsey: Can it refer students to you?

616. Ms Rice: Yes.

617. Mr P Ramsey: Do you have a mentoring system in place?

618. Ms Rice: Yes; there is a big brother/big sister programme.

619. The Chairperson: In the kindest possible terms.

620. Mr Weir: You do not lock them in a large house by any chance? [Laughter.]

621. Mr P Ramsey: You also referred to the Traveller community and ethnic minorities, which is relevant. Is there any qualitative evidence that you have encouraged or stimulated students from those groups to remain in education or go on to further education? It would be useful to have that information if it is available.

622. Ms Rice: The visiting teacher for Travellers in the Republic of Ireland works closely with me. The major barrier to travellers is literacy problems and, indeed, many of the students' parents are also illiterate. The Monaghan vocational education committee (VEC) increasingly targets members of the Traveller community and tries to offer adults programmes that will increase their literacy and numeracy. Parents' literacy and numeracy problems can be a barrier for students, because they cannot get any support at home, and parents are not able to read letters that are sent home, and so on. The literacy and numeracy problem is definitely a problem in the Traveller community.

623. Mr McClarty: Marlene, that was an excellent presentation; I thoroughly enjoyed it. You are obviously working proactively to identify these young people. Do you have any figures on how successful you have been since the programme began in 2002? In your presentation, you mentioned that allocating students to classes according to their academic ability has negative consequences, particularly for those in the lower streams. However, if those same young people are allocated to classes in higher streams, is there not a possibility that they will struggle and feel a negative impact from that?

624. Ms Rice: Many disadvantaged students feel that they are targeted and labelled as failures from an early age, before they even enter the education system. When students are placed in a lower-ability class, they feel that they have just been packed into a group, that it is expected that they will fail and that they will do so anyway. We are talking about students whose parents probably never entered third-level education and who have no awareness of third-level education. It is a case of raising the expectations of parents and students.

625. I understand that there is a need for early intervention to deal with students who have literacy and numeracy difficulties at primary level. As I said, if they were to go into a higher-band class, they might experience difficulties. However, by raising their expectations with the help of resource teachers and through further one-to-one assistance, there is the probability or possibility that they could succeed. It is about giving them the opportunity to do so.

626. Mr McClarty: Do you have figures on the success of the programme over its eight years?

627. Ms Rice: I will have to contact the Department to get the precise figures. My colleague who is responsible for research and development is off on maternity leave, so I was not able to access that information. The Department said that it would get back to me, so I will forward the figures to the Committee.

628. The Chairperson: Thank you, Marlene. This has been inspiring, and I suspect that the Committee will want to include your evidence as part of its inquiry. I am almost tempted to open up the 11-plus debate, but we do not have time to do that today. Your findings on mixed streams are interesting, and I thank you for travelling to Lisburn for the meeting and for putting forward your informative paper. I look forward to hearing your response on the other matters, and the Committee Clerk will be in touch with you about that.

629. Ms Rice: No problem. Thank you very much.

12 May 2010

Members present for all or part of the proceedings:

Mrs Dolores Kelly (Chairperson)
Mr Peter Weir (Deputy Chairperson)
Mr Paul Butler
Mr William Irwin
Ms Anna Lo
Mr Pat Ramsey
Ms Sue Ramsey

Witnesses:

Mr Errol McMaster

Glastry College

Mr Nigel Finch

North Down
Training Ltd

630. The Chairperson (Mrs D Kelly): We move to the Committee's inquiry into children not in education, employment or training (NEETs). The next item on the agenda is a briefing from Errol McMaster, principal of Glastry College. Good morning, Mr McMaster. You are very welcome. Thank you very much for travelling to meet the Committee.

631. Although this is a very formal looking setting, the Committee members are very relaxed and generally friendly animals. [Laughter.] Please be at ease. We want to hear from you anything that may be of assistance to us in our inquiry. We are trying to make the future a bit better for our young people.

632. Mr Errol McMaster (Glastry College): I have copies of my presentation.

633. The Chairperson: Thank you very much. We will pass those around. Please speak for about five or 10 minutes about your briefing paper, after which members will have the opportunity to ask questions or make comments.

634. Mr McMaster: Thank you for your invitation, Mrs Kelly. I am delighted to be here. My name is Errol McMaster, and I am the principal of Glastry College. For those who do not know where Glastry is, it is about halfway down the Ards Peninsula. It is a small community with two churches and about a dozen houses. In the 1950s, when it was decided to construct the first secondary intermediate school, Glastry was chosen as the location because it was equidistant from all of the villages around the Ards.

635. I joined the staff in Glastry in September 1976. I have been there for a long time — 34 years. I was vice-principal for eight years, and I have been principal for two years. When I started at Glastry, the population of the school was 340 pupils and 24 staff. We have grown now to a staff of 48 teachers and myself, and 657 pupils. We still occupy the original building, although two extensions have been added in the meantime. A new school building has been on the agenda for a number of years. Originally, building was to have started in October 2008, but, for various reasons, it was delayed. In the current financial climate, I am not desperately optimistic that it will start in the near future.

636. The reason that I have come along today is to tell the Committee something about the exciting developments that are happening on the Ards Peninsula through our collaboration under the banner of the "North Down and Ards Consortium". I do not believe in coercing young people into education; it is up to us to provide a relevant and attractive education that will encourage our young people to stay on.

637. The characteristics for why young people disengage with school are common to all schools, be they in a rural, town or city environment. The characteristics that I identify are low self-esteem, lack of ambition and poor attendance, which, unfortunately, we can identify very often when the children arrive in year 8 with their records from primary school. Such issues start at a very early age. Many of those pupils experience literacy and numeracy difficulties, which may become more pronounced throughout their period of compulsory education, unless the pupil engages meaningfully with intervention strategies that have been put in place by the school.

638. Barriers common to young people who are not in education, employment and training include those created by a generational legacy. Some families have demonstrated a reluctance to engage with education for several generations, and, unfortunately, that tends to be perpetuated. Poor parenting is another barrier. Increasing numbers of parents appear to have little influence or control over their children, and admit that they are incapable of ensuring that their children attend school. I have identified that those circumstances exist increasingly in families in which both parents have to or choose to work, and the children are left to equip themselves and find their own way to school in the mornings. Some of our most problematic children decide not to attend school. Family breakdown is another barrier. The increase in the number of one-parent families and changing parental liaisons inevitably affect the stability of families and the authority of the adults in the partnership. I have identified easy access to alcohol and substance abuse as a new adverse impact down the Ards Peninsula. That affects individuals, families and entire communities. I see that issue emerging as a major concern.

639. What prevention or intervention strategies might be useful to reduce the NEET numbers? Intervention must start as early as possible, and I identify primary school as the place in which intervention should begin. Specialist teachers and classroom assistants who are trained to provide help for pupils who are experiencing difficulty with language and numbers should be available. The Northern Ireland curriculum for Key Stage 3 has given us more freedom to develop a broader education for our children when they enter secondary school. Thinking skills and personal capabilities are now emphasised in the curriculum, and there is a focus on competency and communication using mathematics and ICT. Those are the sorts of skills that young people will need once they leave formal education. There is also an emphasis on children accepting personal responsibility, and that is important. Therefore, the focus is not on academic achievement alone.

640. On a more critical note, I believe that the Education Welfare Service needs to be more proactive and robust in its approach to poor attenders and school refusers. By Key Stage 4, we, inevitably, have a number of children who disengage or are problematic in school, and there is very little provision for them. The alternative education programme that is provided by the education and library boards has proven limited and largely ineffective — in our area, there are places for 15 pupils in the entire education and library board, and the facility is based at Redburn Primary School in Holywood. To travel from the lower end of the peninsula to Holywood is problematic at best, and it seems to me that it is not a viable option. Thankfully, we have very few pupils who present that kind of problem, but the provision by the boards is not adequate or relevant. I believe that you will hear attractive suggestions from Mr Nigel Finch and North Down Training Ltd. Nigel will be speaking to you later as an independent provider for that kind of young person, and I see that as very positive.

641. It is essential that schools and colleges seek to provide an attractive and meaningful programme of study to which young people will respond and in which they see value, particularly in the context of future job prospects. In recent times, GCSE examinations were heralded as appropriate for all Key Stage 4 pupils. Results in public examinations have been used to judge and compare schools as an indicator of competence. I believe that that has had little or limited value. In some areas, secondary schools have wisely introduced alternative programmes of study, which have less equivalence in comparative league tables, but have greater appeal and currency for pupils who find success in traditional GCSE examinations difficult. I refer to occupational studies qualifications and the programmes devised by the Prince's Trust and the Award Scheme Development and Accreditation Network (ASDAN).

642. What kinds of best-practice models are available to those who are working with young people who are NEET, and which of those models have been shown to be particularly effective in our local situation? In Glastry, we have a number of strategies in place to keep young people engaged. The school and college community must become almost like an extended family. Children must feel valued and welcomed in that community, and, to do that, we have introduced a number of positive behaviour award schemes, as all schools do. We report regularly to parents, invite them in, send postcards of praise home when children achieve, and make children feel valued.

643. In the past couple of years, we have introduced a scheme that is similar to the lottery and which aims to improve attendance in years 11 and 12. Pupils who achieve an attendance rate of over 90% during a particular six-week period enter a draw for vouchers worth £30. The scheme is intended to encourage people to come to school. It has had limited success; the children who attend look forward to the draw, but I admit that the potential of winning £30 does not really appeal to the hardened non-attenders. However, we will persevere.

644. A year ago, we introduced Groupcall, which is an automated telephone or text message alert facility. Since then, our attendance rates have improved significantly, last year by two percentage points to 92%. We also have a comprehensive and discrete programme of learning for life and work, which includes personal development, relationship and sex education, drug awareness training, citizenship and career advice from year 8.

645. Pupils can determine their need to speak to a professional counsellor. In the past couple of years, we have used two organisations, Contact Youth and Family Works. Those organisations have been tremendously effective. We have an exceptional young lady as a counsellor to whom our young people relate. She has a waiting list, not because there are extensive problems, but because the pupils feel that that lady listens and advises well. That is working extremely well.

646. During this term, we have worked in conjunction with the PSNI and the Forum for Action on Substance Abuse (FASA), of which our local office is based in Bangor. FASA has addressed the problems of alcohol and substance abuse and suicide. On alternate Thursdays, a lady comes in from FASA, and she is available to talk to any pupils who wish to talk to her. On the other Thursdays, a local police liaison officer comes in. That is all done to establish relationships with young people who, for example, might be drinking on the beach at Millisle on a Saturday night. That seems to be working well.

647. The reason that I am here today is talk to you about what I see as a drive in our school and our community to make education attractive post 16. We start at Key Stage 4. In Glastry, we have not chosen to go down the route of the Prince's Trust or ASDAN. We are working within the GCSE curriculum. At the beginning of year 11, we divide the pupils into three academic streams. Our most gifted and talented pupils will follow a programme of nine GCSEs, and our middle stream will take eight GCSEs.

648. The pupils who are identified as those who will struggle with that type of academic diet will take English, maths and science, and extra time on the curriculum will be given for those subjects. They will choose two further options from a list that is available to everyone, and, one day a week, they go to the Bangor campus of the South Eastern Regional College (SERC), where they follow occupational studies. That is done in conjunction with three other schools in the area, Strangford College, St Columbanus College and Priory College. Collectively, around 200 children go to SERC on a Wednesday, and they access 17 different subjects such as construction, hair and beauty, areas such as radio production, and so on.

649. Last year, our GCSE results were our best ever. Our year group comprised 112 children, two of whom dropped out. One child was part of a family that was intimidated out of the area by paramilitaries, and that child did not come back for year 12. The other was a foster child who moved away prior to the exams taking place.

650. Therefore, it was absolutely encouraging for us that 110 children completed their GCSEs in our school. A total of 65% achieved five or more subjects A* to C, and only one achieved one to four GCSEs. A total of 97% achieved five or more subjects at A* to G, which was a tremendous improvement. Our A* to C results have gone up from around 48% to 65% in the past year. That is the basis, therefore, for moving into post-16 education.

651. On Monday, Mr Finch's organisation talked to our occupational studies group about what may be available to them come September. We are targeting the middle and upper bands to offer them an enhanced curricular provision in our area. Traditionally, our brightest and most academic children went on to local grammar schools after GCSE. However, there was not a big uptake in what I would call tech and cert courses, and a lot of pupils went into employment or dropped out. It is that group that we have targeted.

652. We have had a sixth form at Glastry College for about 19 years. Three years ago, we had 40 pupils in sixth form — sixth upper and sixth lower. We then entered into collaboration with Strangford College, and we had eight courses running. The following year, with Strangford College, we offered 12 courses, last year we offered 16, and, come September, we hope to offer 22 courses. Our numbers have gone up from 40 pupils to 84 last September. You can see, therefore, that we are trying very hard to meet the entitlement framework (EF) requirement of 27 subjects at A level.

653. There is a mix of subjects, however, and not all purely academic. There are a lot of applied subjects, and a lot of new and exciting subjects. The value is that our students are coming together and collaborating. The old sectoral boundaries of integrated, maintained and schools such as ours are gone. Children are all mixing together, and that is exciting. We started with Strangford, and it is lovely to see Strangford pupils coming into our school in their uniforms. They integrate totally with our children, and ours go back to their school. That has been a breath of fresh air. From September 2010, we are offering and concentrating on the STEM subjects. Science, technology and mathematics at A level are being offered in our school, and engineering is delivered by SERC because of job market potential.

654. What elements and funding are required in a strategy for young people who are NEET and in whom we are particularly interested? Collaboration does not come cheap, and is not a means to reduce costs in education. However, it is vital to provide an extended curriculum post 16.

655. Transport costs, in particular, are crippling us, and cost Strangford College and ourselves almost £28,000 this year. It is vital that entitlement framework funding is maintained. However, may I make a suggestion about bus passes, on which I have already started to negotiate with the Department? Traditionally, children went to only one school. Increasingly, that will not be the case. We must negotiate with Translink a bus pass that will enable pupils to access education at two or three centres. For as long as that is not in place, Translink is reaping the benefits and we are paying additional travel costs. That really should not happen; those costs should be reduced. That is a big area, but if collaboration is to work, we must address transport costs.

656. From September, we are also looking having young people start the day in the school where their classes start. That will save time, and a bus pass that enabled a child who lives in Portavogie to get on the bus and go to Strangford College would save time and money. That is the way forward.

657. This is an appeal from the heart about our new school. Obviously, there are economic constraints and sustainability is a big issue. We do not have a sustainability issue. We were oversubscribed in year 8 by 49 pupils last year. We are well oversubscribed again this year. The proposal is to build a school for 600 pupils. I firmly believe that our school should have room for 650 — that is 110 per year group, with a potential sixth form of 100, which I believe we will have in place over the next couple of years, if we are given the opportunity.

658. The benefits of that to our community, because we are developing the whole Ards learning community, are exciting, viable and potentially the way to keep young people between the ages of 16 to 18, and beyond, in education.

659. Mr Weir: Thank you, Mr McMaster. I represent an area that your school touches upon and I am aware of Glastry College's good reputation. I sometimes hear from parents who say that they have selected Glastry as one of their choices, but they realise that so many people want into it that their children will not get in.

660. I know that, at one level, neither of my questions are 100% within your remit. Nevertheless, I want to touch on two elements at almost opposite ends of the spectrum. First, you sensibly mentioned that you are doing a degree of catch-up work in trying to correct problem areas. To tackle such problems, early interventions are needed, particularly at primary schools. Will you expand on your thoughts or specific ideas about how that intervention would work?

661. Mr McMaster: That is a very difficult question. The education welfare officer (EWO) service needs to be involved at an early stage to identify why children are not attending school. If that problem cannot be corrected before those children come to secondary school, it becomes particularly difficult. I believe that the problem is a generational one. I have seen third-generation families coming through — children tell me that I taught their granny — in which that problem has been perpetuated. The EWO service must get close to those families, find out why their children are not engaging with school, and encourage them to come.

662. Mr Weir: Do you feel that, at present, education welfare officers are not being proactive enough?

663. Mr McMaster: Absolutely. Coercion will not work and is no longer used much anyway in terms of taking people to court. However, it is important to get close to those families at an early stage to find out why their children are not attending school. The EWO must be persistent in pursuing such families. What else did you want me to touch upon, Mr Weir?

664. Mr Weir: My other question is at the opposite end of the spectrum. You have had a lot of success in increasing the number of pupils staying at school until a later stage. You mentioned the expansion of the sixth form from 40 to 84 students and outlined the route taken to achieve that. Obviously, you also deal with many young people who are leaving and, for whatever reason, are not retained in formal school education. What are your views on provisions available outside schools for pupils who leave at the end of their GCSEs?

665. Mr McMaster: Do you mean those who do not engage in any form of education?

666. Mr Weir: Yes; those not directly engaged in education. In what areas could more be done for those young people?

667. Mr McMaster: You have hit on the two areas to which I do not have answers. Has the Committee noticed that I have ignored one of the terms of reference? That term of reference concerns how we monitor the number of children who leave school. The exam results come through in August. In September, we try hard to identify where the pupils go — whether to secondary schools to study for A levels, to university, or whatever. However, a number of children just leave and we do not know where they go, and I am not terribly sure how much is available for them out there. SERC in Bangor has courses that will attract a number of them.

668. A number of young people will go into the trades. Locally, the building trade is flat at the moment, but there used to be a lot of opportunity there for part-time skills training with a view to learning a trade. I suspect that the employment rate is not as healthy as it should be.

669. Mr Weir: SERC has good links and a good reputation in respect of further education. Do you think that the links between schools and some of the colleges are strong enough? Do you feel that they can be improved at all?

670. Mr McMaster: Those links are really improving through our collaboration. There are 16 schools and colleges in the North Down area, including SERC, and the relationship among them has become a lot better over the past couple of years. We are more aware of what each place has to offer. Those links have been well improved through collaboration.

671. Mr Weir: Thank you.

672. Mr Butler: Thank you for your presentation. I have two questions, although you may not have the answer to the first. What sort of success rate does the occupational studies group have?

673. Mr McMaster: There is a very good success rate.

674. Mr Butler: What is the success rate after take-up? Do people get jobs out of it?

675. Mr McMaster: We have targeted that group now for three years. The young people really enjoy it. Those young people could not cope with studying for seven GCSEs. They enjoy the experience of going out to the technical college on a Wednesday; it gives them the opportunity to sample four types of career.

676. The success rate in staying engaged with the course and what they get out of it — namely a double award at C-level or better, or a double D-grade — has been extremely good. Four of them have entered our sixth form having achieved five grades at A* to C. Two of them dropped out, but two of them have stayed on. Quite a number of them have gone on to SERC to study courses in year 12 because they got a taste for hairdressing and beauty, radio programming, music or something else that they have picked up at SERC. They have liked it and decided that that is what they want to do. There is an avenue of communication with SERC, which has improved their chances of continuing education or training there after the age of 16.

677. Mr Butler: I know that STEM subjects at GCE level will only start in September 2010. How has the school fared with STEM subjects previously? That is part of an initiative that the Committee has drawn up.

678. Mr McMaster: Technology has traditionally been strong in our school, as has science. Children feed into our school from other schools, such as Strangford, for example. We cannot deliver engineering, so SERC delivers that. Some children do not do additional maths at grammar school, but we have identified quite a number of young people who would be interested in pursuing A-level maths. However, they cannot jump in at that level. Some of them are very academic kids who have done traditional A-levels.

679. St Columba's College in Portaferry has a very successful sixth form, and is a small school. Its numbers are declining because it is being squeezed by so many areas, and, from September, Mr Breen will not be able to offer a sixth form class. We held an open night last Thursday when we had six families from St Columba's looking at our provision, particularly maths and science. That is exciting, because we are identifying areas of weakness among our collaboration of schools, as well as areas of potential that we are sharing. We were weak in drama and English; Strangford are strong, so we send our children to Strangford and utilise every strength within our group of schools.

680. Mr Butler: Do you think that offering GCE level STEM subjects from 2010 will be a success as well?

681. Mr McMaster: I hope so. Maths is obviously one of the most difficult GCEs, but we are identifying children in our secondary level who could potentially cope with that. Children who are perhaps not succeeding at grammar schools are also looking at picking up science and maths at A level.

682. At our open night last week, we met families whose children go to Nendrum College in Comber, Regent House, Glenlola Collegiate, Movilla High School, St Columbanus College, St Columba's College and Strangford College. The hall was full because of the excitement that this is generating. Collaboration is a new and exciting way forward.

683. Ms S Ramsey: In general, and I am not talking specifically about your school, how long does a pupil need to be absent before alarm bells start going off and an EWO gets involved?

684. Mr McMaster: In our school, when a pupil's attendance drops below 85%, we refer them to an EWO. Prior to that, it is the year head who initiates a phone call and invites the parents to come in. A lot of work is done in school before we even introduce the EWO to the problem.

685. Ms S Ramsey: How is that percentage monitored? If a pupil takes two days off a month, when is it all added up and that percentage established?

686. Mr McMaster: The person initially responsible for identifying trends in poor attendance is the group tutor who marks pupils in and who sees them and knows them. They are the first person that we expect to make an intervention with the family. The Groupcall message goes out every morning. If a parent has not informed us by 9.45 am that a child is going to be absent, they get a message to their landline or mobile phone asking why their child is off. That is immediate, and it continues until the parent answers the message.

687. Ms S Ramsey: Therefore, it could be a number of months before the EWO is involved?

688. Mr McMaster: Yes. We try to deal with it first, and we feel that that is most effective. If a group tutor identifies a persistent problem, they refer it to the year head who will then invite the family in to talk about it. The EWO is introduced only as a last resort when attendance drops below 85%.

689. Ms S Ramsey: Do you think, in general, that there could be a difference in the EWO's involvement at a certain age, for example, between the ages of 11 and 14 and between the ages of 14 and 16?

690. Mr McMaster: We tend to have most success at Key Stage 3, where pupils are between the ages of 11 and 14. At that stage, parents respond to a wee bit of pressure. However, once children reach year 10, at age 14 or 15, parents do not have the same ability to get some of the more reluctant children into school. That is when we use the EWO service more.

691. Ms S Ramsey: The authorities do not seem to care once a child is closer to 16 years old.

692. Mr McMaster: In year 12, the EWOs will not do anything.

693. Ms S Ramsey: In your submission, you state that the Education Welfare Service needs to be more proactive. The Committee is carrying out an inquiry and hopes to come up with recommendations. It could be months before an EWO becomes aware of certain pupils, and, therefore, we need to look at EWOs being informed earlier.

694. Your submission is quite useful, because it makes us think outside the box. Not everyone who is NEET is an educational failure. There are a multitude of issues, one of which, as has been brought to our attention, is that of career guidance at an early age. You mentioned that in your presentation, but perhaps you could touch on it further. There has been vocal criticism of some schools trying to advise young people down a certain path, because it keeps the school's figures right, and trying to sweep the vocational aspect under the mat.

695. Mr McMaster: Career guidance in our school is very strong. It starts in year 8 with employability. When pupils get to year 10 and upwards, we have quite a number of visiting speakers from different organisations and from third-level education to give children an idea of what is out there. Are you focusing on the lower achievers in particular?

696. Ms S Ramsey: The lower educational achievers. Some of those people have gone on to be very successful.

697. Mr McMaster: Absolutely. We have had pupils who, although they left school at 16 and did not go on to further education, went on to set up very successful businesses.

698. There were traditionally lots of employment opportunities in the Ards. The fishing industry in Portavogie was major, but is now in serious decline. Farming was a major employer 20 years ago, but it is not now. Most of the textile industry in Newtownards and Portaferry has gone too. Therefore, one has to look at small businesses, construction, public service, industries and retail as the main sources of employment now. Further education has tended to be about either continuing academically or looking for an avenue into employment.

699. The Chairperson: I will touch on a couple of points that you raised. I presume that the bus passes will distinguish between young people in rural areas and those in urban areas. We hope to hear from rural young people when we visit the Balmoral Show later today. Are you negotiating directly with the Department of Education or Translink?

700. Mr McMaster: The Department of Education. Ten days ago, the Department asked me to make a submission explaining the difficulties that we have with children travelling to three different centres. We operate a collaboration over quite a distance. It is seven miles from Glastry to Strangford and 20 miles to the South Eastern Regional College. We want to minimise the time spent travelling, as well as the cost.

701. The Chairperson: If you want to share that submission with the Committee, we will be happy to pass it on to the Committee for Education so that the issue is flagged up with the Minister. It is unique to rural areas.

702. Ms S Ramsey: I would also pass it to the Department for Regional Development, because sometimes officials do not look outside the box.

703. The Chairperson: We will take that action.

704. Obviously, prevention is better than cure. You talked in your opening comments about generational family influences that create a situation in which education is not valued. Do early intervention and life skills form part of your curriculum? That would help to stop the cycle and ensure that young people leave your school with life skills such as the ability to manage budgets, communication skills, and the other skills that we all need.

705. Mr McMaster: In our school, learning for life and work is developed right through from year 8. From years 11 and 12, every pupil is now given four hours a fortnight — we have a two-week timetable — to deal with exactly what you are talking about. Four hours a fortnight are set aside for the discrete delivery of subjects such as careers advice, personal money management and sex and relationship education.

706. The Chairperson: Is there any collaborative or holistic approach that involves support for families? Some parents are illiterate themselves.

707. Mr McMaster: We have not done that.

708. The Chairperson: Thank you very much for your presentation, Mr McMaster. It will be included in the inquiry's report. Thanks for your time.

709. I now invite Mr Nigel Finch of North Down Training Ltd to come forward to brief the Committee on alternative education provision. Members' packs contain background information, and Mr Finch has tabled a paper. You are very welcome, Mr Finch. I suggest that you spend about 10 minutes on a presentation to allow members an opportunity to ask questions and make comments. Our conversational discussion is being reported by Hansard, and will be a matter of public record. Although this is a somewhat formal setting, I hope that you will feel at ease.

710. Mr Nigel Finch (North Down Training Ltd): Thank you for the invitation. North Down Training Ltd is a small training organisation based in Newtownards, where we provide services for young people in the Ards, North Down and Castlereagh council areas. The company has been in existence since 1982 and has charitable status. Over the past 28 years, we have provided training through the old Youth Opportunities Programme, Youth Training Programme and Jobskills programmes and, currently, the Training for Success programme. Our main business area is in post-16 training and education, and apprenticeships.

711. We have traditionally worked with a range of learners, primarily those young people who have left school with little or no academic achievement. We have had some young people with five GCSEs and better, but the majority of our learners are non-achievers. There are many reasons for that, such as personal, educational, community or social barriers.

712. The direction in which our business takes our young people means that we try to focus on employability skills, personal development and maturing skills as our 16 to 18-year-olds grow into adulthood. We try to enable them to cope with the world of work. We are not just helping them with vocational skills. Our main business areas are business and administration, customer service, retailing, warehousing and storage, and hospitality and catering. We also provide employability skills programmes, essential skills programmes, literacy, numeracy and ICT training, and training in health and safety, food safety and catering in the workplace.

713. We have about 120 learners in our main training provision, both apprentices and trainees. The company's ethos is underpinned by very strong pastoral care and personal support for our learners to enable them to achieve something. They may well not have achieved while in education; we are anxious that they achieve something.

714. Over the past two or three years, we have begun to work more closely with schools in our catchment area at the pre-16 level, rather than post-16. I have outlined the three areas of provision that we offer. I will summarise them briefly and then talk about them in more detail.

715. The first area of work is a one day a week service for young people in schools during years 11 and 12. As Mr McMaster mentioned earlier, we use the local college for occupational studies. However, we recognised, as did the schools, that the college does not suit every learner. Some learners need more discrete or personal provision. Two years ago, we began to offer the schools a work-based learning programme in which our staff are involved one day a week with a group of learners. We provide some initial employability and careers guidance and follow that up with health and safety in the workplace. We then place the learners with an employer for part of the school day. During the course of the two-year cycle, the learners have the opportunity to achieve what was an NVQ level 1 qualification. That service has gone extremely well in some schools, and will be increased in the coming year.

716. The second main area of provision that we have begun offering in recent months partly follows the alternative education provision guidelines. Although we are not part of the Department of Education's formal funding for that process, we see that there is a need for a discrete work-based learning programme for a number of schoolchildren who are not coping with the academic route. Through the Education Welfare Service, we have begun to offer schools a flexible, tailor-made programme for individual needs that ranges from two days to five days a week in our centre and with our employer partners.

717. Last year, a learner in year 11 had an attendance rate of something like 60%. He then attended the centre five days a week and achieved a 94% attendance rate. He also had full achievement in what was the equivalent of the GCSEs that he was taking. The style of learning that we offer clearly suited that young person. Some schools have picked up on that and have now begun to refer more and more young people to us on that basis. The challenge that we face in the coming year is to find out what is the best provision that we can offer through our alternative education process. I will talk on that part of our provision shortly.

718. The final part of the provision is for pupils in years 13 and 14. Once again, in collaboration with the area learning community in the north Down and Ards area, we are beginning to offer an additional vocational route for pupils in those years. We will do that in conjunction with Glastry College and Strangford College in the coming year.

719. I wish to talk about the provision for alternative education in a bit more detail, and I will take the Committee through a process that we have engaged in with a local school. North Down Training has put in place for 2010-11 a two-year provision of two days a week for an indentified client group of 10 pupils from a local high school who are not engaging in education. The Education Welfare Service might have been involved in identifying those pupils, but I think that it was primarily the school's senior leadership team who identified some learners in years 11 and 12 who are not attending school on a regular basis and who are seeking an alternative approach. We have put in place an agreement with the school to provide learning for those pupils from September.

720. At this stage of the process, we are meeting those young people, their parents and the school to discuss the range of needs that those pupils are presenting. In some cases, they face educational barriers, such as an educational statement or learning difficulties, and, in other cases, they face behavioural barriers because they behave poorly in class. Other pupils face community barriers that prevent them from coming to school. As Mr McMaster said earlier, the approach of not bothering to go to school may be a generational one. We have been given quite a challenge in trying to meet those needs. We have a strong sense of looking after the individual and looking after a tailor-made programme for individuals, and we are, therefore, confident that we can address some of those needs.

721. Those young people will be given a clear induction when they attend the organisation in September. That will include core values, the code of conduct, attendance, time-keeping procedures and behavioural expectations, as well as an induction to the various courses that they will do. The initial assessment process will include information from parents, the school and what we glean from the young person through our observations of their abilities and needs. Part of that process is working with parents. We are keen to get the parents to buy into the process by clearly communicating to them what we hope to do. We hope that that will encourage them to encourage their children to get out of bed in the morning and attend classes. Personal contact with parents, as well as school involvement, and perhaps the Education Welfare Service's involvement, will enable us to make some progress on that. That parental link is key to the success of the process.

722. Once we are involved in teaching and learning, we will then develop a personal training plan for each learner. We are keen to lay out exactly what an individual's needs and targets for achievement are and how we intend to go about addressing and achieving them. Some of that will be achieved through classroom teaching and learning, and some of it will be achieved through visits to the workplace. Some employers may come to speak to them, but, as time goes by, they will begin to sample real work in a real work environment across our core business areas. During the second year of that provision, the pupils will spend some time — perhaps half a day a week — in the workplace in order to build on their workplace learning skills, which will be so valuable to them when they leave. We will set clear milestones that they need to achieve, and we will report back to the school, parents and young people on their success towards achieving those milestones.

723. As I said, communication is the key to the process, and we are keen to put in place clear and open channels of communication with the schools so that school staff can be become involved if we are struggling with a difficult or challenging issue.

724. Those pupils will be in school three days a week and they will be with us two days a week. That sense of collaboration is important; we just need to work together. We have clearly identified with the school the areas of the curriculum that we will deliver and that the school will deliver. Again, there will be some discussion around that to make sure that there is a sense of sharing of the educational provision.

725. One of the other strengths of our programme is the embedding of vocational skills and life skills within our essential skills provision. When teaching English, maths and ICT, we try to make it life-relevant and vocationally relevant, taking account of the curriculum that they have to follow, but trying to put that into a context for the young people that they can relate to much more easily than just a theoretical process of learning English or learning maths. That is a strength of our organisation.

726. That summarises the provision that we will have in September. The other provision that we have had in schools has been very successful — the one day per week programme. Schools recognise that the work-based learning route is a valuable route for some learners, though not for all by any means. The schools are identifying those who may not choose to go to school, and that route may be a viable and possible alternative that they can follow.

727. The Chairperson: Thank you very much for that presentation. A number of members wish to pose some questions.

728. Mr P Ramsey: You are very welcome. I commend you on your work; it is an all-round approach to working with young people. Are there measurable outcomes for what your group is doing? What is the end result in relation to those young people who want to do the NVQ level 1 or level 2, for example? I suppose in these times of recession it is difficult to get employer buy-in. You need ultimate co-operation from them. Is that still there?

729. Mr Finch: Certainly, in our core business areas, there are still opportunities for employment within business administration, retailing and catering in the areas that we are working in. We are confident that the employers that we currently work with will continue to buy into that provision.

730. Mr P Ramsey: It may be difficult to provide outcomes. For example, you had 120 participants this year; how many did you have last year? Is there any way of monitoring what happens to them? Do any of the employers eventually take some of them on?

731. Mr Finch: In relation to our main post-16 provision?

732. Mr P Ramsey: Yes.

733. Mr Finch: That is all monitored year-on-year through statistical analysis. We have retention rates, success rates, progression rates, and all of that sort of thing.

734. Mr P Ramsey: Will you send that information to the Committee?

735. Mr Finch: We can certainly pass that on to you.

736. Mr P Ramsey: Finally, where does the funding for your organisation come from, and how many staff do you have?

737. Mr Finch: For our main business of Training for Success and ApprenticeshipsNI, our funding streams come from DEL. It has a funding model that we use for that provision. The funding for the work in schools comes through the entitlement framework processes; that is a separate stream of income for us. We currently have 18 staff in the organisation providing services for 120 full-time students, plus around 45 currently on schools provision.

738. Mr P Ramsey: It is good to see the work with the parents as well; that is fundamental.

739. Mr Butler: Thank you for your presentation. How many students at NVQ level would go on to take NVQ level 2?

740. Mr Finch: In the main provision or the school provision?

741. Mr Butler: In the main provision.

742. Mr Finch: The main provision covers NVQ levels 1, 2 and 3.

743. Mr Butler: How many would take level 2 and level 3?

744. Mr Finch: Around 60% of our enrolled learners in full-time provision begin at level 2 of the NVQ programmes. The other 40% begin at level 1 and will hopefully progress to level 2.

745. Mr Butler: How many would take the NVQ level 3?

746. Mr Finch: A small minority. Some 60% start on the level 2 programme and then progress from there. That is across the main provision. Within the schools, it is begun at NVQ level 1. Level 1 is an appropriate starting point for a 14 to 16-year-old. At the end of the first two-year cycle of one-day-per-week provision, some learners achieve level 1 easily within that time, and we have begun to progress them on to a level 2 framework.

747. Some pupils are achieving level 2 — or level 2 units of work — prior to leaving school, because they have that potential.

748. Mr Weir: Thank you for your presentation. Your scheme in the greater north Down area is very much based around a high level of involvement, collaboration and, to use the buzzword of the past 24 hours — coalition — with schools. I do not know how long you intend your scheme to last.

749. At risk of showing my ignorance on the issue, can I ask whether you are aware of similar schemes that operate in other parts of Northern Ireland? One of my concerns is that we sometimes have a good idea that works in an area, but do not get the full benefit of it because of a degree of silo mentality within Departments. Consequently, best practice is not rolled out elsewhere. Are you aware of other similar schemes? If so, is there any co-operation or cross-fertilisation between schemes of a similar nature?

750. Mr Finch: The main providers for the Training for Success and ApprenticeshipsNI frameworks are colleges and a range of training organisations across the Province. In the training organisations sector, there are some community-based organisations like my own, which, as I have said, has charitable status. However, there are other private-sector training organisations.

751. Some of the community-based organisations have a similar ethos and approach to ourselves, and some of them engage with schools to assist children post 14. I can think of examples of schemes in Derry, mid-Ulster and Belfast that do some work in schools with pupils post 14.

752. Mr Weir: Is there any discussion between the schemes that operate in different areas? Maybe you are closely guarding some of the details of your scheme.

753. Mr Finch: I am not.

754. Mr Weir: I am just wondering whether there is discussion, because different schemes may be able to learn from one another. There may be things that you are doing in the greater north Down area that could be applicable in, for example, Fermanagh.

755. Mr Finch: There could be improvement in that area of the sector.

756. Ms S Ramsey: Both areas had independent unionist candidates for the general election.

757. Mr Finch: There is some sharing of information on active practice, but it is an area for improvement, and the sector recognises it.

758. Mr Weir: Without pre-empting the content of the Committee's report, that may be one of the areas on which we make a recommendation.

759. Ms S Ramsey: My points follow on from what Pat and Peter said. Have you ever been part of a discussion, facilitated by either Department, on sorting out the issue of NEETs?

760. Mr Finch: The simple answer is no. I have discussed the issue with schools and with the Education Welfare Service at an operational level.

761. Ms S Ramsey: Yes, but as a key stakeholder you have never had such a discussion with any of the Departments?

762. Mr Finch: So far, there has not been an opportunity to have such a discussion.

763. Ms S Ramsey: I do not want to put you on the spot, but you are dealing with an issue that becomes a problem later in life. Do you have any ideas, suggestions or proposals for what changes to make in schools to stop the kids reaching the stage where they are referred to you?

764. Mr Finch: Our difficulty, which we have raised with DEL over the years, is that we are recruiting young people who have no GCSEs and have very poor educational attainment into post-16 provision. In many cases, those children have very poor literacy and numeracy levels.

765. Ms S Ramsey: Do you not question how those children got through the school system?

766. Mr Finch: We have been asking DEL how those children have spent 12 years in education and emerged with nothing. We recognise that many learners have genuine educational needs that prevent them from progressing in literacy and numeracy. However, many have chosen to disengage from school. We have asked DEL what it and the Department of Education are doing about that. The issue has been raised a number of times by myself and others.

767. Ms S Ramsey: It would be useful to get answers.

768. Mr Finch: Yes, it would. The schools that we work with recognise that there are young people in the NEET category. In partnership with the schools and with the Education Welfare Service, we have a possible way of improving that provision. Improving provision is our intention so that the children who choose to remain in training post 16 have a better start.

769. We are being challenged by DEL to fix something within a year or 18 months. DEL has set targets for us for the achievement of literacy and numeracy that are unrealistic. DEL wants us to achieve level 1 or level 2 in essential skills, or a grade D or grade C GCSE within a year and a half for each of our young people, yet the schools have failed to produce that level in the previous 12 years. We have targets from DEL, which are unrealistic. We want DEL and the Education Department to address the issue at much lower level. It should be addressed at primary education.

770. Ms S Ramsey: It strikes me that no discussion takes place outside the box in any of the Departments. I wish to comment on the point that Pat Ramsey touched on — the fact that we are always keen on looking at the money must be a family trait. You mentioned the entitlement framework. When pupils leave school to join your organisation, does the money that they get from DE go with them, or is that additional money?

771. Mr Finch: That is different money. If pupils remain in school, they continue to get funding through the Department of Education.

772. Ms S Ramsey: Kids can be out of school for anything between two days and five days, and your organisation gets additional money for that. The money remains in the school, instead of following the pupil?

773. Mr Finch: We invoice the schools out of their existing budgets for our services for 14 to 16-year-olds in schools. A different budget exists for the post-16 age group. The money comes out of DEL's Training for Success budget or the ApprenticeshipsNI budget. That is separate to the Department of Education budget for post-16. Provision for pre-16 is covered within the existing entitlement framework budgetary constraints.

774. Ms S Ramsey: So the school pays you.

775. Mr Finch: The school or the Department of Education pays us.

776. Ms S Ramsey: I want to hear more detail on that, because, over the years, an issue has been raised that the money does not follow the pupil.

777. Mr P Ramsey: We need to have more detail on that.

778. The Chairperson: We can follow up on that by writing to the Department of Education.

779. Mr Irwin: I note that your organisation has been in operation for 26 years, so you must be doing something right. I also note that, this year, you provide places for 45 pupils, but that you hope to enrol 65 pupils in 2010-11. Is that because more pupils are coming to you, or is it because you have the capacity to cater for more pupils? Is there a limit to the number of pupils that you can deal with?

780. Mr Finch: It is a bit of both. We think that we are providing a good service to the schools, so, increasingly, the schools are coming to us with suggestions or proposals for provision for them. The 45 learners that we have currently will continue into a second year, and we know of a further 20 that are definitely becoming involved next year. The increase in numbers is partly due to an increase in capacity on our part and partly due to an increase in our reputation among schools that we provide a good service.

781. There is a limit on that, as there must be. That is reviewed regularly by our management team to see what we can do. We are trying to formalise our educational welfare process, which, to date, has been much more of an informal process of a phone call being made, asking to see someone. We are trying to put a more clear structure in place, and, with that, we can predict more discrete provision in future and, perhaps, set a final number for what we can cope with.

782. Ms Lo: As I am the last to ask my questions, they have, more or less, already been answered. It is quite a departure to move into almost a new area of alternative provision. Some criticism has been made in the sector about duplication and fragmentation. What is your view on that? You said that, from September, you will have 10 pupils who are NEET. Those pupils are provided for only two days a week. What do they do for the rest of the week?

783. Mr Finch: I do not see it as a departure from our main provision; I see it as an enhancement of our current provision. We provide a good service post 16, and we are bringing that service back to post 14, where we will offer an individual, tailor-made approach.

784. That group of 10 pupils will be with North Down Training to do English, maths and ICT. They will also do employability skills and look at a vocationally based qualification. Of the other three days, one of them will be spent in the workplace as work experience provision, and the other two days in school will be spent following the other year 11 and 12 curriculum activities. They will have the opportunity to sit additional qualifications in school. The school has delegated the responsibility, particularly for English, maths and ICT, to us; they will not deliver that part of the curriculum. We have agreed a refined provision with the school.

785. Ms Lo: As you said, there needs to be a lot of communication between the school and the employer. Why do you think that you would do better in teaching English, maths, literature and numeracy than the school would? I do not mean any criticism; I just want to find out.

786. Mr Finch: I do not want to criticise the schools for their teaching of English and maths generally speaking, but we use a contextualised approach. We use the experiences that we have with post-16 learners to help them to learn. For example, if they went down a retailing route, the English and maths that we deliver would centre on the experiences that they will face in a retail setting. The maths teaching will be based around dealing with cash and customers, payment systems and stock control. We put the maths lessons into that type of context, and we do the same with English. That makes it more relevant, and our experience is that the learners can identify with that.

787. We also cover general life experiences. We offer a money management programme to the learners so, as they become more financially independent, we talk to them about the experiences that they will come across in dealing with money and other life experiences.

788. The Chairperson: What is your teacher to student ratio?

789. Mr Finch: We have 18 staff, and our ratio is around 12:1 in a class setting.

790. The Chairperson: Does that contribute to some of the success?

791. Mr Finch: Yes; smaller class settings help. Also there are two staff in a particular class who are dedicated to that class to look after their needs.

792. The Chairperson: It is very much person-centred, tailor-made learning.

793. Mr Finch: We have tried to go to the young person with a holistic approach. It is not just addressing their employment or vocational needs, it is looking at all the other factors. We are dealing with issues of drug and substance abuse and sexual abuse; we are dealing with the wider issues as well.

794. The Chairperson: So the pastoral care element is just as important?

795. Mr Finch: It is really important.

796. The Chairperson: Thank you for your presentation. Your briefing and contribution will be included in the Committee inquiry report, and there are a few actions that we are going to follow up on as a result of points that you have made.

19 May 2010

Members present for all or part of the proceedings:

Mrs Dolores Kelly (Chairperson)
Mr Peter Weir (Deputy Chairperson)
Ms Anna Lo
Mrs Claire McGill
Mr Pat Ramsey
Ms Sue Ramsey

Witnesses:

Ms Olwen Lyner
Ms Heather Reid
Mr David Murphy

 

Northern Ireland Association for the Care and Resettlement of Offenders

Ms Claire Meenahan
Ms Anne Schulz
Ms Koulla Yiasouma

 

Include Youth

797. The Chairperson (Mrs D Kelly): You are all welcome. Thanks for attending the Committee session to give members a briefing for our inquiry. I invite Olwen to introduce the team.

798. Ms Olwen Lyner (Northern Ireland Association for the Care and Resettlement of Offenders): Thank you. I welcome the Committee to our headquarters.

799. The Chairperson: This auspicious building.

800. Ms Lyner: Absolutely. We thank you for the opportunity to give evidence. It is important to mention the fact that the Northern Ireland Association for the Care and Resettlement of Offenders (NIACRO) and Include Youth have come together for this purpose. Our briefing paper explains the differences and complementarity of our groups. By joining our presentations, we feel that the Committee is getting a double whammy. There has been quite a lot of collaboration between our staff in putting together today's presentation to avoid repeating too much and to make the best use of time. I am aware that time is shorter than we anticipated, but, at this stage, it is hard for us to cut out anything. Therefore, we will keep going.

801. Quite a lot of other people who we would like members to meet have arrived on the first floor of the building, and we hope that we will have time for that. Witnesses will have the opportunity to introduce themselves, but the team includes Heather Reid from NIACRO and Claire Meenehan from Include Youth, each of whom is supported by a service user. We want everyone to have the opportunity to make their prepared submissions, so I hope that the Committee will bear with us.

802. The Chairperson: Thank you, Olwen. I want to reassure everyone that although the setting appears formal, the microphones are here so that the evidence can be recorded and reported by Hansard and read via the Assembly website. Please do not be put off. Your views are important to us and we are keen to hear them.

803. Ms Claire Meenehan (Include Youth): I would like to spend the next couple to minutes talking to the Committee about the Give and Take scheme, which is one of Include Youth's largest projects. I want to speak about five things. I want to tell the Committee who we are, what we do, how we do it, why it works and make a few points for members to consider.

804. Give and Take is an employability scheme for young people aged 16 to 21 who are not ready to access mainstream training or employment. The young people with whom and for whom we work are deemed to be at high risk of social exclusion. A recent profile of our young people showed that 100% of them are not in education, employment or training, which is a characteristic that never changes. Seventy-five per cent of them had essential skills needs; 74% were young care-leavers; and 49% were early school-leavers. Mental and emotional health problems are among other characteristics of the group with whom we work, which also includes young people who live in unsettled accommodation. All our young people are referred through social services and they can get a place with us only if they cannot access or sustain mainstream provision.

805. So, what do we do? Our project operates on a regional basis. We have premises in Belfast, Armagh, Derry and Ballymena. More recently, we moved into Omagh and Coleraine. The three components of our scheme are as follows: supported work experiences, training, and personal development and mentoring. Those components are standardised across Northern Ireland, so that every young person on the scheme gets the same quality of service regardless of who they are or where they come from. This is really important to us.

806. How do we do it? In respect of the first component — supported work placements — we are, ultimately, an employability scheme for those young people. However, the supported work placements are individually tailored to suit the needs and interests of the young people with whom we work, so every young person gets a say in the job or the placement that they want. Every young person has an identified careers officer who actually comes into Give and Take to meet them during the course of the year to ensure that placements suit their needs. It is really important that those careers officers come to us, because the young people feel quite intimidated in going to careers.

807. The system is three-tiered. We offer work prep, work able, and work well. Work prep is about preparing young people for the world of work, which might have been alien to them. A lot of it concerns attitudinal behaviour in the world of work and improving their social skills. Work prep is more about taster days. Work well comes into play when the young person is in a sustained placement.

808. The second component of the scheme is training, and all the participants are offered essential skills training. Include Youth previously worked with further education colleges on essential skills training, but after seven years that arrangement no longer worked for us, and Include Youth recruited its own tutors. That training is very resource intensive; however, it pays dividends, and qualifications have soared in the past couple of years. One of the reasons why the previous arrangement did not work was the requirement by the colleges for a 40-hour rule in essential skills training. It means that students must attend for a minimum of 40 hours before they can receive a qualification, and if some of our young people with chaotic lives missed a couple of sessions they could not receive a qualification. Similarly, the four-week rule, which leads a young person who did not attend training for four weeks to be expelled from the course, did not work for some of our students who have to attend hospital or who are homeless. The other issue was that if a young person was on the scheme they could only go up one level in any one year, whereas some of our young people are now jumping two or three levels in a year. The new system works much better.

809. The third element of the scheme is personal development and mentoring, which I believe is the lynchpin. These young people face a number of barriers to employment, and, if Include Youth did not work with them on those issues and help them to overcome them, they will not be engaged or able to move on to employment, further education or training.

810. The Give and Take scheme works for these young people for a number of different reasons. All programmes are individually tailored to suit the needs and interests of the young people in question, and we have qualified staff, the majority of whom are youth-work trained and have excellent skills in engaging young people. The scheme also works at a pace with which the young person is comfortable, and it is very outcome-focused, offering seven qualifications in one year so that participants leave the scheme with something concrete. We offer young people driving lessons and the opportunity to do their driving theory test. That has been a huge incentive, and five of our people have passed their driving tests in the past six months.

811. We stalk young people — [Laughter.] — no; we track, monitor and follow young people. We find that some people will go AWOL, and we will call to their houses, phone them or drive out to collect them, because that is what some young people need in order to keep engaged in our programme. We also offer a holistic approach and one-to-one mentoring so that when a young person begins the scheme there is someone who has undertaken a 60-hour training course to help and support that person to stay engaged during his or her time on the scheme. That has been a huge success.

812. We recognise that progression is not always linear. It is not about where a young person starts, it is about where they finish. During their time with us, participants may go up and down and require more intensive support at different times. Include Youth also recognises and celebrates achievement, and we are holding our annual certificate presentation on 9 June in Belfast City Hall. Committee members are very welcome to attend that event.

813. Include Youth would like the Committee to consider the following points. We would love the education maintenance allowance (EMA) to be offered to all young people who are on the Give and Take scheme and to those who are involved in similar projects. We would also really appreciate support with essential skills training, and recognition that the 40-hour and four-week rules do not work for our young people. It would be great if a more flexible approach to learning could be taken and that there is recognition that our young people have career and life aspirations too, and that, with the right support, they can reach their potential. Finally, we would like support in setting up employment and training opportunities with employers specifically targeted at this group of young people.

814. The Chairperson: Thank you very much for that Claire. Will anyone else be contributing or do you want to take questions from Committee members?

815. Ms Heather Reid (Northern Ireland Association for the care and Resettlement of Offenders): I am going to speak on behalf of NIACRO.

816. The Chairperson: Do Committee members wish to hear both presentations and then ask questions?

817. Ms S Ramsey: Yes. There is a split developing, and I like that. [Laughter.]

818. Ms Reid: There is not such a split. I am here to represent NIACRO's Youth Employability programme, which is the child of our adult programme Jobtrack and is based on the same model of one-to-one intervention and an individual-needs-led approach. We share a great deal of commonality with the Give and Take scheme, and a number of the things Claire mentioned are appropriate to our programme and our young people.

819. Specifically, the Youth Employability programme is a partnership with the Youth Justice Agency and the Probation Board for Northern Ireland.

820. The programme targets young people aged between 15 and 18 who have come through the justice system. There has been an increase in number of serious-risk offenders who are coming on to the programme — prolific young offenders who have gone through the system time again. Those are the very people with whom the formal education and training systems do not want to deal, and therein lies one of the biggest challenges.

821. The young people are referred under a youth conference order system or as part of a release package from the Juvenile Justice Centre or Hydebank Wood. As Claire said, the types of individuals referred to the programme face significant difficulties and challenges and have had negative experiences in their lives. Many of them have chaotic lifestyles, in which they experience boredom and peer pressure and have a distinct lack of positive role models in their lives.

822. The make-up of the group is predominantly male. That is not discriminatory; it simply reflects the offender population. Twenty-five per cent of the young people on the programme in the past year are prolific offenders. That requires a much more intensive and supportive approach whereby we do not let the young people go; but if they do leave, we track them and bring them back. We keep our door open, and often they come back to it.

823. Significantly, 90% of the young people on the programme last year did not complete formal education. They, therefore, came to us with no qualifications at all. More significantly and perhaps more worryingly, 15% of them left formal education at a young age when they were in either aged 10 or 11. Obviously, there is a link between that and engaging in offending behaviour.

824. We had expected that a significant number of offenders would not show, given the serious nature of their offences and the fact that they were referrals. We thought that it would be good if we could get 50% of them to participate. In fact, only 10% were no shows. The young people wanted to come, because they saw the programme as a positive step, and because they were probably supported to do so as a result of their court cases. If those young people then started to take seriously the need to demonstrate a move away from offending, that was quite significant. The other difference this year is that there has been a 20% increase in the number of young people on the programme who are already 18. That was the result of a change in the sentencing arrangements and the fact that young people were being charged but their court cases were not being heard until after their eighteenth birthday. That is significant in respect of the ability to access mainstream programmes.

825. Like the Give and Take scheme, our programme has Northern Ireland-wide geographical coverage, except in the north of the Province. That is because of an issue with funding, which we wish to progress in the future. As I said, our model is individual-needs led and is focused on progression into employment and training. Employment is the ultimate goal, but given the chaos in the job market, more and more focus is being placed on training and education.

826. Our role is more about providing linkage and brokerage than training and qualifications on site. We believe that offenders should be able to go back into the community by linking them into local provision through the Youth Employability programme. Our ultimate goal is to get offenders on to programmes offered by DEL-supported providers. That requires our staff to provide ongoing support and engagement to the providers. Quite often, the relationship between the providers and the offenders breaks down, and we must support and repair it.

827. Any group work that we do is focused on job search. That is delivered in a group-work setting in conjunction with the Careers Service, and it works very well. The specialist part of the job search activity is about encouraging young people to disclose their convictions. We, as an organisation, do not advocate that people do not disclose such information. We, therefore, develop skills in young people so that they are able to communicate and demonstrate to employers and training providers that they have moved on. Through our specialist advocacy service, we provide employers, training providers and DEL's Careers Service with training and support on legislation relating to the rehabilitation of offenders to ensure that the appropriate advice and guidance is given. We see this as being fundamental to working with our target group.

828. There have been several positive outcomes in the past year. Fifty-five per cent of those who left the programme moved to positive destinations, as we call them. That is quite significant, given their backgrounds and profiles. Thirty-three per cent moved into Training for Success, 16% moved directly into employment, and 6% went back into education.

829. We support the education maintenance allowance. We have noticed, particularly in rural communities, that delays in the payment of EMA significantly impact on a young person's ability to attend. Having worked hard to get them to go to college or into training, their payments may not come through for five months. Often, their families are in poverty, so delays exacerbate the situation, setting the young person up to fail.

830. We share the concerns about essential skills delivery. However, specific to our work, we have identified a gap, or inconsistency, in Training for Success. Young people who come through the care system can get on to the programme up to the age of 22. However, that provision does not apply to young people who come through the justice system, and it impacts particularly on young people who, perhaps at the age of 16, go into Hydebank or the Youth Justice Centre and do not come out until they are over 18. Consequently, they miss the window of opportunity. That discrepancy could and should be addressed.

831. Finally, I ask for the Committee's support in encouraging, in particular, DEL to ensure that people who provide careers advice or guidance for young people from a justice background are trained in legislation, because poor advice is very damaging and can, unnecessarily, take young people down a path to failure.

832. The Chairperson: Thank you, Heather. Do the young people wish to add anything?

833. Ms Anne Schulz: My name is Anne Schulz, and I have just turned 19. I want to tell you a bit about me and why I was referred to the Give and Take scheme. Before going into care, I did really well in school and was a grade-A student. Even though things were difficult for me at home, I managed to keep my grades up. When I was brought into care, things got worse and, as a result, I never got my GCSEs. I then moved into foster care, where I felt part of a family again. To this day, I am part of that family. I attended Bangor tech twice, and, on both occasions, I got EMA. Again, I was a good student, and my confidence and grades went back up.

834. On reaching my eighteenth birthday, I had to move out of my foster home, despite me and my foster family wanting me to stay. I moved to Larne. It was my first time living alone, which was a big worry to me because I had to cook my own meals, clean the house and pay bills. I was no longer able to stay at tech, because I could not travel from Larne to Bangor every day, so, again, I did not get my qualifications. I had other worries as well. The fact that I was living on my own meant that I had no routine, and I was no longer getting EMA or foster care money. Consequently, because I could not afford to keep it anymore, I had to sell my motorbike. I tried to go to tech in Larne, but the courses on offer there were just not for me. Therefore, I just sat in the house. Living in Larne, I felt very isolated because I was away from my foster family. None of that helped my mental health issues. Shortly after moving out of my foster home, I suffered panic attacks and was diagnosed with depression.

835. When I heard about the Give and Take scheme, I thought that I would give it a go, and my social worker referred me to it. I think that Give and Take is different to most techs, because it is more flexible and enjoyable. I am now back doing classes, and I aim to achieve up to seven qualifications, including essential skills. Last week, we did our first aid training, and we are working towards our Duke of Ed'. I also have a mentor, who meets me every week. She supports me and helps me with anything that I need. I am also getting driving lessons, which will open up many career opportunities to me. In addition, we do work prep, which enables you to experience different jobs and see what you would like to do.

836. Our essential skills class is small and the tutors are really good, so you get more one-on-one time and more work done. If you miss more than four classes, you do not get kicked out, because the staff know about your needs and circumstances. A member of staff will phone you in the morning to make sure that you are up and that you are going to class. If you cannot make it to class, a member of staff will collect you and take you there. Staff also encourage students to do well.

837. I hope to go to university. I am really interested in cooking and animals, and I have an idea that I would love to open a food business that caters for people and animals. [Laughter.]

838. Ms S Ramsey: Some restaurants cook animals. [Laughter.]

839. The Chairperson: There used to be a show on television — I am not sure whether Kenny Everett was on it — that featured a cat in a microwave.

840. Ms Schulz: I attend the Give and Take programme. Although money is very tight, I still travel from Larne to Belfast to attend my classes. I see a counsellor to overcome my mental health issues. Most people who take part in the Give and Take programme have had similar experiences to me. I can speak for most people who take part in the programme when I say that normal tech does not meet our needs; it does not work for us. If the Give and Take programme did not exist, I would be sitting at home playing my Xbox all day. That is just the way that it is.

841. Give and Take is about giving young people support to deal with their lives and their childhoods. It also helps young people to plan their futures. Thank you for listening.

842. The Chairperson: You are a good advocate for the young people who you represent. You are going to be a role model for how people can turn their lives around in the face of adversity. Well done. David , are you going to make a contribution?

843. Mr David Murphy: I was referred to NIACRO through a youth conference order. I came here with no qualifications; no GCSEs; nothing. Over the past year that I have been here, I have been through three training schemes and now have enough qualifications and experience to get a job.

844. Since I have been here, I have been supported really well, and I have overcome fears and challenges. I am applying for a lot of jobs, and getting turned down; but I get back up and apply for more jobs.

845. The Chairperson: Unfortunately, with the economic recession, you are not on your own in that respect. I know that many people are applying for jobs. I was talking to someone recently who had applied for 80 jobs. You are either overqualified, underqualified or there are just too many people in the workplace.

846. Ms Reid: And the good news is —

847. Mr D Murphy: I start a job on Monday.

848. The Chairperson: Happy days. There will be a celebration when you get your first pay packet. What age are you?

849. Mr D Murphy: I am 19.

850. The Chairperson: Well done to you and to the teams that have supported you and Anne.

851. Mr Weir: Thank you for your contributions and for outlining the valuable work that you do. How many young people do you deal with each year?

852. Ms Meenehan: The Give and Take scheme is very intense; every young person who takes part gets two workers and a mentor. We work with 140 young people a year on a regional basis.

853. Ms Reid: Youth Employability worked with 188 young people last year.

854. Mr Weir: What is the average length of time involved? Is it a lot less than a year, or does it extend beyond a year?

855. Ms Meenehan: In the Give and Take scheme, the young people are with us for a year, so we try to get them as far on as we can in that time. There can be circumstances in which a young person is not ready to progress. In such circumstances, there is a three-month exit strategy, and if a young person is not ready to move on we can be flexible and continue to work with him or her. However, such an arrangement has to be very structured.

856. Ms Reid: For Youth Employability, the average time is six months. However, that could increase to two years. Young people have progressed to our adult programme, so the time depends on the level of support required.

857. Mr Weir: I want to ask about the referral aspect. Heather, you said that your referrals come from the youth justice system, which means that you can be fairly certain of the numbers. Claire, you said that the participants in your scheme are referred to you by social services.

858. Is the potential number of referrals an issue for you? Obviously, due to staffing levels, the number of staff you have is limited. Could social services refer more people to you if you had more staff? I am not saying that there should be a waiting list, but they may have to prioritise because of the limitations.

859. Ms Meenehan: That is true. We work with all the trust areas, and each trust area holds 12 places. More recently, the Northern Board and the Western Board extended that to 20 places. Every trust will have a gatekeeper, who prioritises the referrals that we get so that we have the most appropriate referrals. However, there is quite a substantial waiting list in every trust area. If there were inappropriate referrals or if, for some reason, it was not working out, that referral would close, and another person would take that place.

860. Mr Weir: Claire, you said that there was a relationship with FE colleges but that it did not entirely gel because of the more rigid structures involved. Heather, you said that you want ensure that, from the DEL perspective, careers advice is improved. Focusing on the Department's role, what direct links do you have with the Department and what support does it give you? Apart from what has been mentioned, do you have any recommendations for action that the Department could take? Although this inquiry will cover many aspects of NEETs, our focus is principally on the Department and how it can improve its role with regard to your work.

861. Ms Meenehan: We had a relationship with the colleges for seven years, and each year it became more problematic. The young people were being set up to fail again. We were putting them into classes and, because of the structures, they failed and felt like failures yet again. We were then able to secure money to redeploy resources and employ essential-skills tutors. At one stage, DEL was thinking about piloting a scheme within the Give and Take scheme. However, although it was a recommendation, it never came about. I still think that it would be good if the Department could pilot smaller classes and train tutors who could engage our young people. Quite often towards the end, the Department was sending tutors who were not skilled in engaging our young people. The tutors found it difficult to work with the young people, and vice versa. However, it is completely different now.

862. Ms Reid: NIACRO has, on numerous occasions, attempted to engage DEL on the youth employability steering group, even in an advisory capacity, with a view to informing DEL of the issues facing young people, particularly those with convictions. That has not happened. We have not had any engagement at a strategic level. We have positive relationships with careers officers and careers management, but that is because we do a practical piece of work. Although DEL says that Training for Success targets young offenders, it actually targets those on the scale who are at the lowest risk of offending. Our issue is that the young people who are offending and who need the most intervention are not being incorporated into the DEL programmes. Colleges are quite discriminatory once they know that young people are in the youth justice system, and they do not even want those young people on the premises. That is a huge issue.

863. Mr P Ramsey: It is reassuring to see so many people here. The purpose of getting out and about is to ensure that the Committee is accountable and is listening to people. David, good luck with your new job: I hope that it works out for you. Anne, I hope that you secure the university place that you ultimately desire.

864. It would be remiss of us not to commend and acknowledge the significant contribution that Include Youth and NIACRO make to young people. It would also be remiss of me not to acknowledge Tony Martin from Derry, and the personal and organisational contribution that he made to the difficult times in our city's history and the ongoing work that he does.

865. However, this inquiry is about looking at and evaluating best practice and good value for money, where the outputs are clear and concise. Clearly, there is no doubt that projects such as Include Youth are extremely good. Your figures show that 100% of young people who join the scheme are not involved in anything. I want to tease out issues, not today but on another day when we have a more concise database from you. Your figures show that in 2009-10, for example, 55% went into education. I would like more definitive and qualitative information that the Committee can use in order to go to the next stage. If there is a model of good practice, we want to champion and advocate it, and make sure that it is rolled out.

866. I take Peter's point: although the Department for Employment and Learning has a fundamental role, we now have the new Department of Justice, which also clearly has a role. We want to see how we can best use our role to bring what influence we can to bear. However, I am keen to know what qualifications were achieved over the past few years by those who came into the programme with no qualifications. Did the programme enable those people, like Anne, to go on to the next stage, although she made the point that she was doing very well at school. However, most people who join the programme are not doing that well, and become marginalised and excluded from society. I would like information about qualifications, whether those young people remained in education, and whether those at low risk became re-offenders. There is clearly no doubt, however, about the value and contribution of the programme.

867. One of your aspirations is for mainstream training and education programmes tailored to individual needs, which are considered high maintenance. How much more funding do you want to make the programme better? The Committee needs that sort of detailed information when looking at inquiry recommendations to ensure that those issues are followed through.

868. The Chairperson: It would be useful if you could provide those figures. If, when you go away, you think about something that you should have mentioned, you can submit it the Committee Clerk, and it will be considered.

869. Mrs McGill: You are welcome, and I wish David and Anne well for the future. Congratulations, David, on getting that job. Do you start on Monday?

870. Mr D Murphy: Yes, hopefully. [Laughter.]

871. Mrs McGill: What is the job?

872. Mr D Murphy: It is at the HCL call centre in Belfast.

873. Mrs McGill: Very good. Well done, David. Anne, you are heading for university, and I wish you well on that. It was interesting that FE colleges are, in your view, by and large failing. Did they fail you, Anne?

874. Ms Schulz: Yes.

875. Mrs McGill: If it is the case that the bodies and organisations charged with doing something and providing for all young people, from 16 years of age upwards, are not doing so, that really is a massive concern. You all clearly articulated the issues, including lack of flexibility. Another issue of concern is that the tutors lack the very skills that are required. There is something fundamentally wrong, and we must find some way to address that. How that is done is, of course, another issue.

876. Heather referred to the situation in rural areas. I represent West Tyrone, which is very much a rural area, and having to travel has always been a concern. A lot of people do not understand that added burden. It is not easy.

877. I raised that issue on behalf of a constituent a couple of years ago. By the time one gets a result, one has given up on doing any course. It is much easier to get some kind of job, for however many hours, and get a few pounds at the end of the week. There is no encouragement being shown, and we need to address that. I wish you well; you are a credit.

878. Ms S Ramsey: I apologise for being late; I was at a meeting in Dundonald this morning and got lost. [Laughter.] Maybe I should do one of those schemes.

879. The Chairperson: She was lost and is found. [Laughter.]

880. Ms S Ramsey: The presentation was great; I have seen the briefing note. I have a couple of specific questions, and I would like to ask Anne a few questions. The Committee was keen to carry out this inquiry and we are keen to have positive outcomes at the end of it. There is no point in doing all this work if we do not try and instigate change throughout the Executive and not just in DEL.

881. Your briefing states that 75% of young people on the Give and Take scheme had essential skills needs. Does that mean that people did not attend school, left school, or did they get lost in the schools system? Is it a combination of people who just decided not to attend school, or were they sent to the back of the class, which sometimes happens as we know?

882. Ms Meenehan: It is a combination. There is a mixture of early school-leavers and school refusers, but there are also young people who attended school and were just left at the back of the class.

883. Ms S Ramsey: Can we get some of those figures? We would like to get information on whether the kids were out of school. Pat is right; we need a lot of information so that we can point out where things went wrong in the schools system.

884. Ms Meenehan: Yes, absolutely. We have those figures with us.

885. A lot of our young people seem to have got lost in the system somewhere. Legally, young people have to remain at school until the age of 16, but we are working with a group of young people for whom that is just not the reality. They left school at quite a young age. A common theme is that many of them have had really negative school experiences. Even going back into the classroom is a big deal for them. As far as they are concerned, it is a case of: I am not as far on as other people my age. For them, addressing and overcoming that problem is difficult.

886. Ms S Ramsey: During a presentation to the Committee last week, the issue of when the education welfare officers (EWO) service kicks in was raised. Is it after six months, a year, or 18 months? By then, the damage has been done. We are looking into that.

887. What is crucial, I think, is that a consistent approach to young people is taken, whether they are in care or in the criminal justice system. We would like more information on that. Young people in a care setting can be involved in Training for Success up to the age of 22, which is not the case for those coming through the juvenile justice system. We need balance. I come from a constituency that suffers from juvenile justice issues. We need balance, and we need to realise that some people are in the juvenile justice system through no fault of their own. Society needs to take responsibility for that.

888. Why is the Department not keen on being part of the youth employability forum?

889. Ms Reid: If I knew, I would tell you.

890. Ms S Ramsey: Has the decision been made at senior level, or did the Department just say that it was not attending?

891. Ms Reid: The Department just did not engage at all. I suggest that the Department is trying to have a consistent approach to all of the projects, or perhaps the focus on offending is not as high as we would like it to be.

892. Ms S Ramsey: Anne, why did you have to move out when you were 18 years old?

893. Ms Schulz: I had to move because there were no funds for young people over the age of 18 to stay with their foster families. I had no choice.

894. Ms S Ramsey: Does that only apply to foster families? The state has a duty of care —

895. Ms Koulla Yiasouma (Include Youth): Anne got caught in the middle of a transition period. There is now some provision to allow children to stay with foster carers if they are in education. Anne seems to have got caught just before those arrangements came into place.

896. The Chairperson: Does that only apply if they are in education?

897. Ms Schulz: I was in education.

898. Ms Yiasouma: It is really difficult, because it is only just bedding in. It is symptomatic of the lack of foster carers. It is apposite that we bring this up during foster care fortnight.

899. Ms S Ramsey: Again, I think that having more specific information would be useful to the Committee. The other point is —

900. The Chairperson: Sorry for interrupting. Koulla was going to wind up the evidence session for the witnesses. It is better to formally bring her to the Committee table.

901. Ms S Ramsey: I am conscious that I do not know details and that we are in a public forum, but why, Anne, did you find it easier to travel to Belfast from Larne than to Bangor?

902. Ms Shulz: I had been living in Newtownards, which is quite close to Bangor and I had my own transport. My EMA paid for a motorbike. Sometimes I got the bus and sometimes I used my motorbike, depending on the weather. When I moved to Larne, because I am still a learner driver, the distance was just too far. I was in the last few weeks of my course when I had to quit because I could not make it from Larne to Bangor.

903. Ms S Ramsey: Right, no problem, thank you. Good luck in your job and in anything that you do. I think that you will achieve whatever you want to, and you can cook all the animals that you want. [Laughter.]

904. The Chairperson: I have just been reminded by the Deputy Chairperson that it was Hale and Pace who were on television that day, not Kenny Everett.

905. Ms Lo: I thank the witnesses for their presentations. I spent years in the voluntary sector and I am very aware of your good work. Every time I hear you, I am further impressed. Thank you very much for helping young people who have been so disadvantaged from a young age. I am happy to hear from the two young people, who are examples of your good work. Good luck to both of you.

906. I want to follow up on Claire's point that she worked with FE colleges for seven years and that it did not work out. Heather also made the point that when FE colleges found out that people had a background of offending, they did not want know. Surely, the Department needs to do something about that. We cannot let that go on. Teachers should be aware of people's backgrounds and that it is not a case of one size fits all. If teachers do not have the relevant awareness training, it must be given to them, rather than just asking young people to turn up at 9.00 am on the dot and leave at 12 noon and without anyone caring what happens to them outside that time. That is something that the Committee should pick up on. Trying to talk to FE colleges for seven years, and trying to educate them on a voluntary basis, is long enough. If they are still not doing this, we must ask why.

907. The Chairperson: We can do that, yes.

908. Ms Lo: Thank you very much.

909. The Chairperson: I am conscious that a number of young people are waiting to meet us downstairs. I do not want to curtail the debate, which has been very interesting thus far. I am certainly interested in the fact that under the social services foster-care regime that we have, people can remain in foster care after 18 only if they are in education. I have a 23-year-old and a 20-year-old still living with me. I cannot get rid of them. [Laughter.]

910. Therefore, it is not necessarily the norm that once a young person is 18 he or she is out of the family. There should be more of a reflection of what society is like these days.

911. Ms Yiasouma: I am the director of Include Youth, and I will try to briefly sum up some of the points that have been made, because young people from NIACRO and Include Youth are waiting downstairs for a more informal discussion.

912. I also extend an invitation to the Committee to visit our organisation locally. In Derry, NIACRO and Include Youth are just around the corner from each other. In Armagh, our offices covering the southern area are next door to each other. The Committee is also very welcome to visit us in Omagh, north Down, Belfast and Coleraine. I am sure that I speak for NIACRO as well. As an aside, we are delighted to provide our evidence in partnership with NIACRO. Include Youth is the son or daughter of NIACRO. We were spawned from it, and, 30 years on, the relationship remains strong, which is great.

913. We will also be providing a full response to the inquiry that will specifically include the statistics and information members asked for. Without panicking our policy co-ordinator, that response should be available within the next week or so.

914. We talked a lot about the failures of DEL and the institutions that it runs and sponsors. However, we need to be clear that the young people who NIACRO and Include Youth work for have been failed by a number of processes before the age of 16, not least by education. We talked about what is happening concerning essential skills in FE, and that is symptomatic and reflective of what happens in mainstream education. The system cannot deal with children who, through no fault of their own, live in very difficult and traumatic circumstances. Therefore, those children are ignored, excluded or encouraged not to attend. That is how those children find themselves in what we call NEET. We must consider whether mainstream DEL services are able to offer young people the specialist and intensive support that they need or whether that process needs to involve NIACRO, Include Youth and the other organisations that the Committee has heard from throughout its inquiry.

915. If the Committee decides that pre-vocational accredited schemes are necessary, such as the Youth Employability or Give and Take schemes, we argue that certain components must be in place. We have no objection to being subject to an accreditation process that would mean that we could support these young people. However, within that, we would like to see educational maintenance allowances for young people. The Committee brought a motion on that issue to the Assembly, and its progress will be crucial.

916. The other thing happening in DEL is the scoping study on NEETs. The term covers 16- to 24-year-olds, and we have talked about the challenges for young people within that huge group. We need information to know exactly which young people we are talking about, their backgrounds and their needs. Some young people are NEET for a very short time and others, similar to those who you heard from today, are likely to be NEET for quite a while.

917. Pat mentioned resourcing. Resourcing, my goodness, will continue to be a huge issue for organisations such as ours. The Youth Employability programme is funded on a shoestring budget and the Give and Take scheme has been well funded for the last two years. That said; I lie awake at night wondering what will happen going forward. We have managed to develop a scheme that we think meets the needs of young people. However, I worry that, come March 2011, if not before, that funding will go, just as we have begun to get a scheme that works. Therefore, within accreditation, we are asking that resources be given.

918. We talked about essential skills. I hope that the Committee has heard that we need a process that takes a flexible approach to young people and meets their needs where other programmes have not done so, from the minute that they enter education, rather than the moment they enter post-primary education.

919. I leave the Committee with the fact that the recession has seen a dramatic increase in the NEET population across these islands. However, regardless of the economic environment, without our specialist support, the young people who NIACRO and Include Youth work for will probably always be NEET. They are not young people who are not unemployed or unengaged because the opportunities are not there for them; they are unemployed and unengaged because they have not been given the opportunity to develop the capacities and skills to be able to engage with the employment, education and training environments. We argue very strongly that schemes such as ours, and the others that you have heard from, are currently necessary to help young people make up for the systems that have failed them for a very long time.

920. Without further ado, I invite the Committee to come to the first floor and meet the punters, who can probably explain the situation far more eloquently than me.

921. The Chairperson: Thank you very much, Koulla. I certainly hear what you are saying. However, there is also a responsibility to support families, perhaps even at an earlier stage. It is not just about the system. In some cases, children have been failed in life even before that.

922. Ms S Ramsey: Can we ask the Assembly Research Service to provide us with a costing for different sections of NEET versus what it would cost for the system to be right? It would be useful to have that comparison.

923. The Committee Clerk: Yes, we can ask for that. It would show the cost of prevention rather than cure.

924. The Chairperson: That finishes the session. Thank you for attending and for sharing your stories with us. In particular, I wish Anne and David all the best in their future careers. I thank them for coming, and I look forward to working closely with NIACRO and Include Youth in the coming months as we face financial constraints and difficult decisions. Your presentation will be included in the inquiry report, and, as I said earlier, if you have any further information that you wish to share, please contact us.

2 June 2010

Members present for all or part of the proceedings:

Mrs Dolores Kelly (Chairperson)
Mr Peter Weir (Deputy Chairperson)
Mr Paul Butler
Mr Trevor Clarke
Ms Anna Lo
Mr David McClarty
Mr Pat Ramsey
Ms Sue Ramsey

Witnesses:

Ms Clare Conlon

 

YouthAction NI

Mr David Guilfoyle

 

Youth Council for Northern Ireland

Mr Sean Madden

 

YouthAction NI

Mr Harry Murphy

 

Artillery Youth Centre

925. The Chairperson (Mrs D Kelly): We have set aside approximately half an hour for the briefing. I ask the witnesses to make their presentation within five or 10 minutes. That will allow members to ask questions afterwards. I believe that a paper is to be distributed. I welcome David Guilfoyle, Harry Murphy, Sean Madden and Clare Conlon.

926. Mr David Guilfoyle (Youth Council for Northern Ireland): On behalf of the group, I welcome the Committee's active interest in this matter. We thank you for the opportunity to make our presentation; we know that you have a busy agenda. Therefore, we will try to be succinct and to the point.

927. As some of you will be aware, the Youth Council is a public body which advises the Department of Education on key issues that affect young people. We also try to promote initiatives to meet young people's needs. Therefore, we are here today because we recognise that young people not in education, employment or training (NEETs) need particular support. The most important members of the panel are my three colleagues, rather than me. They all play an active role in that field.

928. YouthAction is the largest voluntary organisation that is grant-aided by the Youth Council. It has an excellent track record of working with young adults. Clare Conlon is head of training. Sean Madden is now a project worker. Formerly, he was a participant in a range of programmes that are run by YouthAction. Harry Murphy is a former member of the Youth Council. He is now a senior youth worker at the Artillery Youth Centre in Belfast, which is well known for its innovative and effective work with young people.

929. Without any more ado, Chairperson, I will pass over to them so that they can tell you their stories.

930. Ms Clare Conlon (YouthAction NI): I will tell you briefly who we are as an organisation; the programmes that we run that are specifically tailored to young people who are classified as NEET; and the approaches that we use in those programmes.

931. YouthAction Northern Ireland is a regional voluntary youth organisation with a 65-year history of working with young people. All of our work is done with young people in communities to improve their life chances, tackle inequalities that they face, and contribute to their communities.

932. Since the mid to late 1980s, we have made working with young unemployed people a key focus of our work. In the early rounds of European funding, we were able to draw down funding successfully for programmes that were specifically tailored to young unemployed people through the European social fund, the Equal programme and the Horizon strand of the European Community employment initiative.

933. What do we do? We offer a number of bespoke programmes for young unemployed people — those who are classified as core NEET, who face a range of barriers and a number of complex issues in their lives that prevent them from succeeding and achieving in formal education or training programmes.

934. We offer basic programmes that focus on personal development right through to a level 3 apprenticeship in youth work, which uses youth work methodologies. We offer a range of programmes, all of which, irrespective of to whom they are targeted, are based on youth work approaches and methodologies. Youth workers' skills are fundamental to the success of programmes and positive outcomes for young people.

935. We have developed those programmes during the past 15 to 20 years. They are all well documented. We write up our models of practice. I have copies of reports for the Committee. The most recent report relates to a programme for young mothers, which was launched by the Minister of Education in February 2010. Therefore, models of best practice exist in the youth sector that have been documented, tested and tried.

936. The Reach programme is currently funded through the new rounds of funding from the European social fund and the Youth Council for Northern Ireland. It is targeted specifically at young people who have few or no qualifications. Of the 208 young people whom we have worked with during the past year and a half, around 91% have qualifications that are lower than level 2, and 55% have no qualifications at all. That is a startling fact.

937. The programme is targeted specifically at young people who have few or no qualifications and who face a range of barriers and challenges. It focuses very much on basic personal development. It examines young people's personal life issues. Many of those young people are addicted to drugs, either prescribed or illegal. They have problems that are associated with alcohol and homelessness — a plethora of challenges that are all interlinked. Sean can discuss those issues further. Reach is very flexible and adaptable. We work where young people are at in that stage of their lives.

938. Another course that we offer is called Moving On, and is specifically tailored to young mothers and the challenges they face. People talk about young people as if they are a homogenous group, but they are individuals with different needs. Groupings like young mothers have particular needs; so have young men, and we try to respond to each. We offer a young men's volunteering scheme, which lasts for six months and focuses on developing young men's role and status in their communities. That has proved very successful too.

939. We have delivered a community leadership programme for 20 years. It is an employment and training programme for young leaders who lack the traditional qualifications, confidence and skills to be able to move on into further employment or higher education. That has proven highly successful. It is now recognised by the Department of Employment and Learning as an apprenticeship in youth work.

940. From Reach programmes for really marginalised young people to the level 3 community leadership programme, we use youth work methodologies and develop the skills that are fundamental to that.

941. The three Rs of youth work are recruitment, relationship and the response to programmes. They make all the difference. No matter how good or sophisticated a programme is, if we cannot engage or access where young people are at, it will not work. The skills of the youth worker are fundamental to making the programme work for young people, wherever they are, and to giving the time and space to recognise them as individuals and valuing them as young people.

942. Our approach is as follows. The community leadership programme that we deliver was recently inspected by DETI, and we were given a grade 1. That was down to the way we run the programme and our youth work approach. Pastoral care is highlighted; there is after-support and we take account of the young person in a holistic way. We also take account of the social context in which young people operate. We need to build young people's coping skills and resilience, not just in relation to vocational development, but in their work skills. They must learn to be on time, to be punctual and to take responsibilities in the world of work. That is as important as the vocational core skills that they are developing.

943. The youth work approach is fundamental: the relationships, the recruitment and a flexible, tailored programme which takes account of where young people are at. The skills of the youth worker are fundamental to success.

944. The Chairperson: Thank you, Clare.

945. Mr Sean Madden (YouthAction NI): I work in the training section, with Claire, on the Reach project. I want to start by telling you about my journey: where I came from and how I got involved in YouthAction.

946. I first became involved in YouthAction at about the age of 18. I would have been termed as a NEET at the time. I had just left school, I had no real interests, and I did not know where I was going to go. My whole life at that time revolved around standing in the park drinking at the weekend, playing football on a Saturday morning and standing waiting for riots on a Sunday afternoon. At the time, it was socially accepted and it was the norm. I lived at an interface in north Belfast. I did not believe that I had any other opportunities or choices. Everyone else around me: my peers and those above me, were doing the same things. I could not see any way out of it, until a youth worker approached me. I did a little volunteering, and the youth worker came to me. He gave me an opportunity; a choice. He said, "You can either go down this route, get a criminal record and you will be stuck for the rest of your life, or you can stick with the volunteering, put your head down and get into it." Fortunately, I picked the second route.

947. Around that time, the CLP programme that Claire mentioned started up. I was successful in applying for it. I can say that it changed my life, professionally and personally, 100%. The CLP is a 16–month intensive apprenticeship in youth work. Two days are spent learning youth work skills; that is in-house training. During the other three days, you are out in placement in your own community. I was lucky enough to be placed in my own community of Newington. The main thing for me was that it built up my confidence and self-esteem, not just professionally but personally. It helped me to unlock potential that I did not even realise I had.

948. The course worked because the people taking it were so skilled. As Clare mentioned, they used the youth work approach of building relationships, supporting and encouraging me and challenging me to take risks. They challenged me to believe and to set goals for what I wanted to achieve, which was to be a youth worker. The combination of the training and community approach of an organisation such as YouthAction worked for me, 110%. It enabled me to put my practice to the benefit of my own community, which also benefited me no end because I always wanted to give something back to my community.

949. My current role is with YouthAction on the Reach project, which is a three-tiered, needs-led approach that works with young people from the ages of 16 to 25 who are termed as NEET. I adopt a lot of the approaches that I learned on the CLP. We adopt needs-led programmes in which we try to challenge the issues that the young people face. The three Rs recruitment, relationships and response — are paramount to working successfully with young people who are hard to engage or NEET.

950. We had worked with around 208 young people until March 2010, and 68% of those people have achieved accredited qualifications to try to get back into the labour market, such as youth work qualifications from the Open College Network (OCN), and they have also received training in first aid and computer and literacy skills. We also work with a lot of homeless young men who have been referred to us by hostels. We have supported those people in moving into independent living and two of them are currently studying youth work at university.

951. Untold numbers have gone on to secure part-time and full-time employment, and loads have gone on to do further training in more structured programmes. Our programme works with young people who are not ready to move on to such structured programmes. We provide six or 12-week personal development programmes and refer participants to the likes of Springboard or the Prince's Trust, if they are at that stage.

952. The most important thing that I have learned from working with young people who are termed as NEET is that they do not all face the same issues. However, I always like to use the same youth work approach. It is about building their self-esteem and confidence and addressing needs-led issues. It is also about giving those young people opportunities and helping them to make correct choices in their lives, because a lot of them have simply made bad choices in their lives. The youth work approach definitely helped me to make correct choices in my life, which is why I am so committed and dedicated to helping young people. There will hopefully be time for questions at the end, and anyone who wants to ask me any questions is more than welcome to do so.

953. The Chairperson: Thanks very much for that, Sean. It was a very honest account of the turning point in your life.

954. Mr Guilfoyle: I will invite Harry Murphy to give his perspective, after which I will give a quick summary.

955. Mr Harry Murphy (Artillery Youth Centre): Thanks for having us. I have been a youth worker for 25 years. I started out volunteering with an unemployed group in the 1980s. I have pretty much worked through a whole gamut of projects and programmes, and specialised in work with the 15-to-25 age range. People around the table will be aware of all the schemes that have been used to address that demographic over the years, such as Wider Horizons programmes, and so on.

956. I am currently involved with the Artillery Youth Centre and the Terry Enright Foundation, and both projects take a very similar youth work approach. Youth work is much misunderstood. It is a profession, but it has been diluted by people who work with young people, assuming that they are doing youth work. Youth work is a particular way of working. We involve young people in decision-making. The young people we work with are called NEETs — they have been called all sorts of things down the years, some of which may not have been pretty — and this Committee is tasked with looking at their needs.

957. By and large, those young people are looking for the things that we are all looking for, such as belonging, connection, responsibility and an outlet for their talent, whatever that may be. The need for employment is a huge motivating factor for most young people. Regardless of what you may have heard in the media or what your perceptions are, most young people want to belong to something and to lead productive lives. They want to get on with a life that has responsibilities, happiness and love, and all the things we need and want.

958. Over the years in working with this demographic, I have seen trends come and go in relation to Jobskills programmes and training schemes. A number of years ago, I read about a training provider who was teaching joinery through a training scheme, and he remarked that young people need guidance more than anything else. He could teach them how to hang a door or make tables, but the group of young people he was dealing with, who had left school with minimal qualifications, had a range of issues, problems and baggage that he was not equipped to deal with. Youth work has a role to play in addressing that, because of its particular approach and the professional skills that it brings.

959. All the work that I have done over the years has been based on the participation of young people, which essentially means democratising decision-making. Rather than having top-down approaches that do things to young people, we should do things with young people and involve them in decision-making and in planning their own futures. If we do not involve young people in the planning and delivery of training schemes, they will work only sporadically, and the type of young people whose needs we are trying to address today will continue to be left at the margins.

960. The innate response that Committees such as this or the Government have to the issue is that outcomes must be achieved. That is fair enough, and we all need to see that, but the problem is that the young people who have been failed by the education system will continue to be failed by well-meaning and often clumsy attempts to address that failure. Sometimes, those attempts have worked and sometimes they have not, and we must learn from some of the things that have worked.

961. Youth work has the capacity to engage, motivate and support young people, particularly the demographic that we are considering today. Our approach is based on a voluntary arrangement with young people going to youth workers because they want to, and not because they have been told to do so by probation officers, training scheme providers, or others. The fundamental nature of that arrangement opens up a more honest relationship between an adult, who can offer guidance and support in an informal setting, and a young person who needs just those things.

962. The Artillery Youth Centre tries not to work outside of the family setting. I have seen youth work done badly, and sometimes there is almost an arrogance that things can be done outside of the family, which, for good or ill, is the main support mechanism for a young person. Youth work can make a difference when it works with families, young people and a broader community.

963. To add to what Clare said earlier, the practice, skills and methodology of youth work can complement and enhance a more formal structure. Youth work is not the answer to everything, but it can sit alongside more formal structures in the education or training systems or when a young person enters work. It can offer a guiding role and place a calm hand on a young person's shoulder.

964. Finally, I have a few observations that I want to make to the Committee. One of the things that struck me when considering the issue is that there is not one-size-fits-all approach. Indeed, it would be prudent to employ a range and variety of methodologies and use both traditional and non-traditional methods.

965. Training schemes, modern apprenticeships and investing in apprenticeships are traditional models that can be built upon, but non-traditional support is also needed, which is where youth work can play a fundamental role.

966. Implicit in the scale and scope of the problem is that an interdepartmental response, perhaps headed by DEL, could be considered. It has been said previously that collaboration between Departments on different approaches, such as bend and spend, can save money. More money was around six months ago; however, ultimately, at a time of cuts, I can see from the outside that bending budgets between Departments could address that issue.

967. Finally, the Department should consider the viability of supporting a number of innovative pilot projects that seek to use youth work practice to address aspects of NEETs. I have probably not talked enough about the projects in which I am involved, but the information about my type of work is out there if people want to find it. If I could reinforce anything today, it would be that youth work has a role to play. Done well, it is a fantastic tool for working with young people in general and the demographic that we are discussing in particular.

968. The Chairperson: I must ask the witnesses to be brief to allow time for members' questions.

969. Mr Guilfoyle: Below the Youth Council's logo is the strapline, "investing in youth work". That investment can be monetary, and the Committee has heard from my colleagues that almost a cocktail of funding has come in. The one characteristic is that it is always short term, which is a problem. The other dimension to investing involves time and commitment. It seems that we have got a time commitment from local groups; youth workers; user organisations, particularly in the voluntary sector, such as YouthAction; public bodies, including education and library boards; and Departments. We have heard the buzz term, almost clichéd phrase "joined-up", but our final comment is a plea to the Committee to act as a catalyst to bring about a joined-up approach across government to these young people. I will stop there, Chairperson. Thank you for your time.

970. The Chairperson: Thank you. The Committee has to receive other presentations today and I want members to have the maximum opportunity to ask questions and pass comment.

971. We are concentrating here on the cure, what do you see as a possible preventative method? Where did the system fail?

972. Mr Guilfoyle: That is a big question. As a teacher who became a youth worker, I believe that issues must be addressed in schools. Indeed, the Committee report refers to such a need. There is an increasing degree of co-operation between youth work and schools. I helped the Department to organise a conference last November, at which we brought youth workers and teachers together to see how we could co-operate.

973. I am keenly aware of initiatives such as full-service schools and extended schools. Therefore, how can youth workers come into schools? How can teachers pick up on youth workers' approaches? I believe that there is scope for partnerships there. We have a variety of models in which some youth work colleagues in, for example, the North Eastern Education and Library Board, are working with young people who elect to be part of the programmes in which they want to participate during school hours. The characteristics of many of those programmes are similar to those which some of my colleagues have described.

974. My final point is that some major research funded by the Department and carried out by the Youth Council over a decade ago found that, when it came to the personal and social development of young people, which is crucial, the most significant adult for young people in disadvantaged areas was not a teacher but a youth worker. Therefore, that partnership is very important and the Department recognises the need for closer collaboration between youth work and schools to catch young people early, before they slip through the net later.

975. The Chairperson: If there is any additional information in support of your points, the Committee Clerk will be happy to receive it and include it in the inquiry report. A number of members have questions.

976. Ms Lo: I very much agree with what the witnesses, particularly Harry Murphy, have said. In my 20 years in the voluntary sector, I have seen good and bad youth workers.

977. You made a very important point when you said that you can teach young people skills such as carpentry, but they need guidance and support. However, they also need role models, and youth workers, such as Sean, can provide very good role models for them. I want to hear more about your work with families. Often, youth workers work alone with the young person. When the young person's family is not involved, the work can fall down. Sometimes, it can even cause conflict between the young person and the family. Can you elaborate on how you work with families?

978. Mr H Murphy: I am based in the New Lodge area, which is in north Belfast. We do a lot of outreach work, which does not necessarily involve going to street corners. It involves going to houses and knocking on doors, talking to parents and young people, and engaging with parents. Over the years, I have found that when youth work is done in isolation of families, it can go wrong, because families play the major role in the guidance and life of young people. Therefore, we tend to involve families in discussions around issues. We try to involve parents in whatever aspect of the work that we can, whether that means sitting down with the young person and deciding what type of training, education or course will suit them. Involving people in decision-making is a big part of what we do. That includes parents and young people, because, if they are not involved in the decisions around their lives, they feel powerless.

979. Ms Lo: Do you find that they are supportive of you when you try to talk to them about it?

980. Mr H Murphy: Very much so. Most people just want to be asked. It is a bit like when you are lost in the middle of a town and you ask for directions, 15 people will fall over themselves to help you. We have lost the ability to ask people for assistance. Therefore, we go and ask parents, and they are more than happy for us to do that. In fact, they are actually surprised and relieved that someone is taking an interest in their children. The typical approach that was used in the past was that someone from an authority would come to a person's door to complain that their child was not working well in school or that they were disruptive or had broken a window, rather than coming to the door to say that they wanted to play a supportive role and to ask whether Sean or Mary wanted to get involved in a particular programme.

981. The Chairperson: Mind you, if your son Sean broke a window, you might not be too happy.

982. Mr P Ramsey: You are all very welcome this morning. I was a youth worker many years ago.

983. Ms S Ramsey: When you were young?

984. Mr P Ramsey: I was a wee bit younger.

985. The Chairperson: He is only 25. That is what youth work did to him. [Laughter.]

986. Mr P Ramsey: It is good to see the Youth Council here. I commend and acknowledge the significant contribution that youth workers across Northern Ireland have made in very difficult times during the conflict, with all the difficulties that young people have to face and given that health, well-being and social issues affect so many of them. Well done, and thank you on behalf of so many out there.

987. The inquiry is looking at best practice. Last week, we went on a fact-finding mission to Wales and Scotland, and we all talked about this great joined-up approach, but it is working in Wales in a more fundamental way than it will ever work here. When it comes to funding, the Youth Service has always been the poor relation, and, in my constituency, I have seen the dramatic and drastic cuts that are going to take place again in the Youth Service. Your opportunity today is to outline to us the benefits of having a better Youth Service. Obviously, your funding greatly depends on the Department of Education and the education and library boards, who give the money. However, it is terrible that, in the education and library boards, the Youth Service has historically been the poor relation. When it comes to efficiency savings and cutbacks, funding for another youth worker gets taken away, and we see the demise in the structure of the Youth Service.

988. You said that 270 people now participate in the Youth Works process. How do the young people come your way? For example, what happens in Derry? Does a youth club refer people to the programmes? How does that materialise? How is it that you have so many groups?

989. You stated that 68% of the 200-odd young people to whom you referred now have accredited qualifications. We need to have that evidence in a more detailed form. We do not need it today, but it is important that we receive that data. I am sure that you appreciate that it is very hard to track the results scientifically and to see that we have an organisation, which has dealt with 200 young people over the past three years, 50% of whom have entered education or have sought meaningful employment. It is very hard to get that information because nobody keeps track of it. The Department is doing its best, but it is having difficulties. Ms Conlon mentioned that models of good practice exist. What are they?

990. Ms Conlon: It is important that we present the evidence and document it. In respect of your point about how we engage young people, we are creative and we go where there are young people. That may mean going out in the evening; it may mean standing outside Primark on a Monday morning or at the Post Office. We go to wherever we need to go. The first step is to go where young people mostly are, which is in their communities, where they feel safe and confident and where they feel that they have a role. We spend a lot of time, initially, building the relationship with that young person and trying to understand him or her. We deliver programmes in communities. We take the programme to young people, but we also run some of our programmes from our building in the city centre. We try to encourage young people to come into the city centre and to feel that it is their city. We encourage them to be mobile, because if someone is not open to being mobile and to thinking about environments beyond their own, it will impinge on whether they are able to gain employment. We try to encourage mobility in the city as well as bringing programmes to local communities.

991. We document the fact that 55% of young people who join our programmes have no qualifications. We offer a basic level 1 qualification to some of those young people, but it is the first official piece of paper that they have ever had with their name and an award on it. That is such a big leap for them. We take things in very small, bite-size, measurable steps because there is nothing worse than offering qualifications to a person who feels that he or she will not be able to achieve them. They may think that they will fail because they have been labelled as a failure for their whole life. Achieving a basic level 1 qualification is a significant turning point.

992. We also offer a youth achievement award scheme. It is not a test, but it is a way of recognising young people's participation in programmes. They set challenges for themselves. It is very much based on their individual challenges. It could be about living on a budget or healthy living, but it is something that affects them personally. It is about recognising that an achievement is not just seen in academic or vocational terms but in a much wider, broader sense.

993. Many young mothers and lone parents see themselves as failures and think that society sees them as such. We tell them that they are carers, nurses, disciplinarians, that they do DIY around the house, that they live on a budget and that they have a load of skills. It is about helping young people to see that they have a valuable contribution to make and that they are not failures. It is about working with young people to identify their value and their untapped skills.

994. Mr P Ramsey: Perhaps we can get more information at a later stage.

995. The Chairperson: The session is being recorded for the Hansard report, so you will be able to look it up on the website and pick up any points on which you want to provide further clarification.

996. Ms S Ramsey: Thank you. You are welcome, Sean. I want to take the opportunity to commend you. There is a fine line between going down the wrong road and the right road. There but for the grace of God — a lot of us can say that. Well done. I do not wish to patronise you, but I also think that it is harder for a young man at times because of peer pressure.

997. On the back of what Pat said, and the visit we had to Scotland and Wales, what struck me during the course of the presentation is that there is a lot of good work being done — I think Harry is right. Some good work is done in private and some is done out in the open. However, there is also some bad work. The issue is about having a long-term strategy, because today's NEETs could be tomorrow's long-term unemployed. I do not know whether you have that information. One of the core objectives of the Youth Council is to facilitate collaboration between youth organisations in all sectors. I do not know if that is being done. I am wary that some people in the community sector might not relate to the Youth Council.

998. In the course of your presentation, it struck me that there are around 10 or 11 organisations that provide funding for all different parts of youth work. That ranges from the International Fund for Ireland to the EU and from the councils to the education and library boards. Where does it all fit together? We are talking about a joined-up approach, and that needs a proper partnership between government, agencies, the community and voluntary sector, and the community that we represent. Is there a study or a mechanism that would enable us to find out about all the programmes?

999. I took a note of some of the programmes that you mentioned; there are six or seven programmes that your organisation operates, six or seven that other groups operate, and there are another 100 groups or thereabouts. Can we look at that more wisely? It is not about cutting the pound; it is probably about spending the pound better. Are we wasting money by duplicating resources and because there is no short- medium- or long-term strategy?

1000. What struck me when we were in Scotland was the exit strategy. There is a strategy to deal with some issues, but the key thing is the exit strategy. I do not see that anywhere. I do not know whether we can get that information. Our inquiry is to look at the positives but also to challenge the negatives, to challenge Departments and to try to get movement on the whole issue of NEETs.

1001. The Chairperson: We could ask the Assembly Research and Library Services to find out some of the answers that you do not feel have been given.

1002. Mr Guilfoyle: It is a matter of relationships. We have a good relationship within the Youth Service sector; we work closely with colleagues in the voluntary sector and the education and library boards. We try our best to work together to be as complementary as we can be. Obviously, as you are well aware, there is a range of groups, so it is a difficult task, and co-ordination takes time. It is another task that people have to add on to a range of tasks. It is still a worthwhile challenge.

1003. The other point that you made, which is a valid one, is about the plethora of programmes that exist. I commend the Committee on the excellent research that it published before Christmas. One could argue that there may be a need for a mapping exercise. What is actually currently happening in this field? We have also been aware of the need to look at good practice. For example, we have visited Wales three times in the last five years to look at other areas of work. It is good to learn what is happening elsewhere. There is a lot of good practice here, so the Committee may wish to look at mapping.

1004. Ms S Ramsey: We also need to find out about the funding, because funding is going into different areas from different organisations, and we need to find out where it is going. I am sure that all public representatives here get tortured every month by organisations whose funding is coming to an end. It may be outreach workers or workers employed by the council. There does not seem to be a joined-up approach to planning. It is not about taking money away, it is about spending that money properly.

1005. Mr H Murphy: I work for an organisation that does not receive any government funding at all. It made a decision early on not to take any government funding. That was simply because it was started up by a group of young people, and it is run and managed by young people. It was set up and was handed the keys to a building and told to do whatever it could. Now, 10 years later, it has a budget of £150,000 a year, it has four full-time workers and seven part-time workers, and it runs services across north Belfast. It is really because of that —

1006. Ms S Ramsey: Who funds it?

1007. Mr H Murphy: It is funded by the Big Lottery, Children in Need and a range of organisations. Some of it is self-funding. One thing struck me as quite sobering. I looked at the education budget and compared it to the moneys that are available for intervention over the summer to cope with children and young people who are launched on to the street during the two months of the year when the education system closes down. It was not comparing like with like at all. We are talking about millions of pounds against thousands of pounds.

1008. The Chairperson: The Committee will examine how the services are streamlined. However, if one takes the example of the older persons' sector, Age Concern and Help the Aged come together. There has to be a realisation across all sectors, including the community and voluntary sector, that there has to be a rationalisation rather than everyone chasing the same pot of funding. Most of that money goes on overheads and administration.

1009. Mr S Ramsey: It is about people looking outside the box. It is about education.

1010. The Chairperson: It is about willingness as well.

1011. Ms S Ramsey: Yes. It is not about organisations saying that young people are not our problem when they get to a certain age. The Department for Employment and Learning will then say that it is not its problem; the Department for Social Development will have to deal with it. It is about all of that. It strikes me that when organisations are funded through other agencies, that money is not additional money that is going into the communities. The Departments walk away because funding is coming from the Big Lottery. That is not how that money was meant to be used; it was meant to be additional to government funding.

1012. Mr Guilfoyle: Yesterday morning, I met the chairperson of the Building Change Trust. One of the thrusts behind that meeting was to collaborate in a way to make money go further, get more bangs for the bucks and get better impacts. Certainly, the Youth Council recognises that as key. We distribute around £2·5 million to youth voluntary organisations, but we are concerned about how well that is used. We also recognise that the youth sector could lever maybe six times that. You have raised a valid point.

1013. The Chairperson: How much does the Department of Education give to the Youth Council?

1014. Mr Guilfoyle: The Department of Education funds the Youth Council £4 million a year. Of that, around £2·5 million goes out in grant aid. We worked out a year or two ago that, if one was to take every young person in the Youth Service age range in Northern Ireland, which is age four to 25, expenditure by the Department of Education on the Youth Service equates to £1 for each young person a week. I am not saying that schools do not need money, but if that figure were to be compared with the schools' budget, it gives a comparison of the value for money.

1015. The Chairperson: However, not everyone comes into contact with youth clubs and the Youth Council, whereas everyone comes into contact with schools.

1016. Mr Guilfoyle: We reckon that, at any one time, probably around two thirds of young people in Northern Ireland come into contact with youth organisations. That is around 180,000 young people in the Youth Service age range. In the course of their lives, I would guestimate that at least 80% of young people have, at one stage or another, been a member of a youth organisation.

1017. The Chairperson: I have to draw the presentation to a close. Thank you for attending this morning and for your contributions. If there is anything further that you wish to add, please send it to the Committee Clerk. Your contribution will be included in the inquiry. I hope, Sean, that you are a role model. I am quite sure that you are a role model to many people in your local community.

1018. Mr Guilfoyle: We thank the Committee for its time and wish it all the best in its endeavours.

30 June 2010

Members present for all or part of the proceedings:

Mrs Dolores Kelly (Chairperson)
Mr Jonathan Bell (Deputy Chairperson)
Mr Paul Butler
Mr William Irwin
Ms Anna Lo
Mr David McClarty
Mrs Claire McGill
Mr Pat Ramsey
Ms Sue Ramsey

Witnesses:

Ms Patricia Lewsley
Ms Jacqueline Melville

 

Northern Ireland Commissioner for Children and Young People

1019. The Chairperson (Mrs D Kelly): On behalf of the Committee I formally welcome Patricia Lewsley, the Northern Ireland Commissioner for Children and Young People (NICCY), and Jacqueline Melville, NICCY's policy and research officer. I thank you for attending today's meeting on our inquiry into young people not in education, employment or training (NEET) and look forward to hearing what you have to say on the matter.

1020. Ms Patricia Lewsley (Northern Ireland Commissioner for Children and Young People): Thank you for affording me the opportunity to give evidence to the Committee. I begin by stating our support for the Committee's inquiry into young people not in education, employment or training; we welcome the attention that the Committee is giving to that issue. I appreciate the opportunity to talk about the areas that we believe are vital to safeguarding and promoting the rights and best interests of children and young people in the NEET category. Members received a written submission to the inquiry, and my presentation will simply be a summary of that.

1021. As many of you will know, my job as commissioner is to promote and safeguard the rights and best interests of children and young people. It is also my job to monitor the extent to which government act or fail to act to protect children's and young people's rights and best interests.

1022. When the needs of young people who are not in education, employment or training are considered, it is often 16- to 24-year-olds who are talked about. However, we want to highlight the fact that young people who are under the age of 18 should be subject to the special protections that are afforded to them as children. That should also be extended to those under 21 years of age who have either been in the care system or have a disability.

1023. Our written submission sets out some of the obligations that are placed on the Northern Ireland Executive and the UK Government to uphold the rights and protections of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC). Government must do more to protect the rights of young people who are not in education, employment or training, some of whom are from the most vulnerable groups in our society. We welcome the issue being raised here today.

1024. As the Committee will be aware, there are a range of challenges in identifying young people in Northern Ireland who are not in education, employment or training. It is important that accurate and detailed information about those young people is available, as that must form the basis of interventions and responses if they are to be effective. The Department for Employment and Learning (DEL) has delayed in producing a scoping paper, but we hope that that paper will address the issue. It is important that as much data is collected as possible but also that we consider existing models of good practice and add value to those rather than duplicating or creating a whole new infrastructure.

1025. Information from the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Investment states that 41,000 16- to 24-year-olds were not in education, employment or training in the first quarter of 2010. Those young people, simply because they are in Northern Ireland, are the only group across the UK that does not have a dedicated government strategy in place to support them in moving into education, employment or training.

1026. During the inquiry, the Committee heard about the consequences of not addressing the needs of those young people effectively. Youth unemployment alone is estimated to cost £250 million a year in Northern Ireland. We also want to highlight the social and emotional costs. Research has found that 16- to 25-year olds who are not in education, employment or training are more than twice as likely to feel depressed and less valued by others than their peers. At some point, an alarming 35% of those young people feel suicidal.

1027. Mr Bell: Thirty-five per cent?

1028. Ms Lewsley: Yes, 35%.

1029. The 41,000 16- to 24-year-olds who are not in education, employment or training represent just under 20% of young people in that age group. We ask the Committee to remain mindful of those findings, namely that the situation may apply to almost one in five of our young people, in considering what actions government should take to support those young people.

1030. Young people who are not in education, employment or training are often understood to belong to one of three groups: transitional, floating or core. Young people in the last group face multiple barriers to successful participation in education, employment or training. Across the three groups, young people's experiences are shaped by different circumstances, and they have different needs and requirements. For example, engagement in programmes such as graduate support works well for some young people. However, others, particularly those with complex needs, may need a different and more tailored approach.

1031. Although we feel that young people across the three groups should benefit from interventions that are appropriate to their needs, our focus is on those who are most likely to be in the core group. That reflects our concern that not engaging in education, employment or training poses the greatest risks to those young people's rights, best interests and well-being. We are also of the view that they are the least likely to benefit from increasing opportunities when economic growth is secured.

1032. Research finds that young people who have low levels of, or no, qualifications, and those who experience family disadvantage and poverty, are at greater risk of not being in education, employment or training over a prolonged period of time. Studies also show that particular groups of young people, including those with disabilities or illness, those who are care experienced and those who are in contact with the Youth Justice system are among the most likely to be in that group of young people.

1033. It is important that action to support young people who are not currently in education, employment or training and to prevent those who are at greater risk of disengaging in the future considers and addresses those factors. That leaves government with the challenge of not only considering reforms in education, employment and training but of addressing the inequalities and needs of vulnerable groups of children and young people, such as those with disabilities or those in care.

1034. Commentators point to actions such as reducing the financial costs of education for young people and families and ensuring that they can access good alternative education and vocational training as being strategies to maintain the participation of young people. It is interesting to note that the Welsh Government's strategy for young people who are not in the NEETs category dedicates resources to supporting 11- to 14-year-olds at risk of not continuing in full-time education. For particular groups of young people who are more at risk of being in the NEETs category, the association between poverty and poor educational outcomes has been well established. In turn, research commissioned by my office noted that 16- and 17-year-olds not in education, training or employment were at particularly high risk of poverty, especially if they were in supported accommodation or independent living.

1035. I want to tell the Committee about some of the people whom I met over the past few months. I met two young boys in the Flax Foyer, one of whom showed me two A4 sheets of paper that listed all the training courses that he had been on over the past two years. He had also been to numerous interviews, but he still could not find employment. I asked him why he thought that was and what was the biggest barrier that he faced, and he said that it was because he did not have GCSEs in English or maths. He felt that he would have to rectify that situation. The last course that he had been on was a forklift truck driving course. He said that loads of young people were doing that course but that you will not see any jobs for forklift truck drivers in the newspaper on a Friday night. Therefore, the needs of a young person must be matched to the employment that is available.

1036. The second young boy had done a catering course and decided that he liked catering. He was told that, if he did a course with a well-known chef in Northern Ireland, there was the possibility of an interview and a job. He got neither. He then decided that, because his interest was in catering, he would go on and do the next level of the course. However, if he went back to college to study for the next level, he would lose his housing benefit, so he thought, what is the point?

1037. I also want to tell the Committee about a young girl of 17 years of age who was living independently in a two-bedroom house on £40 a week. She was doing a hairdressing course. When the bad weather came, she went to her social worker and asked where she could get extra money for heating. She received a £20 food voucher and another £20 for heating and electricity and to top up her phone, which was her only way of communicating with her social worker. The social worker told her to go to her local social security office for help. When she did that, she was told to come back when she was aged 18 or was pregnant. Those are the types of issues that young people face, never mind the issue of not being in education, employment or training.

1038. Such concerns lead us all to make a specific call to the Government to ask them to tackle those particular disadvantages. We highlighted child poverty as part of our Make It Right campaign, which was launched earlier this year. November 2009 was the twentieth anniversary of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, and, this year, NICCY has embarked on a Make It Right campaign, in which we pick a different topic each month. In January, we selected child poverty, and, as part of that, we made three calls to government. The third call was about tackling the particular disadvantages experienced by 16- and 17-year-olds who are living independently and/or who are not in education, employment or training. That gave young people the opportunity to campaign on the issues and to make government aware of what it is like to be in their situation.

1039. Earlier this year, NICCY held a poverty workshop on the needs of 16- and 17-year-olds. Participants from the voluntary and public sector agencies heard presentations from the Anti-Poverty Network and the Prince's Trust, which highlighted the fact that, to achieve lasting change for those young people and for future generations, government responses must be holistic. The workshop discussed the importance of areas such as multidisciplinary family and early years support and of ensuring that the education curriculum is relevant to most young people. That approach will involve a fully interdepartmental response, which, over time, will draw on the Department of Health, Social Services and Public Safety, the Department for Social Development, the Department of Justice as well as the Department of Education and the Department for Employment and Learning.

1040. The Committee's inquiry provides and important opportunity for members to inform the work of the Northern Ireland Executive in that area and ensure that they are responding adequately to the needs of young people who are not in education, employment or training.

1041. We are concerned that not enough action is being taken to safeguard the rights and best interests of those young people today and in the coming years, and we recommend the following action. An interdepartmental strategy must be developed to respond to the needs of those who are not in education, employment or training and seek to prevent those most at risk from becoming disengaged from education, employment and training. The strategy should be based on robust data that identifies those who are at greater risk of falling into the NEETS category. It should build on the identification of current provision and practice and be accompanied by a monitoring and evaluation framework. The strategy must be responsive to the often complex needs of the most vulnerable young people who are not in education, employment or training.

1042. We are aware that the Committee is conducting its inquiry at a time when there is great concern about the implementation of budgetary cuts, and NICCY's view is that prioritising resources to support those young people will enable them to participate positively in families, communities and, ultimately, to help to grow the economy. That investment is essential to support Northern Ireland as it moves into economic growth and stability. Our young people watch television and read stories in the media, and, very often, they feel a sense of hopelessness. I hope that the inquiry will move forward and give some of those young people the hope that they are looking for.

1043. We appreciate the fact that we have had an opportunity to present these issues to the Committee, and we are happy to respond by answering members' questions. I want to introduce Jacqueline Melville. She is one of my head researchers and has worked on the subject, so she may intervene as well.

1044. The Chairperson: Thank you very much. You painted a startling picture and portrayed what life is like. Unfortunately, there is not much in the current economic recession to shed much light on the darkness. Nonetheless, you have thrown out a challenge to the Committee, and it is up for the challenge. Let us see what we can deliver and encourage Departments to deliver.

1045. Mr Bell: I join the Chairperson in thanking the Children's Commissioner. It shows the value of the office. We did not want to hear what you had to say, but we needed to hear it, and I appreciate it.

1046. For young people leaving care — the looked-after sector — are the statistics even harsher than the one in five young people who are not in education?

1047. Ms Lewsley: That area needs to be examined. We work with the Voice of Young People Care (VOYPIC), which is the lead organisation working with children in care. The young person on £40 a week to whom I referred earlier came through the care system. She could not understand why she was left to fend for herself once she was over 16 years of age. She was grappling to get help from wherever she could found it. We need to support those young people. Our research shows that 16- and 17-year-olds are invisible. When 16-year-olds leave school and do not go into training or employment, they receive no benefits, and their parents lose benefits such as child benefit and income support. Those young people end up living at home for nothing, which puts a huge strain on families, particularly single parents. Sometimes, the situation ends in an altercation, and those young people find themselves on the streets.

1048. There is an issue around 16- and 17-year-olds. I sat on the child poverty subgroup, which is part of the Office of the First Minister and deputy First Minister's (OFMDFM) cross-sectoral advisory forum on the economic downturn. I raised the issue of 16- and 17-year-olds being on the lowest benefit and the minimum wage, yet they still have to pay the same as everyone else. Even though that young person was 17 years of age, she still had to pay the same amount for electricity and heating as someone who worked full-time or was on a higher benefit.

1049. Mr Bell: You flagged up Ursula Kilkelly's work on the financial burdens on young people. The Committee will have to consider that issue seriously. I welcome the fact that you included that research in your written submission.

1050. Mr P Ramsey: Patricia, you are very welcome. The Committee is very concerned about some of the points that you raise. The Prince's Trust made a good presentation on mental health issues, which included suicide statistics for young people. It would appear that there are better practice models in other places, particularly in Wales and Scotland. Do you know of any other good practice models? One can imagine how low attainment, low morale and poor motivation would lead to serious mental health conditions, so it is not a matter for DEL alone. A more integrated, cross-departmental approach to earlier intervention is required.

1051. Ms Lewsley: A number of good models in Northern Ireland already deal with some of the most marginalised young people, and we must tap into that work. As I said, the scoping exercise must pick up on those good models and determine how we can add value to them. Is it the case that, to get an add-on, an organisation receiving a certain sum of money for one project has to fight for funding from elsewhere?

1052. I take the point about costs and the current budget, but it is not always about extra money; it is about spending money in a better way. Often, a programme is allowed to run for three or four years before its funding is cut. If something is not working, perhaps earlier intervention is required to allow the money to be put into something that does work. We need added value and joined-up government. To meet those children's individual needs and to avoid a one-size-fits-all approach, a joined-up departmental strategy is required, and we need to ensure that the Department for Employment and Learning engages with the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Investment. The worst thing that we could do would be to raise children's expectations by offering them training with the possibility of employment at the end of it when that possibility does not exist. Furthermore, are we matching training needs with the employment market?

1053. Ms S Ramsey: Thank you for your presentation and the written submission. Patricia, as you said, the position of Children's Commissioner was set up to promote the rights and best interests of children and young people. The Committee's inquiry has identified fundamental problems in several Departments. In addition, in the past number of years, there has not been a joined-up approach by government agencies. When you spoke about that young lad not having English or maths qualifications, it struck me again that the Department of Education needs to play a part. I am not saying that all children in the NEET category do not have essential or basic skills, but I am interested in knowing whether the Committee for Education will focus on the subject. We need a joined-up approach among Committees. Indeed, I am shocked that the Committee for Education is not focusing on this subject.

1054. I was around when the campaign for the establishment of a Children's Commissioner started, and people were delighted when it was agreed to, because they thought that, for the first time, children's interests would be at the heart of government. I do not know whether it is true, but I heard that the scoping exercise may happen soon. It will give us a basis on which to start. I note the points that you made in your submission. Have you had any discussions with the Executive or individual Ministers on those points? You have as much influence on the Executive as any commissioner, so I am interested in their reaction to the strategy and the interdepartmental mapping exercise on funding. I agree that it is not about taking money away; it is about spending it properly.

1055. Ms Lewsley: I have not raised the strategy issue with anybody yet, but I raised many of those issues when I was before the ministerial subcommittee. As I said, I sat on the cross-sectoral advisory forum on the economic downturn, which OFMDFM set up, and I welcomed the opportunity to have a voice for young people at the table, because they are often forgotten about. I sat on the poverty subgroup and the employment and learning subgroup and fed many of the issues that I raised today into them. I would like to have seen that reflected in some decisions that were made. However, as has been said, 18 months down the line, there has been lots of talking but not much action.

1056. The Chairperson: That is an unsatisfactory response from people who have the authority to do something to improve a situation.

1057. Ms Lewsley: On the education issue, all the research tells us that the earlier the intervention with children and young people, the better the long-term outcome. The strategy must focus on the long-term impact because change will not happen overnight. However, if we can start at the beginning and invest in a new generation, in 10 or 15 years' time, we may see some of those problems eradicated and costs saved. As we know, investing £2,000 to £4,000 in a child at the age of four or five saves the criminal justice system £750,000 by the time that child is 12 or 13 years of age.

1058. The Chairperson: It has increasingly — perhaps always — been the Committee's view that prevention is much better than cure.

1059. Ms Lo: I very much agree, and research shows that children at risk of becoming NEET can be identified as young as five or six years of age.

1060. Thank you, Patricia, for your very good written submission. It calls for the promotion of a multi-departmental strategy. The Department for Employment and Learning, the Department of Education, the Department of Health, Social Services and Public Safety and, perhaps, the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Investment come to mind immediately. What other Departments should be involved? You are aware of the good work that is done by the voluntary sector, but there is also much fragmentation and duplication in small projects that, although good, have little long-term impact. What is your view?

1061. Ms Lewsley: First, all Departments have a responsibility, including the Department of Finance and Personnel (DFP), which scrutinises departmental budget submissions. If we are to make a real dent, DFP must ask Departments how much of their budget goes towards supporting the type of young people whom we are talking about. The Department for Regional Development could be involved, because transport is a problem for many such young people, who, as I said, may be on minimum wage and benefits but must still pay £1·50 for a bus journey. That is a huge issue, particularly for 16- and 17-year-olds, as is the cost of using their local facilities to help with mental health and other challenges. Therefore, all Departments should consider, and then improve, what they do to help young people.

1062. The Department for Social Development could consider the voluntary and community sector, in which short-term funding is the big issue. An excellent project may be only up and running when it loses funding because of a sudden budget cut elsewhere. There is no follow-through for that, so funding is a big issue for that sector. I am sure that the voluntary and community sector would agree that it is too big and needs to be rationalised. The question is: how will that be done? How do we ensure that much-needed services do not fall off the end?

1063. For whatever reason, we know that the voluntary and community sector has filled in the gap when the statutory sector has decided not to provide a service, which is why the voluntary and community sector emerged. In that sector, we see the best models of good practice in how to engage and work with young people across the board. We must consider how to add value, merge or do whatever else that we want with such services so that they work in partnership with one another and share a common pot of money rather than compete for it, which means some organisations lose out. There needs to be an opportunity for them to come together to utilise that money better.

1064. Ms Lo: Absolutely. We need to work in partnership with the voluntary sector because, for years, it has worked with young people on a financial shoestring and in short-term projects.

1065. Mr Irwin: Thank you for that detailed and interesting presentation. All members of the Committee are concerned that so many young people are not in education, employment or training. However, I was surprised to note that, in 2008, there were 45,000 young people between the ages of 16 and 24 who were not in education, employment or training, but, more recently, even in the current economic climate, that figure is now 41,000, which is 4,000 fewer young people. Is there any particular reason for that?

1066. Ms Jacqueline Melville (Northern Ireland Commissioner for Children and Young People): It is important to recognise the fact that the statistics and figures will fluctuate year to year and quarterly within each year. Those latest figures are for the first quarter of 2010. NICCY wants to emphasise that, although the statistics and figures for children and young people may go up and down, a significant number of children and young people were outside education, employment and training before the current recession. Therefore, we are deeply concerned that the core group of young people with very complex needs and challenging and difficult circumstances may remain outside education, employment and training when the economic situation starts to improve.

1067. Mrs McGill: I was glad to hear you talk about transport and travel, which I did not see mentioned in your written submission. I welcome your comments on that. We raised that topic previously, which is a particular issue for young people in rural areas, where £1·50 would not get anyone to any place of education. How do we deal with that? We see the same thing over and over again, and those barriers need to be removed. We have said that to the Department, and we have asked for the problem to be addressed. You spoke about listening to the voices of young people. Last week, the Committee travelled to the Enniskillen campus of the South West College. We met a number of young people and listened to what they and their tutors had to say. If those young people did not have that financial burden, attendance for all courses would be much higher. You are right about the travel and transport issues. However, I repeat that, in rural areas, those difficulties are particularly exaggerated. Could the Department for Regional Development help with that issue?

1068. Ms Lewsley: It is important that this inquiry goes across all Departments, including the Department of Finance and Personnel, and that all Departments have an input into the strategy, because they have a responsibility. I hope that the scoping exercise will include the strong voice of young people who will raise many of those issues. However, it depends on how strong that voice is and how much it is listened to.

1069. Access to transport, the availability of transport and the cost of transport are real issues, particularly for rural children. Many can access transport in the morning. However, if their courses finish late or are in the evening, they have no way to get back home because the buses stop running at 8.00pm. All that needs to be taken into consideration, particularly for young people in rural areas. However, as I outlined, it is also an issue for young people living in urban areas.

1070. The Chairperson: The written submission states that there are models of good practice in Sweden and other Scandinavian countries. Have you researched any of the models that could be adapted for the North?

1071. Ms Lewsley: No, we have not.

1072. Ms Melville: I do not think that that information is in our submission.

1073. The Chairperson: I am sorry. However, Sweden and other countries do not have many young people not in education, employment and training, so they must be doing something to avoid that. I simply wondered what models of good practice and strategies they employ. If there is research or if you have any thoughts on that issue, you could submit them at a later stage. The Committee is keen to hear about models of good practice.

1074. Ms Lewsley: Yes; we could do that. I am part of a European network of ombudsmen and commissioners, and I could easily have a conversation with my counterparts in those countries and ask them for information.

1075. The Chairperson: The Committee hopes to publish its report in October or November, so it would be useful to have that information before then.

1076. Ms Lewsley: I will organise that over the next couple of weeks.

1077. Ms Melville: The statistics for young people who are not in education, employment or training demonstrate that the figures are higher in the UK and Ireland than in other EU countries.

1078. The Chairperson: Thank you both very much indeed. That was a useful session.

8 September 2010

Members present for all or part of the proceedings:

Mrs Dolores Kelly (Chairperson)
Mr Jonathan Bell (Deputy Chairperson)
Ms Anna Lo
Mr David McClarty
Mrs Claire McGill
Ms Sue Ramsey

Witnesses:

Mr Colm Fanning
Mr Paul Fletcher
Mr Kevin Gallagher
Mr George Philips

 

Rathbone

1079. The Chairperson of the Committee for Employment and Learning (Mrs D Kelly): I welcome to the meeting Mr Colm Fanning, the youth engagement team leader; Paul Fletcher, director of policy and development; and George Philips and Kevin Gallagher who are Rathbone participants. Thank you for coming to the meeting.

1080. Mr Fanning will begin with a presentation. Following the presentation, members will be permitted to ask questions or to comment on the presentation.

1081. Mr Colm Fanning (Rathbone): Thank you for the opportunity to attend today's Committee meeting. I will give a brief overview of the report and the work that we undertook in the workshops. Following that, I will hand over to Paul Fletcher, who will give a rundown on the wider scope of Rathbone.

1082. Rathbone is a national charity. Last year, we engaged with over 17,500 young people around the United Kingdom. One of our projects in Northern Ireland works specifically in youth engagement, which is the area in which this work was undertaken. A lot of our work involves being on the streets and talking to young people who are not in education, employment or training and trying to re-engage them back into employment and training. We named our workshops, "Your Say, Your Way". We undertook 15 workshops, and they were attended by 135 young people. We also conducted surveys with smaller groups and individuals with whom we had been working. The workshops were spread throughout Belfast. They took in young people from south, east, north and west Belfast and the Dunmurry area of Lisburn. We had a great response from young people. They were keen to have their points heard. We interviewed 220 young people who attended and took part in workshops.

1083. Some of our findings relate to your inquiry. One of the first issues that we looked at was the characteristics of young people who are described as NEET. One characteristic really stood out for us and impinges on our work. Of those 220 young people, 135 described themselves as having a drug or alcohol problem that is associated with the situation in which they currently find themselves in life.

1084. Another significant finding, which surprised us, was the number of young people who had no access to the Internet and were, therefore, being held back not only from socialising but from education and finding jobs. The third finding, which was not surprising, was that a large number of those young people — 196 out of 220 — described themselves as having a negative experience of education. I do not think that anyone would be surprised to learn that the majority of young people who are NEET have a negative educational background.

1085. The characteristics are described more fully in the report. Those were the three that stood out for us and impact on the work that we do with young people.

1086. During the workshops, we asked young people about their normal daily activities. Again, that relates to the work that we do. Of those young people, 75% responded that their normal daily activity was to hang out on the streets, with 70% saying that they consumed alcohol daily while on the street. That compares with just 9% of young people who said that they actively seek employment or training daily. The figures clearly show the situation that those young people are in: many of them spend their time on the streets, getting involved in antisocial behaviour, drink and drugs. Those are the findings that young people have relayed back to us.

1087. When we looked at barriers that prevent young people from re-engagement with employment, education and training, an issue that emerged over and over again in many of their responses was the absence of an appropriate adult who they could talk to about how to move forward and from whom they could seek advice and help. Many young people had negative experiences of schooling. Many had negative experiences of parenting and family life or had relationship issues. We found that a big factor was that they did not know who to turn to for help and support to get back into some form of employment, education or training and to deal with issues that were preventing them and barriers that held them back from moving forward.

1088. When we asked young people what changes they would like to see, they said that they needed someone to be there to help them through the low points of their lives. Many of the young people whom we talk to and work with daily feel down and depressed about their current situation. Because of what is going on in their lives, they need a significant adult outside of their families to help them and to whom they can turn to ask for support. Many young people gave the same response.

1089. We looked at tracking and monitoring best practice. In Rathbone, we have our own form of tracking and monitoring the young people whom we work with and with whom we engage daily on the streets. Through our work, we found that there is no national or local database of young people who are NEET to assist in our work and to try to pinpoint where NEET hotspots are.

1090. There is no database that shows that a particular area has a certain number of NEETs who need to be targeted. Therefore, one of our findings under tracking and monitoring, which we have included in our report, is that it needs to be managed. As an organisation, we need to be able to look at the number of NEETs who are out there in order to decide where our work would be best targeted. A more formalised tracking and monitoring system is needed.

1091. Rathbone uses a five-stage model. That has worked for us in our efforts to reach out to young people and to re-engage them with and reconnect them back into some form of employment, education or training. As you can see in our report, the five-stage model has worked for us and throughout the UK. It has been a great success in trying to re-engage young people with some form of employment.

1092. Finally, when we talk about our recommendations for the strategy, a significant one that we would like to see is for NEET hotspots to be targeted through an information system that shows us where the majority of our work should be focused. We also realise and understand that that work is not a quick fix. We have made another recommendation in that regard. Long-term work is required with individuals who are NEET in order to build relationships with them, to find out the issues that hold them back and to work through those barriers. Therefore, people must realise that a quick-fix approach cannot be taken with every young person who is NEET. Time must be invested in every young person with whom we work.

1093. Hopefully, you will have time to read through our report. We just wanted to give you a quick snapshot of where we are going. Paul will go into more depth on the overall approach that is being taken on a national scale and provide clarity on our report and how it fits into the UK-wide project.

1094. The Chairperson: Thank you.

1095. Mr Paul Fletcher (Rathbone): As Colm has just said, Rathbone has conducted a great deal of research throughout the UK. The findings from this particular piece of research — those 15 workshops in Belfast — are similar to findings from research that has been carried out into young people who are NEET throughout the UK. In particular, young people say that they feel isolated and demotivated. Even the sense of hopelessness that starts to emerge is common, whether in Scotland, Wales or England. Negative experiences of education are also commonly self-reported by young people. I will say more on that in a moment.

1096. Colm mentioned the issue of churn in and out of NEET figures. We find that many young people churn in and out of NEET figures rapidly. Many of them are multiple re-joiners to NEET figures. Someone might get a job, but it will be for only one week or even a couple of days. That person believes that things are changing. However, he or she will end up back in the NEET figures. Someone might go on a short course, but he or she falls off at the end and is back in the NEET figures. We are aware that there is a great deal of churn in NEET figures.

1097. That probably relates to what we recognise throughout the UK to be the casualisation of the labour market. Young people, in particular, are attracted to agency work and short-term contracts. At Rathbone, we say that that is an unsatisfactory introduction to the world of work. Young people say that they have had one day's work with an agency. Then, they are back as NEET. Their situation remains the same.

1098. I want to re-emphasise the role of a significant other person in a NEET young person's life. It is a common finding of research throughout the UK that young people often feel let down by the mainstream services that are out there to support them. For example, young people will say that they went to a careers service, but were told to come back in a month's time. They went back in a month's time and were given a 10-minute appointment. They were then told to come back after another month. They feel simply that they are being let down by mainstream services, whereas a significant other person would be there when they need help on a day-to-day basis.

1099. Young people say that their negative experience of education, particularly of school, is not a rejection of learning as such, but a rejection of big institutions, particularly the school, and of classroom learning. That is the issue. Young people want to learn, but they want more practical learning and more learning in the workplace, rather than working in classrooms. They want real, work-based learning, rather than theory of work.

1100. I can give you an example. One young man told me that it was his dream to become a chef, but that he was doing a plasterers' course because no chef courses were available. He was thinking of leaving the plasterers' course, because it was not doing it for him, and then we wonder why we have such high numbers churning in and out of the NEET figures. That young man's dream was to become a chef, but, for some reason, he was put on a plasterers' course.

1101. Short-term courses seem to be quite a common approach, and we fund employability courses in other parts of the UK. Quite often, those are six or 12-week courses, but we are finding that anything less than six months just does not work, because it is not long enough for young people to gain the skills and experience to be able to progress into the labour market or on to apprenticeships and other training.

1102. As has been said very clearly here in Belfast, young people need allowances, a lot of which are means-tested, to go on training courses. It only takes mum and dad to be earning more than £20,000 for a young person to not be eligible for a training allowance, which tends to be around £30 a week. Although there is no allowance for those young people, there is an expectation that they will contribute something to the home, and they need pocket money, bus fares, and so on. If there is no allowance, it is very difficult for young people to go on a training course, even if they want to. Some allowance would help.

1103. I want to return to the issue of the significant other, who is really somebody who the young person can trust, who believes in them and who is there for them. Often, that is somebody outside the family. The significant other tends to be embodied by the youth worker or the youth engagement worker, such as the staff who worked with Colm on the engagement project. The significant other is an advocate and a broker for the young person. They go with them to interviews. If the young person goes to look at colleges, the significant other is there to say, for example, that a young man does not want to go on a plasterers' course; he wants to be a chef, so he does not want to waste time on the wrong course. When a young person progresses to college or into employment, the significant other provides ongoing transitional support during what can be a high-risk period when things can go wrong for young people. We do not want young people dropping out after a week or so, so the youth worker or engagement worker is still there for them.

1104. We have found that the key success factor for the work that Rathbone does, here in Belfast and in other places, is that we have to go to where the young people are. That often means our workers going out at street level into parks, housing estates and shopping areas where the NEET young people are hanging about, as was picked up in the research. You cannot send NEET young people letters and expect them to come to you, whether that is about careers, Rathbone or anything else. We have to go to them, and, when we do, the young people are easy to engage. They want to make something of their lives, and we can be quite successful. We have to put the effort in and go to them and, when we do that, we can turn those young people around.

1105. The Chairperson: Thank you very much, Paul. Are George and Kevin going to take questions later?

1106. Mr Kevin Gallagher (Rathbone): We are indeed.

1107. The Chairperson: Thank you.

1108. You will not be surprised to hear that some of the issues that you have raised are common to other presentations that we have heard. Obviously, it is not just about finding a cure but about prevention, and that is where some of the information that you provide comes in.

1109. I am interested to hear from Kevin and George as to what exactly they mean by a negative experience in education. I am also struck by the fact that you mentioned a significant other. Many people would see that as being the role of a parent. You talked about family issues, but you did not really talk about what some of those issues are. There is a view that there is a need to perhaps join up support for parents with support for young people themselves.

1110. I was struck by your comment that such young people were easy to engage because, quite often, particularly older people living in communities in which they see groups of young people wearing their hoods up are frightened by their mere presence, even though they are not doing any harm. Your submission states that people should not be judged, so how do we get over those negative images? There is no simple solution. Why is Rathbone not saying, for example, that the family member is the significant other? Why does that have to be an agency or a paid employee of some organisation? What is your view on prevention? I also want to know what Kevin and George consider a negative experience of education.

1111. Mr Gallagher: Often, the significant other is not a parent or family member because we want to talk to young people about lots of issues, which we also talk to Colm and some other staff about, and which relatives may not understand or which young people would be embarrassed discussing with their family. Parents respond to many of the problems that we share with friends and people we know by telling their child to get into school or into work: they are not happy for their children to take a course for which they will receive no pay for three years or so. That is why those young people need a person outside the family to talk to.

1112. Mr Paul Fletcher (Rathbone): I agree with Kevin. When I used to go on drink and drugs, I could not talk to my parents and Colm was there to help me through it. He got me back into college, which got me qualifications.

1113. The Chairperson: Good. Did that turn your life around?

1114. Mr Fletcher: Yes.

1115. Mr Bell: How does Rathbone advertise its services? I know that there are a lot of formal links within the care system, but how do people aged 16 to 18 who are just outside or on the verge of that system know where to go? Include Youth, Opportunity Youth and your organisation are among the agencies that are available: is there any simple way for young people to map out where to go and which is the most appropriate for them? I know and commend how Rathbone finds its young people because I think that we do have to go to the mountain, as it were. However, how big is that mountain for a young person who is starting off?

1116. Secondly, how big is the issue of alcohol and drugs? In your briefing, it was put in the top five risk factors, but some of the issues ahead of it included involvement with negative peer groups, which is probably to do with alcohol as well. How big is the impact of alcohol and drugs? In your experiences, is it the biggest single factor?

1117. Mr Fletcher: There is no better advertisement than one young person saying to their friends, "These guys are all right. Talk to them." We often hear that. The hardest part in a new piece of work for Rathbone is that first presence on the street and having somebody say, "These people are all right". Often, young people will say, "That's great; I have got some mates down the road. Will you come and talk to them as well?" They actually end up chaperoning us, so having young people tell other young people about us is our best advertisement, although we have leaflets and other material.

1118. Across the UK, drugs and alcohol are the most rapidly growing, corrosive problem that we encounter in our work with young people, particularly those who are NEET. It comes back to their sense of hopelessness and despair and the fact that drink, in particular, is cheap. Alcohol is much more an issue than drugs. It is easily available, it is a form of escape, and adults also drink, just not so visibly — adults tend not to be on the streets when they are drinking. Binge drinking is another form of the same problem, particularly on Friday and Saturday nights. One problem leads to another, such as antisocial behaviour. It is a growing problem that we must get on top of. We try to advise young people not to drink by informing them that they are much more at risk when they have taken a lot of alcohol.

1119. The key thing that we are saying is that we have to get much further upstream with prevention through working in schools with pupils in the last year of schooling. We know the young people who are at risk of becoming NEET at 16, so we need to work with them while they are still in school. It is much easier to get to them in school rather than trying to find them on the streets and in the shadows when they have disengaged. We can work with them in school because we know who they are; any schoolteacher can tell you who is at risk. That is where we need to put more resources.

1120. The Chairperson: Does that mean that there should be a change in the traditional curriculum?

1121. Mr Fletcher: We need to introduce coping strategies for young people who are at risk. Some work that we are doing post-16 could reach into schools, with the Youth Service and with the people who are at risk. For example, we could take them out for half a day or one day a week and give them more work tasters, because young people who fall into the NEET stats do not want to spend the next two or three years in education. They usually want the world of work. A lot of people say that the world of work is a good place if it is properly regulated work with training bolted on. Apprenticeships are a particularly good option for a lot of young people. We need to get advice and guidance to young people while they are still at school so that we get the young people where they want to be.

1122. Ms S Ramsey: I congratulate and commend George and Kevin on their work with Rathbone. Sometimes we adults assume what young people are going through — well, these older ones assume. I know; I am young. We always try to put a strategy on it, but nine out of 10 times it does not work because we do not talk to the young people. I think that that is important. I know Kevin very well, and I think that the work that he is involved in locally has a positive impact.

1123. With regard to your report, we have a duty to be part of the solution. A couple of points strike me in the report. Can you outline how you get the young people involved? That is crucial. The other issue is the characteristics. When you look at the top five or six, it seems that the academic route is not always the be-all and end-all for any of this. We need to have an emphasis on vocational qualifications, and that is where the Department of Education (DE) comes in. The issue about academic achievements should not outweigh the issue of vocational achievements, and I think DE is crucial in that. Has any of this information gone to DE? We are talking about a Department that can only kick in when the kids are 16 or 17. Education has a part to play, but I do not see the issue of alternative education. Can you outline how many more young people would be NEET if they were not in alternative education and the positive impact that alternative education plays with NEETs?

1124. One thing that strikes me is that millions of pounds are spent in every constituency on training centres and job clubs, but I do not see a proactive approach between trying to get young people involved in employment outside of working with the constituency and the actual employment that is needed. I do not see the joined-up approach there. It seems to me that we could be wasting millions because we do not have a focused approach. Where do the colleges fit in? If you are talking about the vocational versus the academic, the colleges are crucial.

1125. Finally, in your presentation and your report you talked about the lack of unskilled positions. Is there a possibility that young people who are going into employment through the Steps to Work programme could be exploited? This is on record; I need to be careful how I say it. That could have a detrimental effect on young people getting employed in some jobs. Is one part of Government doing stuff, and it is not being used properly and is having a detrimental effect?

1126. Mr Fanning: That is a lot of questions. We have not gone to DE with it. We have worked with DE to help some of the young people whom we have been working with over the past year. We have been working with the Minister in relation to some young people who have been out of education.

1127. A typical example is that of one young fella from north Belfast who left school in his third year. He had special educational needs and had a mental age of seven. He had been sitting out of school and was referred to us. However, he was not referred to us until the following January, by which time he had been out of school for half a year. We got on the case with the education and welfare officer and the Department of Education. That case was not sorted until the end of April, when he was sorted with a new place at Loughshore Educational Resource Centre.

1128. He went through the whole of his fourth year without education, and it was only through our persistence and working up to a ministerial level that we got him back into some form of education. We look at that case and ask whether that young person will be NEET in another year's time when he leaves school at the end of fifth year. He most definitely will be.

1129. This information does need to go to DE, and there are questions for it to answer. That is one typical example of a young fella who was referred to our facility. We fought his case to get him back into education for his fifth year, but how many other young people are sitting out there who have not been referred to us, do not know about our service or do not have parents who know the appropriate avenues to go down to get their children back into education? Young people are sitting at home because one Department is not communicating with another.

1130. Therefore, this does need to go to DE, which needs to look at what is happening. As Paul said, at the end of fourth year, schools know who will succeed academically and who will not. I would love George to share his experience of school with you. Schools know what will happen to the young people. Are as much resources pumped in to assist those children who will not succeed academically? I will let George explain his story. What happens to the young people who schools know will fail academically and will make up the new NEET figures the following year? Are enough resources being pumped in to them in their fifth year to prepare them for when they leave school? Are they left on the back burner? Are more resources being given to those who are academic? I will let George tell the Committee about his school experience.

1131. Mr Philips: Where do I start? When I started secondary school, I got mixed up with the wrong crowd and started taking drugs, sniffing aerosols and smoking. I got myself into a lot of debt because I was taking drugs, so I started to self-harm. I was not revising, doing my homework or learning, because I was always out of my head. I left school with no education. I met Colm through a youth organisation. He heard about everything, brought me into Rathbone and got me sorted out. Kids in school are facing a lot, because drugs are cheap these days. They face a hell of a life.

1132. Mr Fanning: Another part of George's story is that he was missing school because of his involvement in drugs. When he went back to school, the school treated him as a truant and put him in a special unit for education. As George was in that unit, he had an even more negative experience of school and did not go. It was a cycle; when he went back to school he was treated as a truant again and put back in the unit. That cycle continued until exam time when George was told that there was no point in his doing his exams, because the school knew that he would not be able to pass them. So he left school with no formal qualifications.

1133. There is a cycle of negativity in education. What happened with regards to the Department of Education and George's education was completely wrong. However, his example just goes to show that more work needs to be done with young people who are struggling at school so that they do not end up in George's situation, where three years after he left school he wants to get qualified.

1134. The Chairperson: That is not something that a school can cure; George had to want to be able to turn his life around.

1135. Mr Fanning: Yes, definitely, but it is about coming to that realisation. That negativity has a negative impact on those experiencing it. It would be good if that information were sent to DE, because it would see that too.

1136. Alternative education was mentioned somewhere, or at least it should have been mentioned that many young people want alternative education or something that provides them with more support in getting their qualifications. Although there are qualifications in drugs and alcohol education as well as other things that are more suitable for young people who are not academic, alternative education delivers, first, essential skills and, secondly, life issues, such as drugs and alcohol education and the rest. A lot of young people have said that alternative education would have helped them had they been given the opportunity to try it.

1137. The Chairperson: Sue asked about the Steps to Work programme and engagement. George, where did the magic come from to make you want to engage and to turn your life around?

1138. Mr Philips: It came from talking to Colm. He found out about me and encouraged me. It is fun to learn. He got me into college, and I realised that it is fun. I am going to start college again in October.

1139. The Chairperson: Was it really about somebody having faith and confidence in you?

1140. Mr Philips: I did not have any confidence or self-esteem

1141. The Chairperson: He had confidence in you.

1142. Mr Philips: Yes, he did, and since meeting him, I have built on that.

1143. The Chairperson: Will you briefly answer Sue's question about employability?

1144. Mr Fanning: My experience of Steps to Work is that it works for some people but not others. Some see it as an opportunity. Some young people who have been on benefits and gone on to Steps to Work have benefited from it. Our advice is that they should work as hard as possible because it will build up their CVs and their employers might take them on at the end. However, others have had a negative experience, because they went to work for, for example, B&M but they did not have a genuine interest in retail, so it did not work for them.

1145. Ms S Ramsey: My question was more to do with — Paul touched on this — the possibility of some employers using the Steps to Work programme to their advantage by taking on young people who are on a course or training programme, which then has a detrimental effect on them. What happens when a young person is brought in for a 12-week period and then another young person comes in for the next 12 weeks?

1146. Mr Fletcher: We have to keep our eye on all those different initiatives. There is a temptation to chase targets and to maximise income, but that is not in the best interests of young people. You made a better point about the gap in the process. We are providing some fantastic training programmes and are spending millions of pounds on first-class training schemes, and we have a big number of NEET young people, but we cannot seem to connect the two. There is a gap in that engagement process. Pieces of work like the one that Colm is leading are about connecting to those young people. However, they are worker-intensive. We need staff who will go to where the young people are, motivate them and then connect them with that training. That is where the gap exists.

1147. Yesterday, I talked to someone in the East Belfast Partnership who told me about the billions of pounds that are being spent on the Titanic initiative. I asked her how many jobs were being reserved or mandated in some way for young people, particularly NEETs, and she said that she did not think that that had been built in to the procurement process in awarding contracts. I said that we are missing a trick there, because millions of pounds are going to be spent on that regeneration but the companies that win the contracts are not being made to train young people and give them jobs. Somehow, we have to get that connection between the NEET young people and the opportunities that are there.

1148. The Chairperson: I know that some Committees and Departments are working towards that.

1149. Mr McClarty has been very patient.

1150. Mr McClarty: Thank you for your presentation; it was extremely interesting. By their nature, young people believe themselves to be invincible and indestructible. All of us are aware of the destructive nature of excess alcohol and the abuse of drugs. As you said earlier, Colm, it is escapism for the young people and, indeed, for adults. How do you get them away from the world into which they escape? Are you regarded as another do-gooder trying to preach to them, etc, etc? Do the individuals become so low that they come looking for you?

1151. Mr Fanning: There are different scales of drug and alcohol problems. There is the Friday night crowd, for instance, who are looking for a positive alternative and for someone to give them that positive alternative, and that can be achieved by our staff working with them or through another provider that we refer them to. There are also the people who have been more dependent on drugs and alcohol from whatever age. We have been working with 14-year-olds who have drug addictions. For those young people, it is a case of working with more professionals in the manner and area of their addictions. In some cases, we work with the families, because they are traumatised by the effects of what is happening to their son or daughter.

1152. It is about building a full support package around individuals regarding self-motivation to get involved with things and help with addictions, for instance — looking at addiction teams and support for that — and other issues that come alongside those needs, whether it be criminality or family breakdown. A young person could be dealing with a vast range of issues, or it could be a Friday night crowd who are simply having a drink on the street. Every young person is different.

1153. I could tell you stories about young people with addictions with whom I am working. We are working with their families, the criminal justice system, and, for one individual, addiction teams. It is about putting in place a complete support package. It is about bringing in all the different agencies. An earlier question referred to the parents or a significant adult, but sometimes they do not have the information. They do not know what is available in the community, and that is where our staff come in. We tell the individuals what they need, or what we think they should avail themselves of. We try to bring those services in. We look at the family and the young person and deal with the issues that are affecting them through the drugs and alcohol. I hope that that answers your question.

1154. Mr McClarty: George and Kevin, I am interested in how you became involved with Rathbone.

1155. Mr K Gallagher: I became involved with Rathbone through a staff member, Nicola. My story is different from Geordie's, because I had a good school life. I have all my GCSEs and A levels, but I came to a point in my life where I was not working or in education. I did not know what to do. Nicola, who worked for our local youth club, also works for Rathbone, and she told me about the organisation. I had said that I would like to speak to someone. I met Colm, Emma and all the staff. From that first meeting, they have been brilliant. They have been there for me when I have needed help and support. Now I volunteer with them, meeting other young people on the streets. It is good, because I can tell them my experiences and let them know that the people at Rathbone are not so bad and that they are not old fogeys. At the end of the month, I will start training to be a counsellor, and that is through Rathbone.

1156. The Chairperson: Well done.

1157. Mr Philips: I got involved with Rathbone through the youth organisation and through meeting Colm. I told him about my problems and he told me to come down. He told me about education and got me signed up to everything. Now I just keep going down, and every time I go there are new people there.

1158. Mrs McGill: I want to say congratulations to George and Kevin on the responses you have given so far. They were excellent; well done. I wish both of you well for the future. Kevin, it was interesting that your experience of education was different from that of many others. The figure of 196 people out of 220 with a negative experience of education is shameful.

1159. Perhaps I and others are guilty of having a mindset that runs something along these lines: if someone is not academic, they then do something else. That mindset has to be absolutely changed. In my view, people are not better if they are academic. The mindset of all of us has to change, and we have to instil that from a very early age in all of those who are charged with dealing with those matters. That is something that I have felt for many years. Again, I wish George and Kevin well in whatever they do.

1160. Paul, you made a comment that was interesting, and I concur with it — that, by and large, you do not meet young people who do not want to learn. That is my own experience. Young people do want to learn, but the circumstances, the context, the type of teachers people have and — we need to say it — the kind of school they are in all affect that. An awful lot of work needs to be done. A lot of good work is done, but I repeat that that figure of 196 out of 220 is shameful.

1161. Finally, I want to touch on bullying, and the fact that there may not be a lot of help if there is bullying in school. Kevin and George, did you come across that individually, and did you get any help with it within the school?

1162. Mr K Gallagher: I can honestly say that, during my secondary school experience, I never came across bullying personally. I had friends who were bullied, and I was friends with people who were bullies. People have a negative attitude towards bullying in schools because, as people get older and begin secondary school, if they go to report bullying, a lot of the time the teacher will say that it is just messing about or a joke. They do not take it too seriously. That is OK if something only happens once, but not when it happens regularly.

1163. That is what I found with a lot of people that I went to school with. They had reported it and they were told to grow up or start acting older, and that it was just messing about. I remember a comment made by a teacher after being told by someone that they thought they were being bullied. The teacher's response was that when they started working it would be worse. That is the sort of attitude that people come up against. I do not know if George had a different experience.

1164. Mrs McGill: Thank you, Kevin.

1165. Mr Philips: I actually agree with Kevin, because I went to the same school as him. If people said anything, the school did not take any notice of it, and if they said anything to teachers they would get beaten up after school because of it, and would be scared to tell again. I came across that before.

1166. The Chairperson: There is a long way to go to eradicate bullying at school.

1167. Ms Lo: I was struck by the number of young people —196 — with negative experiences of education. I support what Claire said about our education system being one-size-fits-all. If young people are not academic, they will struggle. As Colm said, young people find that learning theories is really very boring. They want more practical, hands-on learning, rather than learning about geography, important though that is. Many of them find it not relevant to their future working life.

1168. Do you find that young people in that category may have mild learning difficulties, such as mild dyslexia or mild autism, but were never detected in school by teachers, and that that may have prevented them from keeping up with the teaching?

1169. Mr Fletcher: Certainly, young people with additional learning needs are over-represented in the NEET figures and, if we drill into what is happening, perhaps that is one of the reasons why they do not achieve well in school. However, a significant number of young people just do not thrive in big institutions and in the classroom. A lot of work has been done in Scandinavian countries where they have introduced the concept of a studio school. Young people who were not doing well in big institutions have gone into the smaller studio schools and are outperforming their peers. Perhaps we have to recognise that those young people cannot cope with the institutions, but that they do want to learn.

1170. In a class of 30 or more, if two or three, or perhaps five or six, young people have some learning disability or learning difficulty, it will not be picked up by a single teacher. As a result, they will fall behind and get less attention because they will not achieve the grades that will help the school to achieve its targets. Perhaps we need to look more at the classroom. We do environmental projects at Rathbone, and when some of those young people are taken out of the classroom they do fantastically.

1171. Ms Lo: If these young people fall behind they become bored and may become disruptive, and then they are labelled as being difficult pupils and, as a result, they are excluded.

1172. Mr Fletcher: Yes.

1173. The Chairperson: Thank you for your presentation. It will be included in the final inquiry findings, and you will have an opportunity to have a look at it. On behalf of the Committee, I thank Kevin and George for attending and for their honesty in giving members an understanding of what it is like to have that negative image at school and to be labelled as NEET.

22 September 2010

Members present for all or part of the proceedings:

Mrs Dolores Kelly (Chairperson)
Mr Jonathan Bell (Deputy Chairperson)
Mr Sydney Anderson
Rev Dr Robert Coulter
Mr Chris Lyttle
Mr David McClarty
Mrs Claire McGill
Mr Pat Ramsey
Ms Sue Ramsey
Mr Peter Weir

Witnesses:

Ms Louise Brennan
Mr Conor Kennedy
Ms Mairead McCafferty
Ms Pamela Shields

 

Alternative Education Providers' Forum

1174. The Chairperson (Mrs D Kelly): You are all very welcome. Thank you for your attendance today. We have a number of briefings this morning, and we ask witnesses to give a five- or 10-minute overview. That will allow time for members to comment, ask questions or seek clarification. Mairead McCafferty is the programme manager for Integrated Services for Children and Young People. Conor Kennedy is the manager of Open Doors, Louise Brennan is from West Belfast AEPs' Integrated Services for Children and Young People, and Pamela Shields is from Newstart education centre.

1175. Ms Mairead McCafferty (Alternative Education Providers' Forum): We are aware that you are under pressure for time. You will know that we have met the Committee before, and we have made submissions in relation to the NEETs strategy that the Committee is responsible for taking forward. We are really supportive of that because we have been working not just with young people who are NEET, which is a wonderful label that we have all come up with, but with pre-NEETs for a number of years now. As the Committee will know, we work across the whole of Belfast. We have alternative education centres on the Shankill and in north Belfast, east Belfast and west Belfast.

1176. I do not propose to read the briefing paper word for word; there is nothing as bad as somebody doing that. However, you will be aware that young people who are in alternative education centres are there because they have very complex needs, and, for a variety of reasons that would take too long to go into, they have disengaged from mainstream education or been referred outside the mainstream school system because school does not work for them for lots of different reasons. As a result of all that, those young people will become NEET. This is obviously why the Committee is so concerned: we have 58,000 to 60,000 young people across Northern Ireland who are regarded as not being in education, employment or training.

1177. Part of the work that we have been involved in has been about earlier intervention. We think that it is vital that we focus on pre-NEETs. Predominantly young people who are aged 14 to 16, and increasingly younger than that, are disengaging from school or having difficulty in the school environment, which is why we are being approached to see if we can take in younger children, such as year 10s. We are also mindful of the fact that we need to get into schools to do a lot of preventative work. We need to ensure that we work very closely with community organisations, because very often they can support young people and families in the communities and deal with some of the issues that will ultimately prevent their young people from falling out of the system and support them to stay in it.

1178. As you know, alternative education provider (AEP) centres work with young people in meeting their needs in a holistic fashion. We have also set up a multidisciplinary approach, which brings in the work of teachers, youth workers, social workers and peer educators. As a result of all the work that we have done, we have developed a reputation for good practice. Therefore, we will get placements from the University of Ulster, Queen's University, St Mary's University College and Stranmillis University College, and we are engaged in developing that whole programme. We believe that we need to educate teachers. I am not saying that teachers need to be educated, but, as a teacher, I hold my hands up and say that we do not get it right all the time. We have to make sure that our teachers are equipped for the real world and that they know how to deal with the young people who present with some of those issues in the classroom, and it is not a shock for them when they meet them in the classroom. We will talk more about that later.

1179. What we want to stress to the Committee is that we have been regarded as a model of good practice not just by the Department of Education but by the Education and Training Inspectorate when they have done their inspections, which they do just like they do with ordinary schools and so on. We are a key partner in developing the NEET strategy. The multidisciplinary integrated approach is what works for these young people. You cannot think of a young person being in a classroom to be educated without understanding the context in which they live their lives. If you do that, they will fail and fall out of the system. If they do not fall out of the system at 14, 15 or 16, they will fall out of it when they go, in theory, into further education, training organisations or, possibly, employment. Our experience is that that happens too much. Obviously, you are well aware of that too.

1180. One of the other things that we wish to stress — I think that we said this the last time that we were up — is the need for interdepartmental working. I know that I am preaching to the converted, because the Employment and Learning Committee is quite progressive in trying to make sure that the relevant Departments all work together. The Department of Education working with the Department for Employment and Learning (DEL) is vital because, in a sense, you are picking up where sometimes the system has failed. Do not say that I said that outside this room.

1181. Ms S Ramsey: It was recorded.

1182. Ms McCafferty: It is also important to work with the Department of Health; the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Investment; the Department for Social Development; the Department of Justice, and so on. All of those organisations have a responsibility to ensure that they have a collective vision to address the impact of NEETs.

1183. We also have to look at the issues that lead to those young people becoming NEET in the first place. A major focus for our development — this is some of the work that we do with AEPs through integrated services in west Belfast, and across the Shankill as well — is developing transition support programmes. Over the years, we have identified that, very often, there has been a huge gap in the transition from school into alternative education centres and even post-16. That was part of the reason that we talked to the Committee before: if a young person needs an extra year, or possibly two, with an alternative education centre, we have to have some way of supporting that. Those young people have missed so much of their schooling. By the time that they come to us, they need that extra year or two to make them ready for training organisations or employment. When our young people fall out of school and, in theory, then go to training organisations, they fall out of those as well. It is very important to develop a transition support programme that works for those young people and works with the training organisations, supports the young people for their first six months and tracks their progress after year one, and so on. We are in the process of developing that at the minute.

1184. A lot of the work that we have done gives itself to research. I know that this is a bit of an aside, but action-based or experiential research is vital to make sure that we address a lot of the issues effectively.

1185. The Committee will be aware that the alternative education centres across Belfast take referrals from the Belfast Education and Library Board and, increasingly, from other board areas outside Belfast. Again, that is testament to the reputation and the good work that is done. We know how to work successfully with those young people, and they gain their qualifications. We also support their families. We are being asked increasingly to take in young people from different board areas. That has been the trend over the past number of years. My colleagues will talk more about that.

1186. We know that the Committee supports the work that we do. We have to make sure that the strategy that the Committee produces is effective in the long term. That can only happen if the relevant Departments buy into it, support it and resource it. There have to be effective ways of monitoring the development and rolling out of such a strategy.

1187. That you very much for listening.

1188. The Chairperson: Thank you very much. You finished by talking about resources, which will be a fairly critical issue in the coming weeks and months. I was not a member of the Committee when you were here before, although I am fairly up to speed with NEETs. A lot of people are telling us the same thing: prevention is better than cure. We are interested in the transition period and the young people who have to catch up. In terms of funding and whether they are entitled to allowances, which would be an incentive for them to participate in such training programmes, and in terms of resources for your own organisation, who are your main funders? That may be an aside, but it is important at this stage.

1189. Ms McCafferty: It is. Because we have worked with the Department of Education as well as this Committee for years, it has recognised that the provision is basically an alternative to being in school five days a week. In the alternative education centre they receive their education, timetabled to the curriculum, and their provision is second to none. I have to be careful not to run down some of the statutory provision. We in the community centre have a vested interest in our children being successful, so we make sure that they get the best.

1190. The Department of Education funds some but not all places in alternative education centres, and that is a core issue that we are taking up with that Department, particularly in the AEP review, the release of which is two years late. We are told that it will be published in the autumn; let us hope that it is autumn 2010. However, we also have to ensure that we get other resources from any kind of trusts, foundations, charities, the Big Lottery Fund or wherever. We will go to whoever we have to go to in order resource the work that we do, and that is how we have survived. Certainly with Newstart, it has been going for more than 13 years, and Open Doors is the same. We all depend on a cocktail of funding, and that, in my view, is unacceptable.

1191. I believe that every child has the right to an effective education, which entails lifelong learning. It should be properly resourced; that is one of the issues that we have constantly stressed with the Department of Education. DEL has an obvious responsibility towards over-16s, which we know it will live up to. We are aware that there will be a lot of stresses and pressures in the current economic climate. One of the things that we have done is proving to be value for money. At present, there are 58,000 to 60,000 young people who are NEET across Northern Ireland — I am waiting for exact figures for west Belfast and Shankill from the integrated services programme. We must ensure that we do not replicate the mistakes of the past. If do not start to tackle this now, next year we will have another 60,000, and the year after another 60,000.

1192. Therefore, while we have to focus a lot on the pre-NEETS and preventative work, we also have to work with young people who are already NEET. I know that does not answer your question totally, Mrs Kelly, but we exist on a cocktail of funding and we have to make sure that the funding, wherever it is in the system for that child, is delivered to where that child is being educated, trained and so on, and that is one of the things that we have also highlighted with the Department of Education.

1193. Ms S Ramsey: I have a couple of points. From the outset, I declare an interest: my father is involved in an alternative education project in greater Belfast. The Chairperson's point about the money and the cocktail of funding is valid, but alternative education should not sell itself short. Although nobody knows what we will face next month, I and others believe that we can actually save money if this is done right. We probably spend more money now because Departments are not talking: we have Health versus Education versus Social Development versus Employment and Learning, and all of that stuff. It strikes me that if we get the integrated strategy that is needed, we could probably end up saving money. With no disrespect, done properly, that could put some of yous out of business.

1194. Ms McCafferty: Yes.

1195. Ms S Ramsey: My other point is that, because it is a case of the Employment and Learning Committee versus the Education Committee, there is a concern that the money does not necessarily always follow the child, which, in itself, leads to problems. If the Education Department gives so many thousands of pounds to each child, it does not follow when that child goes into alternative education. We have to find additional money for that project. Those questions need to be answered.

1196. Through integrated services, I am doing a bit of work with parents whose kids have educational needs. Over the past months, I have been struck by the constant battle that parents do not want to be part of: it is the board versus the school; the school versus the board; Education versus Health; this one versus that one; and the parents do not want to know. They just want to see end gains for the child's education. Some of it only needs small amounts of money or focus, or an additional reading class, etc.

1197. The Committee is working towards a proactive strategy. It is not just about DEL; DEL picks up the pieces, but other Departments need to come in. I am interested in what you said about the pre-NEETs strategy. You are right: we are dealing with 50,000 or 60,000 kids this year, next year and the year after. We need to get in and deal with that. We can touch on some of that stuff; the integrated approach and the focus. In fairness, sometimes I think that the community and voluntary sector is further down the line than the officials.

1198. Ms McCafferty: I do not want to be the one talking all the time; Pamela wants to come in here as well.

1199. You are right: parents are feeling a great deal of frustration. AEP is a big part of the integrated services programme, and we support the work of the AEPs through that programme. It is very much about an integrated approach and trying to pull the various Departments together on the ground in west Belfast, the Shankill and so on. That is the first strand, and the idea is that it will be rolled out.

1200. Working in an integrated fashion saves money, and that is what everyone needs to hear. It is one of the most effective ways of working. As you said, Sue, it is often not just about throwing piles of money at the issue. It is about a different way of working. If it is done collectively and properly, pulling together the various Departments' responsibilities will entail less investment by each Department. That is one of the things that we have pushed for.

1201. You are right: the pre-NEETs strategy is vital. Alternative education centres across Belfast have been working for upwards of 20 years with young people who have fallen out of the school system for whatever reason. We have developed a model that has been proven to work, and we need to expand that now. The Department of Education, the Committee for Employment and Learning and all the Departments that have a responsibility need to take this forward in a much more effective and concerted fashion. That is how we will start to tackle the issues right across the North of Ireland.

1202. Pamela wants to come in, so I will be quiet. One thing that I will say — one last point — which Sue touched on, is that, in doing the work that we do, we also support families. As you know, a lot of the children who become NEET have learning difficulties; a lot of them do not, but a large number of them do. We are looking at tackling that by providing support for parents to enable them to support their child at home as well as in the school environment. We do a lot of work in schools, out in the community and with parents in their homes. Very often, the parents themselves have poor literacy and numeracy. We help to support them and skill those parents up so that they do not feel that they cannot work and support their own child while he or she is in school. That support is for people of all ages, and it is part of the work that we do through integrated services.

1203. Pamela wants to come in now, so I will pass over to her.

1204. The Chairperson: Bear in mind that a number of other members also want to ask questions.

1205. Ms Pamela Shields (Alternative Education Providers' Forum): I will not be as long-winded as Mairead. [Laughter.]

1206. Ms McCafferty: I have been called many things. Thank you, Pamela.

1207. Ms Shields: I am in the privileged position of having taught in schools for many years and being a senior manager in further education. I was also involved with the Learning and Skills Development Agency in looking at retention rates in Training for Success and other programmes for young people. I am relatively new in the community sector, but I have quickly become passionate about the work that is being done.

1208. Many teachers identify what we call wobbly young children, whom we can see are going to have issues and may drop out of education. Alternative education is not an alternative education; it is complementary to school education. People say that all young people should be educated in schools. However, for many reasons and because of things that have happened in their lives, some young people drop out of the system. You can be guaranteed that, when they drop out of the school system, they will also drop out of any training programmes, which has an ongoing effect on our economy.

1209. The big thing that I have that community AEPs cannot offer is a multidisciplinary team, which includes youth workers, social workers, teachers and counselling services. We can work not only with young people but with a young person within the family. We are actually working with the families. They take the young person from where they are with regards to their education, whether they are at entry level or level 1 in their literacy and numeracy. Through an individual learning programme, they will strive to get the young person, if not to level 2 in essential skills, certainly to a stage where they are at level 1 but are ready to re-engage and move on. When they move on to their training programme or employment they will be able to gain a level 2 qualification, which all adults should be striving for.

1210. The Chairperson: Thank you. I ask members to keep their questions brief.

1211. Mr Weir: Thank you for your presentation. Like the Chairperson, I was not here when you previously presented. How dare you accuse us of being progressive? Some of us take that as an insult. [Laughter.]

1212. To follow up on Sue's point in terms of the integrated approach, one of the things that we are accused of in Northern Ireland — probably quite rightly — is that there is a silo mentality between, and even within, Departments. For example, in the education sector, there is sometimes a situation within the board system whereby if one thing is funded it means that money is moving from one area to another, and there are various disputes in relation to that.

1213. Allied to that, we have heard various bits of evidence that have established that very good things are happening in particular areas, but there is a feeling that it is patchy around Northern Ireland. Can you comment on your experience of rolling out best practice? The extent to which that is done seems to be limited. Finally, you mentioned the need for a degree of tracking of young people. You give the added value in your sector, but can you comment on that in relation to the handover of young people beyond when you are dealing with them?

1214. Ms McCafferty: You are right that we do tend to think in silos, and government Departments tend to work in silos; obviously except this one, which is progressive. As everybody knows, that has been the experience in Northern Ireland, but, if nothing else, the current economic situation will necessitate and make vital working in an integrated fashion. People are starting to get their heads around the fact that we have to integrate the work and the various strategies. A lot of the NEET work ties in with the child poverty strategy that the Office of the First Minister and deputy First Minister is currently writing. All of those strategies need to be married up where appropriate.

1215. There is also a silo mentality within the boards. I hope that eventually — how can I put this diplomatically? I have recently been appointed to the Belfast Education and Library Board transition board, so I hope that I can bring some influence to bear on that and that that will then be translated across the other board areas. I know that under the Education and Skills Authority (ESA) there are proposed directorates, one of which will have responsibility for alternative education provision. There is an opportunity to start doing exactly what you have said, Peter: taking the best practice and replicating it in the areas where it needs to be replicated. That is probably a good vehicle for doing that. We cannot lose that opportunity, because we will just continue the mistakes of the past. If and when ESA gets up and running it will be another vehicle for that, but that should not stop us doing it now.

1216. In relation to the tracking, we already do that. In Newstart we have developed a system of progression routes so that the young person is supported in their progression to the next stage. If they are going into further education or a training organisation, that is recorded and tracked at the end of that year. Ongoing support is also provided for that young person, so they maintain a relationship with the alternative education centre, and if there are problems in the training organisation we can support them there.

1217. We have already done small pieces of work with some of the training organisations in different areas in Belfast. That is the kind of thing that can be developed, because we are supporting some of the most marginalised young people, who would be in danger of dropping out of those training organisations. Sometimes they have not gone to school and they go into a training organisation because that is what their friends are doing, but they will drop out by October or November. Some of the programmes that we have done in the past, when resources permitted, involved going in to training organisations to deliver programmes that helped to retain young people. That is the kind of best practice that can be developed and replicated. A lot of it is already there; we just need to be able to do it across the board.

1218. Mr P Ramsey: Good morning; you are very welcome. I want to acknowledge the important contribution that you are making to the development of young people in west Belfast. Too often, we hear what young people are doing wrong. They can get into a cycle, and we have seen at close hand the range of problems, such as mental health problems and drug and alcohol abuse, that are coming through. However, a lot of good work is going on.

1219. Peter Weir is quite right. We are looking at models and at best practice to know who is doing it right, how they are doing it right and how they are being funded, so that, at the end of the inquiry, we will be in a much stronger position to try to ensure that an integrated approach and directness are there.

1220. To help the Committee, can you outline how many young people in west Belfast go through this integrated service? I know that I am throwing things out now, but it is something that you can come back to us on. How many young people, as a result of coming through your system, end up securing employment? Is it possible? The information and all those stats are important. How many people went into training? You mentioned direct referrals to your programme from outside agencies. Can we have the stats on who is referring young people to you, where those young people are coming from, and whether they can be identified under the groupings that we talked about, such as mental health or various others?

1221. In delivering an action plan, there is a suggestion that, in west Belfast, we do not have a cross-departmental approach to delivering scenarios and programmes. Will you outline whether that is happening, and, if not, why not? Surely, under neighbourhood renewal, there are programmes to ensure that a much greater degree of resource is targeted towards those areas.

1222. Mr Conor Kennedy (Alternative Education Providers' Forum): In the whole of Belfast, over 150 young people every year are served through community alternative education projects. All our centres rely on a cocktail of funding, from a community basis upwards. However, we work together, as the AEP Forum, to try to pool our resources as best we can. In the north of the city, Pathways has three sites; in the east of the city, a project on the Ravenhill Road has just been extended into the Short Strand; we operate out of the centre of town; and there are three further centres in the west of the city.

1223. All of us have different capabilities and strengths. In trying to figure out an integrated approach, we work with integrated services in rolling out family support services — social work, counselling, anything that we can get our hands on to re-engage young people and their families with the notion that educational attainment is the way forward. Even among ourselves, in trying to meet best practice, we have started to look at our strengths and weaknesses as units to see who does what best and where each unit best fits. For example, in our centre, we look at young people outside mainstream education who could sit a full academic course. However, we are slightly weaker on the vocational element. Therefore, in trying to meet the entitlement framework that is rolled out, we have begun a pilot project for the year with the Conway Mill Trust to work with young people who have been referred to it and who could comfortably sit GCSE English and maths. If we have one or two young people from the south or east of the city, where provision is slightly lighter, they can go to Conway and maybe work through an essential skills programme towards a level 1 or level 2. Within the forum, we are trying to pool our resources — [Inaudible due to mobile phone interference.]

1224. This is the first year, for example, that Open Doors has secured a space for every young person, either back in mainstream education where they came from, in further education — studying everything from BTECs to three A levels — all the way down to the one or two young people who are working through level 1 and level 2 in training organisations and building up to adult literacy and numeracy.

1225. Ms McCafferty: I know that you are pressed for time, so I will not be long-winded. Pat mentioned the integrated approach. The integrated services programme works across west Belfast and the Shankill. As part of that, there is a big AEP focus, because we know that we need to be working with the AEPs. Neighbourhood renewal, which Pat also mentioned, is integral to that, because we are doing this through the neighbourhood partnerships. For example, in west Belfast and the Shankill, the programme is rolled out through the west Belfast and Shankill partnerships. We also do that through the neighbourhood renewal areas. In the integrated services that we are delivering on the ground, you see the rolling out of some of the action plans through neighbourhood renewal, so we are taking the need in each of the areas and addressing it.

1226. Mr P Ramsey: Is there a buy-in from the Departments of Education and Health?

1227. Ms McCafferty: On our executive in west Belfast and the Shankill and on the project board, there is representation from the Education Department and the Health Department. I would like to see the Department for Employment and Learning represented as well. The integrated services programme has only been going for 18 months, but we have developed a model of good practice.

1228. We can get the details of the model that is specific to alternative education up to the Committee. We will also send the statistics that you asked for within the next week so that you have a comprehensive overview. We will also send details on the funding sources for the young people and on how we track their progression.

1229. Ms Shields: You are also very welcome to come out to talk to some of our young people.

1230. The Chairperson: You said that DEL is not part of the board. Is that by invitation, or is it mandatory?

1231. Ms McCafferty: It predates my time as programme manager for west Belfast. As it was a health action zone initiative originally, it involved education and that is how the situation evolved. However, the involvement needs to be broader. For all the reasons that we have said, it is vital that the Department for Employment and Learning is sent an invitation.

1232. The Chairperson: Is there an invitation to the Department for Employment and Learning?

1233. Ms McCafferty: I will bring that up with the project board.

1234. The Chairperson: Let us know how you get on.

1235. Mr Bell: Thank you for your presentation. I support the work that you do, having often seen it at first hand in my previous career.

1236. How many of the children who come through the care system do you work with? Do you have links with the likes of the Glenmona Resource Centre, which has a very good education service on site? When I was there with some of my own young people, they could do very well when they were on site, because my partners in the residential services were able to get them up, encourage them along, pick them up if there were family problems and get them in. However, the minute that they stepped outside, the difficulties began.

1237. Ms Shields: I am just new into it, but of my group of 20 young people last year, two were from care. They have progressed into further education. This year, in my first cohort of 15 young people, two are from care. I do not have statistics, but Mairead may have. We work very much on a key worker system and work with the young people within that. We attend all of their meetings and so on and work to develop an individual learning plan so that they are supported.

1238. Ms Louise Brennan (Alternative Education Providers' Forum): A big thing that has been identified with most of the young people is the need for transition support. For many of the young people, their emotional intelligence is not as strong as it would have been if they had come from stronger families. We need to build on that and build resilience. So, a cross-departmental programme between Education and DEL would target that type of intervention. Sometimes it is not just academic intervention that is needed; there needs to be a building of the whole person to make him or her ready to be employed or go on to further education.

1239. I am not saying that the young people are damaged, but there needs to be some backward steps to build resilience and create emotional intelligence among some of them, which will allow them to develop into stronger adults. It is a cycle, because that allows those young people to become better parents. It kind of breaks the cycle. Realistically, in economic terms, that is what you need to do. There is no point in pouring money in and only dealing with an issue as it comes up; you need to break the cycle.

1240. The Chairperson: It is a holistic approach.

1241. Ms Brennan: It is where you start to break the cycle.

1242. Ms McCafferty: In terms of the AEPs across Belfast, each year 5% to 10% are young people from care.

1243. Mr Lyttle: Thank you for your presentation. This is a major issue across the region, including Belfast and my constituency of East Belfast, and I am familiar with some of the work being done in the Ravenhill area. I echo Pat Ramsey's recognition of the contribution and the request for data to demonstrate improved outcomes. That would be important and useful. You requested further support for the transition into further education, employment and training. Is there an alternative training provision programme, or a need for one?

1244. Ms Brennan: There is a need for some kind of a bridge. Once young people are post 16, no training organisation has the whole responsibility, and that kind of joint care is needed. No matter where the young person comes from, they should be able to hold on to the link and, in some situations, maybe create a revolving door so that, if things are not working in the training organisation, they can go back and get the skills that they need for it to work in training or further education. There should not be a cut-off point at age 16 when they are sent to a certain place or at age 18 when they are sent to a certain place.

1245. We need to look at a broader approach and create bridges. That was identified during talks with training organisations in the west of the city. They would like to see closer links with either the school or the provider before the young person comes in so that the whole system and the young person's background is known to them. It is about creating links. We talk about lifelong learning, but we are still talking about it in silos. We need to talk about lifelong learning as one joined-up mechanism.

1246. Ms Shields: We are piloting a transition programme for our young people this year where they will stay with Newstart, and they will go to a further education college one day a week to do an NVQ in hairdressing. That picks up from the vocational training they had with the AEP course last year. They will have two days a week in a placement where they will be closely monitored — in a small hairdressing salon — and they will have two days in the centre with us where we will develop their level 1 essential skills to level 2 essential skills, build up their resilience programmes, build up their self-confidence and so on. Ideally, we would love to be able to put that pilot programme in place for all of our young people who are not ready to move on to further education, training or employment.

1247. The Chairperson: No doubt the Committee will be interested in hearing about the outcome of the pilot programme at a later stage.

1248. Mr S Anderson: Thank you for your presentation. I am also one of the new Assembly members on the Committee; it is a learning curve for me. You talked about early intervention and the need for more work with teachers. How much more work needs to be done? What level are we at at the moment with the teachers and the parents? Does a lot of work need to be done with the schools and the teachers?

1249. Ms McCafferty: There is an opportunity through continuing professional development (CPD) and early professional development of teachers. I believe that a more holistic picture of the nature of some of the issues that young people are dealing with and the context in which they are living their lives should be integral to the trainee teachers' curriculum. I do not want to criticise the teacher training colleges. However, we have had meetings with Stranmillis and St Mary's, and we had a meeting yesterday with the head of the school of education in Queen's University for that reason. When I was doing my training practice as a trainee teacher, I was not equipped for the scenario where a young person wanted to get onto a chair and bounce across the room. Sometimes they can be aggressive. I hate saying that because it sends out a picture that all those young people are aggressive. We have young people who have come from mainstream schools because they have been bullied, or because of different reasons, and the schools have not been able to deal with them effectively. It is very difficult to deal with that effectively in a school of 1,000 pupils, and we appreciate that.

1250. The intensive, holistic, multidisciplinary approach works for those young people. A lot of work needs to be done with the teachers, including behaviour management and recognising learning difficulties. That leads into the special educational needs review. There is an opportunity here, as money has been set aside for training teachers within the classroom and also those who are training to be teachers. I always believe that you have to have a parallel approach. It is not just about early intervention; it is about dealing with the existing situation. We have to be more comprehensive in how we deliver that, which is why we have been delivering and starting to expand the programmes that we have delivered for the teacher training colleges. I have to say that they have been very welcoming. They are keen that we go in there and equip their teachers and educate them more effectively.

1251. Ms Shields: We welcome university students who are studying social work, psychology, teacher training or youth work. Their feedback has been that it has been a very valuable resource.

1252. The Chairperson: Thank you very much for your attendance today. We look forward to receiving any additional information that you have.

1253. Ms McCafferty: We will definitely get that to the Committee.

1254. The Chairperson: Thank you.

29 September 2010

Members present for all or part of the proceedings:

Mrs Dolores Kelly (Chairperson)
Mr Jonathan Bell (Deputy Chairperson)
Mr Sydney Anderson
Rev Dr Robert Coulter
Mr Chris Lyttle
Mr David McClarty
Mrs Claire McGill
Mr Pat Ramsey
Mr Peter Weir

Witnesses:

Ms June Ingram
Mr Pascal McCulla
Mr Jim Walker

 

Department for Employment and Learning

1255. The Chairperson (Mrs D Kelly): I welcome June Ingram, director of the strategy and employment relations division; Jim Walker, head of migrant workers and NEETs branch; and Pascal McCulla. I invite you to proceed with your briefing.

1256. Ms June Ingram (Department for Employment and Learning): Thank you for the opportunity to update the Committee on what we have been doing in this area since March 2010, when Linda Bradley and I briefed the Committee on the emerging findings from the scoping study. As we know, during the course of the year the Committee has been undertaking an inquiry into this important issue. The scoping study report went to the Executive on 22 July 2010, and you have received a copy of it and of the executive summary. It was prepared on foot of substantial research and information-gathering with a wide range of stakeholders, and, as far as possible, it takes account of and refers to developments in other regions and the wide range of existing relevant activities, actions and evaluations that are in place. I will give you a brief update based on the executive summary, which sets the key elements of the scoping study, and an update on what we have been doing since July.

1257. This is a brief overview of a detailed and complex issue. First, there are various data sources in Northern Ireland, each of which provides different information on young people who are not in education, employment or training. The labour force survey provides the overall figure, for both the 16-to-19-year-old and the 16-to-24-year-old age groups; training is defined as government supported, and the definition of education is restricted to full-time education. The latest labour force survey figures, which are more recent than those in the scoping study, show that, for 16-to-19-year-olds, the figures for Northern Ireland stand at 16% in quarter 2. That compares with a rate of 15% for the UK; for 16-to-24-year-olds, the proportion stands at 18%, and the comparable figure for the UK is 18%.

1258. The report also recognises that, from 2007 onwards and particularly in recent times, as you are aware, youth unemployment levels have risen sharply in Northern Ireland and the UK as a whole. That sets the situation in the context of global and external economic factors. Work in England and Wales shows that young people not in education, employment or training can be divided into those with and those without barriers to engagement; they can be further split into three groups. The report identifies one group as "out of scope" to describe young people who are doing some form of activity that is not formally counted as education, employment or training, for example, gap-year students or young people undertaking voluntary work. In England and Wales, that group accounts for about 22% in the 16-to-19-year-old age group.

1259. Group 2 is described as young people with an identifiable barrier: serious illness or disability, for example; some may be able to participate now while others may require help to do so. That group accounts for about 23%. Group 3 is young people who are not in education, employment or training but who are in neither of the above categories. They have no identifiable barrier, and that group accounts for about 55%.

1260. The young people in those categories are far from a homogenous group. There is a wide spectrum of problems; barriers can be multiple and compounded, often from the earliest years. Those characteristics may make transition stages more problematic and leave the young person needing additional support to benefit from education and make a successful transition to further education, training or employment. As the Committee is aware, the groups that are most usually associated with that are children and young people in care, who have problems with literacy or numeracy, who are parents, who have experienced drug or alcohol abuse, or who have a physical or learning disability. Those are just some examples of the groups.

1261. The scoping study report outlined strategies for England, Scotland and Wales and initiatives in the Republic of Ireland that demonstrate a range of common characteristics in respect of a strategic approach. They tend to divide into preventative and re-engagement or intervention approaches. The report also recognises the importance of early preventative intervention and additional support; there is flexibility in response as well as interdepartmental and agency communication and co-operation. Young people's transitional stages are seen as key. Disengagement from society and the economy is, in many cases, linked to other factors of social exclusion. The identification of those factors is an important starting point in finding solutions to the problem.

1262. It is important to recognise that, in Northern Ireland, many strategies and initiatives have been developed to address aspects of social and economic exclusion. Achieving those strategies would, in many cases, have a positive impact on the proportion of young people here who are not in education, employment or training.

1263. I will give a brief overview of some key points of the conclusions and recommendations from the report. It can be seen that the figures for young people in Northern Ireland not in education, employment or training are no better or worse than elsewhere in the UK, but numbers have increased. The cohort is the focus of strategic interest in other regions. It is not homogenous; it comprises young people with no barriers to participation and those who have identifiable barriers to participation. Those are varied and inter-related, and many are affected by multiple and compounded issues.

1264. The scoping study is the result of an examination of the issue at a time of almost constant change, when the recession was having an adverse impact on the numbers of young people who were unemployed. In that regard, we need to bear in mind that danger points for young people are the transitional stages where one form of activity ends and a conscious decision needs to be made as to the next engagement. We must recognise that much is already being done by the statutory and voluntary sector to address those issues, including joint working among organisations.

1265. The scoping study identified that there was a great deal of potential to develop existing activities further; for example, to improve data availability, to build on joint working and to share and make use of good practice. It recommended that an overarching strategy for the numbers of young people not in education, employment or training in Northern Ireland should be taken forward by a cross-departmental mechanism. Consideration should also be given to how best to improve information on that group; for example, in identifying those young people and looking at how they fall into different groups. Account should be taken of the large amount of work that has already been done, and steps should be taken to further develop partnerships and joint working, looking at those problems in an holistic way and looking at, for example, family support options.

1266. I will briefly refer to an Office for Standards in Education, Children's Services and Skills (Ofsted) report of last March. It was clear on the type of approach that led to a successful strategy. For example, a wide range of partners should be used in the development of the vision and there should be a readiness to align and pool resources and co-ordinate information so that success is sustained and integrated into an overall strategy. The most effective partnerships recognised the factors that were most often associated with disengagement and focused on giving early support to the young people who were most affected by those factors so that the effects may be countered. That was a quick run-through of the scoping study and executive summary.

1267. In July 2010, the Executive agreed that a cross-departmental mechanism should be put in place to develop a strategic approach to tackling the issue. I want to update the Committee on what the Department has been doing since then. We have had a range of bilateral meetings, both internally and with officials, with the other relevant Departments to investigate more fully their perspective on what they see as their role in developing a strategic approach, as well as how that might be done most effectively. It is important to incorporate existing relevant work as well as provide a new framework for action. We have liaised closely with stakeholders from the voluntary and community sector to examine how best to take work forward and encourage NGO engagement. All those actions are orientated towards supporting the design of a strategic approach; they will inform our recommendations to the Minister on what should be our next steps.

1268. I want to focus on some of the themes that have emerged and areas that we might want to look at and develop through that strategic approach. I have already touched on them in my remarks about the scoping study, but I will elaborate on them a little.

1269. First, information is a general theme. Two-way information informs us about the young people and informs them so that awareness is enhanced and information better used, co-ordinated and signposted. It helps us to think about our research needs in order to find out more about an issue following the scoping study.

1270. Another area is identifying, developing and disseminating good practice, as well as recognising the importance of that two-strand approach of prevention and intervention. Partnership is a co-operative approach that involves linkages between agencies and sectors so that there is joined-up working on issues. That links to location — bearing in mind the theme of information, which is about knowing where those young people might be and being able to target interventions and measures more appropriately.

1271. That links to support services and recognising the wider social or personal issues that may be barriers for those young people, as well as the role of important individuals in their lives. It covers access to programmes and progression into work, for example. It is about re-engagement and sustainability, and that links to work-focused activities, which can be most effective towards engagement and prevention of disengagement. Of course, that requires looking at resources and costs.

1272. We also want to consider the most appropriate focus of a strategy both with regard to the most appropriate age-group — either 16- to 19-year-olds or 16- to 24-year-olds — and the spectrum of barriers, from multiple and compounded to, perhaps, no identifiable barrier. We need to look at the best and most appropriate focus and the best measurements of success, which could, perhaps, involve looking at intervention and support. Putting a framework in place to take that forward can in itself facilitate greater co-operation and a strategic approach that recognises and reflects existing activities and strategies and attempts to address any gaps.

1273. It is, of course, important that we take account of the Committee's inquiry, and the Committee's event on the Wednesday 6 October will also be highly important in that regard. We are keen to work together to take that forward and to develop future steps, including any pre-consultations and developmental work that we take forward.

1274. The scoping study has provided an overview of information that is available; strategic approaches that have been developed elsewhere; relevant activities that have been carried out in Northern Ireland; and key pointers as to how improvements might be made. We want to progress that work as quickly, effectively and inclusively as possible, bearing in mind the economic and financial context.

1275. Mr P Ramsey: Your team is very welcome. You talk a good game, although the jury is out on whether there is any substance to it. You use all the right language. It has been a long time since we started the process, and all the groups that we have spoken to use the same language.

1276. I am concerned that you cannot set targets for reducing the number of young people not in education, employment or training. You refer to baselines. When will that happen?

1277. The Committee has gathered considerable momentum in looking at models of good practice. However, it is difficult for us to measure those models, and that is where the Department must come in. A concern throughout the Committee's inquiry has been the lack of a cross-departmental approach. During our study visits to Wales and Scotland, we saw a very effective proactive approach between economic development, education and training, and the outcomes were clear, concise and measurable.

1278. I never heard anyone who came to the inquiry say that the Department had consulted them. Not one group said that. You referred to stakeholders, but I am not sure whether there has been a formal engagement with the stakeholders collectively so that they can sign off on an excellent plan. The stakeholders see what is happening and they know the outcomes. The most worrying aspect is the information that we are getting about young people. You talked about the multiple and complex needs of some young people, and that is to be welcomed. However, given the range of mental health issues, suicides and all the other issues, people need to work collectively and collaboratively in a more structured way.

1279. I hope that the Executive's decision in July was not for the optics. With respect, I hope that something has not been done just because we are in the middle of a Committee inquiry. I hope that there is an excellent and detailed plan of all those interested parties and officials looking at a strategic approach. I would like to see the outcomes of those committee meetings. What have they proposed as the next stage? There has been tremendous momentum, and the meeting next week will be important because it will allow people to contribute to the debate.

1280. However, you need to do much more with the voluntary and community sector, which collectively is doing considerable work; its contribution to NEETs is, without doubt, considerable, as we have all seen.

1281. The Chairperson: There are concerns that the Department has been working in splendid isolation. Perhaps you can respond to those concerns.

1282. Ms Ingram: That is quite a range of issues. I will start with the July Executive meeting, when we were tasked with developing a strategic approach or to put together proposals for a cross-departmental mechanism to develop a strategic approach. Since then, we have been looking at the how and the what to put together proposals for a strategic approach, and consulting stakeholders is an important part of that.

1283. In putting together the scoping study, we held many conversations, discussions and investigations with the voluntary and community sector to put together information and to reflect as far as possible what is happening and using it as a basis. I will ask Pascal to cover what we have been doing with the voluntary and community sector directly since July, which is possibly where the timing issues come in.

1284. Mr Pascal McCulla (Department for Employment and Learning): To go back a step, the scoping study engaged with at least a dozen non-governmental organisations (NGOs), and they are listed as to what they are doing. Before I arrived, there was a conference in December 2009, which was attended by about 100 people. There is concrete evidence to show that we have been engaging with the sector up to now.

1285. The Chairperson: You refer to the Barnardo's conference, which was not organised by the Department.

1286. Mr McCulla: No, it was not necessarily organised by the Department, but the Minister was there, along with departmental officials. We can join in with what other people are working towards. Since I arrived I have met seven organisations individually and, collectively, between 25 and 30 organisations through the forum that Bernardo's is beginning to constitute and organise.

1287. Mr P Ramsey: The Department should be taking the lead; it should not depend on voluntary organisations that are struggling with capacity; it needs to be taking the lead in bringing stakeholders into a forum, setting up a more formal approach and having agreed outcomes.

1288. Ms Ingram: I hope that we will be able to do that at your event next week. Furthermore, between now and Christmas, we will be working up proposals for what we want to do, and we hope to hold an event, in the form of a pre-consultation forum, to bring everyone together.

1289. Mr Bell: Thank you for your presentation. The Committee for Employment and Learning can take some credit for pushing the scoping study forward and getting it completed. That work was important. However, now that we have the study and we know where we are, what are the action points to take it forward? My colleague Pat Ramsey asked about targets, but what is the action plan?

1290. Ms Ingram: We are drawing up a strategic approach and an action plan. I understand about timing, and it is important that we do that as quickly as possible, but we have to populate the strategy with actions. We will base the strategy on emerging themes, such as information and research, good practice, partnership and co-operation and putting in place structures and frameworks. We must develop those themes and make sure that people work together better. In addition, we must listen to the voluntary and community sector about the role that it plays in providing support services to address wider social and personal issues, which can be very difficult to deal with, so that young people can engage in education, training and employment. We are drawing that together. The Committee's inquiry report will be important in informing us about what to do and the most appropriate and effective actions.

1291. Mr Bell: When will you have the action plan drawn up? What is your timeline?

1292. Ms Ingram: The Executive asked us to look at how a cross-departmental mechanism might be put in place to develop a strategic approach, so we want to make sure that we do that as fast as possible. We aim to have something out for consultation in the new year.

1293. Mr Bell: January?

1294. Ms Ingram: Yes.

1295. The Chairperson: I am sure that you appreciate that there are many concerns. Last night's 'Belfast Telegraph' referred to the "lost generation", so it is not good enough to talk merely about some time in the new year; we want definitive deadlines that the Department is working towards.

1296. Rev Dr Robert Coulter: Thank you for your presentation. I am a concerned that you said little about the co-operation — or lack of it — that you are getting from the Department of Education. What is the position with that Department in what you are doing?

1297. Ms Ingram: As with other Departments, we have engaged in discussions with the Department of Education to see how its work can contribute best to developing a strategic approach. Those discussions are taking place as a result of the Executive's decision to develop an interdepartmental mechanism, and it is very important that the Department of Education's work is taken into account in that. It is about where we are with timing. I appreciate that we all want a product that includes clear actions, and I reassure the Committee that that is what we are working towards. However, we are in the middle of a process. We also want to ensure that the findings of the Committee's inquiry are taken into account.

1298. Mr Lyttle: Thank you for your presentation. On the back of the inquiry into partnerships with post-primary schools, careers guidance is an important part of any NEETs strategy. Will you give us more information about exactly how the Department is working with the Department of Education and about how it is tracking young people to assess outcomes and the quality of the careers advice that it provides?

1299. Mr Jim Walker (Department for Employment and Learning): The Department is trying to progress legislation to facilitate information sharing between schools and the Department. In a young person's life, their careers officer is a key source of advice and guidance that allows them to make informed decisions, and it is important that such information be available to us.

1300. Moreover, the careers service is looking at further developments on social inclusion to take forward work for young people who are in danger of becoming socially excluded and becoming NEETs.

1301. Ms Ingram: The careers service has an important part to play; I understand that it will give evidence to the Committee.

1302. The Chairperson: Yes; it will give us a briefing.

1303. Ms Ingram: It may be able to answer your questions in more detail.

1304. Mr Lyttle: I still hear from young people who have concerns with careers guidance in general. Therefore, it will be good to hear that presentation in detail. The careers service from DEL claims to have partnership agreements with post-primary schools; I would be concerned if it did not. It will be interesting to hear a wee bit more about that. I am not being flippant: careers guidance is essential, and it is a matter of concern that in twenty-first century Northern Ireland young people still tell us that they do not get the guidance that they need to make informed choices.

1305. The Chairperson: That is a fair comment, and it has come up often at the workshops that the Committee has attended.

1306. Mrs McGill: Thank you for your work so far. The action plan was mentioned earlier. Was the meeting in July an interdepartmental one?

1307. Ms Ingram: It was the Executive meeting.

1308. Mrs McGill: Which Departments were involved?

1309. The Chairperson: It was a full Executive meeting; it was not a ministerial subgroup.

1310. Mrs McGill: June referred to it; therefore, she must have information on it, and that is relevant to our inquiry. In what way is that helpful to the scoping exercise and to the action plans? Who is involved in it?

1311. Ms Ingram: The Executive meeting in July endorsed the proposal to create a cross-departmental mechanism to develop a strategic approach. Since then, we have met officials from the most relevant Departments, such as the Department for Social Development, the Department of Justice, the Office of the First Minister and the deputy First Minister and the Department of Education to discuss their role in more detail. We will meet the Department of Health, Social Services and Public Safety this week.

1312. Mrs McGill: I am still a bit unclear.

1313. Mr P Ramsey: They are sabotaging you, Claire.

1314. Mrs McGill: Not for the first time. What was DEL's contribution?

1315. Ms Ingram: Our Minister brought the scoping study and the recommendations to the Executive. After that, DEL officials liaised with other Departments and stakeholders to draw up proposals for a cross-departmental mechanism to develop a strategic approach. DEL co-ordinated and led that.

1316. Mrs McGill: Sometimes it is difficult — I speak for myself — to pin down exactly what is happening. I know that there are meetings, references to different Departments and to officials talking and the strategies that follow from that. Nevertheless, it is difficult to pin down exactly what is coming out of all the work that is being done. We need more information.

1317. Mr P Ramsey: I agree.

1318. Mrs McGill

1319. It would be helpful to know what contribution DEL is making to that exercise.

1320. The Chairperson: It would be helpful if officials provided us with a timetable of events since the agreement at the Executive meeting in July. What action have you taken? How many interdepartmental meetings have taken place? How many stakeholder forums have been held? It is critical that we see some sort of deadline. We appreciate that you want to hear the outcome of our inquiry; nonetheless, the Department must work to some sort of deadline.

1321. Mr McClarty: Thank you for your presentation, June. We are where we are with NEETs; we have to do everything that we possibly can for people who are trapped in that situation. However, surely it is much more cost-effective — and more compassionate — to prevent people from becoming NEETs.

1322. Ms Ingram: Early intervention and prevention are crucial and will be an important part in drawing up the strategy and actions. I agree with that.

1323. The Chairperson: To do that you will need the co-operation of the Department of Education.

1324. Mr McClarty: Absolutely.

1325. Ms Ingram: Yes.

1326. Mr S Anderson: Thank you for your presentation, June. I have some concerns about your overarching strategy and how you want to develop your partnerships. It is like everything else that we try to do: there so many people and Departments involved that everything gets bogged down and we lose information about where the early intervention should take place. How does your action plan propose to give some people a lead role? How do we pull everything together so that we do not lose vital information along the way? That could be very detrimental to some young person's future.

1327. Ms Ingram: It is important for us to look at models of structures that have already worked. I can give an example of work in progress with the health sector about the employability of young people leaving care. We have brought together stakeholders from the health, careers and education sectors and the Public Health Agency in a regional steering group. That group will look at the issues and work with the employability officers in the trusts to create an action plan focused on achieving outcomes and bringing everybody together so that everybody understands their role. I understand what you are saying in that there is a multitude of agencies and sectors here, and that will make it complicated. However, that is the process that we are working through at the minute, which is meant to find the best way to ensure that we have outcomes.

1328. The Chairperson: It is not exactly rocket science. One has to ask why that was not done before and why it was not the established way of working.

1329. Has a budget been identified as yet? Do you already have a pot of money?

1330. Ms Ingram: As you are aware, there is a difficult financial context at the moment. We do not have a specific or identified pot of money to use for this purpose, so we need to look at efficient use of resources, joined-up working and how progression and access can be encouraged through communication and working together.

1331. The Chairperson: Thank you all very much indeed. I look forward to meeting you again over the next couple of months before we publish our inquiry report.

6 October 2010

Members present for all or part of the proceedings:

Mr Pat Ramsey (Acting Chairperson)
Mr Sydney Anderson
Mr Paul Butler
Mr Chris Lyttle
Mrs Claire McGill
Ms Sue Ramsey
Mr Peter Weir

Witnesses:

Mr Malcolm Roberts

 

Newry Sports Partnership

1332. The Acting Chairperson (Mr P Ramsey): I welcome Malcolm Roberts from the Newry Sports Partnership. We have received an apology from Dr Denis McBrinn, who is unable to attend the briefing on intervention measures at pre-foundation level on learning and pathways to employment or further education. The meeting will be recorded by Hansard. We normally allow witnesses up to 10 minutes to make a presentation, after which Committee members may ask some questions about your activities and programme. Please ensure that all mobile phones are knocked off.

1333. Mr Malcolm Roberts (Newry Sports Partnership): Thank you very much, Chairman. Through my role as an Irish Football Association (IFA) and Newry and Mourne District Council development officer, Newry Sports Partnership has been engaged in sports development and community development in the Newry and Mourne, south Down and south Armagh areas for the past eight years.

1334. I have started to establish a community-based learning model through Newry City Football Club, taking into account the Department for Employment and Learning (DEL) strategy of community-based learning through Southern Regional College. The model can complement the existing strategy. We have the opportunity to engage elderly or older learners and potential learners, and we also have the distinct advantage of being able to engage young people who have dropped out of education or are looking for opportunities to re-enter education. The system that they fell out of may not have appealed to them, and, through sport, we hope to create an informal environment that leads to productivity by way of learning and vocational learning.

1335. We have set up a programme-led apprenticeship scheme through the Department and in partnership with Southern Regional College. We currently have 14 young people on the scheme, three of whom were in our area beforehand and were not engaged in any type of programme of learning, training or education. We feel that the programme-led apprenticeship is a success in the 16-year-old to 17-year-old age group. We also have promising young footballers who are involved in full-time football and are pursuing their education towards achieving an NVQ level 2 qualification or, hopefully, NVQ level 3 qualification after two years.

1336. The endgame of the programme-led apprenticeship is to go on to securing a full apprenticeship through Newry City Football Club. At this stage, the model is reliant on the football club moving from being a volunteer-based organisation to a professional one. If the Committee is aware of the current football set-up, very few clubs employ full-time workers. We believe that investment in the structures of Newry City Football Club, such as 3G playing facilities, a training room and hospitality facilities, provides an opportunity for the club to employ some of the programme-led apprentices.

1337. We have also set up an Open College Network Northern Ireland-accredited centre. Therefore, we can offer courses for progression, on anything from community development to sports development, which we believe is relevant to the voluntary and community sector. Through a sports club, because the engagement potential is especially high, we believe that we could attract potential learners of all ages and offer them credit- and unit-based courses for progression. That will enable us to upskill our community and, in addition, the volunteers who are based at the club. Therefore, people such as coaches, who may be over 40, can re-enter education and do a job that they are passionate about and can devote a lot of time to. We could start to harness that and put units together so that those people could obtain qualifications, such as diplomas and awards, in sport and community development.

1338. Another new addition is the Sports Leaders UK approved assessment centre (AAC). Sports Leaders UK runs a range of accredited programmes and is endorsed by Sport England, Sportscotland and Sport Wales. We are speaking to Sport NI to get what almost amounts to an endorsement so that Newry City Football Club can start to deliver a wider range of those programmes to different partners.

1339. The Sports Leaders UK programmes are all about building and raising self-esteem and promoting leadership in young people. There are also primary-school programmes, so, from an early age, we could use sport as a driver for learning outside of the traditional education environment.

1340. We are working on a STEM-through-sport programme with Sentinus, which is a Lisburn-based organisation. As members may be aware, science, technology, engineering and maths are priority subjects, and Sentinus is very keen to work with Newry City Football Club to develop a pilot programme to introduce young primary-school children to STEM subjects in a sports environment, which will, where possible, lead to a more proficient use of sport in the promotion of STEM programmes. The pilot programme will hopefully begin in November.

1341. We have direct access to more than 220 primary-school children and 110 post-primary students who are engaged with Newry City Football Club, as well as 78 adults who are aged between 19 and 65 and either play, coach or volunteer with the club. The indirect access is estimated at upwards of 400%. As the programme and learning centre becomes more established and yields more trust in the community, those figures will significantly rise.

1342. I have a section on strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats if the Committee wants to hear it — I will be very brief. Strengths of the programme include work-placement opportunities that lead to apprenticeships. There is also a strong possibility that we will be able to create an environment and culture of learning among people, from the very young to the older generation.

1343. There are also intervention opportunities, especially for those who are vulnerable. In my experience of working in south Down and south Armagh, most young people who become disenfranchised from traditional education establishments or programmes normally have strong connections with their local sports clubs. Therefore, there is an opportunity for the sports club to play a role and give young people something substantial that leads to pathways to re-entering education, rather than just being organisations that let young people in to have a kick-about.

1344. There is also a very strong partnership-working ethos. As I mentioned, we work with Southern Regional College, the Open College Network Northern Ireland and Sports Leaders UK, to name but a few of the larger establishments. We also work with the local health trust and disability programmes in the area, so we have a full range of partnerships working.

1345. There is a strong community ethos. By offering such programmes through the learning centre, we have better access to the community. We also have an opportunity to listen to what the community needs and then deliver on that.

1346. Finally, the skills development opportunities for the voluntary sector are very strong. On Sunday, 14 men and women from a local sports club came into the club and engaged in the first workshop, which was about sport through personal development.

1347. As usual, one weakness is the lack of fluid investment. Training workforces can be quite costly, especially for voluntary organisations. The quality and quantity of monitoring can be an issue. Therefore, we need to live and learn as we go along. We are also not very strong on support services for learners. At present, we rely on Southern Regional College, but, hopefully, we will live and learn and create more opportunities in the club for support.

1348. Opportunities include the fact that a relatively small investment can achieve high impact, especially in the NEETs area. If we invest in training and possibly move some volunteers into paid roles, we can achieve more, again especially in the NEETs area. That model can be used for other organisations and clubs, especially in rural areas. Next week, I am meeting the heads of development for the GAA and for Ulster Rugby. It is a fertile environment for micro-community and entrepreneurial business. If the infrastructure of a sports club is already in place, there are many opportunities to set up entrepreneurial businesses, such as cafes, coaching sessions, and so on. We can assess the need with strong data. With community engagement, we can start to record needs and the direction in which we can go. That will provide us with a strong basis so that we can move forward.

1349. The programme complements the current strategy — the September agreement and the January agreement — as well as the community-based learning model through the further education colleges. The other opportunity is the training for work and training for skills programmes. At the moment, we are quite new, but, eventually, I would like to see Newry City Football Club or another sports club bidding for contracts to deliver training for work programmes.

1350. The threats are the current strategy, because too many providers offer similar, or the same, pathways. Some schools in Newry and Mourne now offer BTEC levels 2 and 3. Some people might say that that takes away from the colleges' clients. Therefore, it is becoming quite a competitive area. It is a traditional education environment, but we believe that we can enter into it. Nonetheless, it is still a threat.

1351. A lack of workplace investment means that the club will not be able to deliver high-quality workplace training. Although we are trying to move sports clubs from voluntary set-ups to professional set-ups, the lack of investment in that area could threaten it. It could be regarded as sports-specific, so there may not be an uptake of certain sports because of their popularity or their area. Furthermore, there is a lack of interdepartmental co-operation with the Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure (DCAL) and the Department of Education. If there were more cohesion on that type of programme, it would succeed. However, as it stands, I seem to be talking to Departments in isolation.

1352. The Acting Chairperson: Thank you, Malcolm. It is refreshing to gain a new insight into our NEETs inquiry. The programme is unique and creative, particularly in involving apprentices and placements.

1353. Mr Weir: Thank you for your presentation. The briefing notes state that you have linkages with three areas in Belfast: Springfield; Ardoyne; and Knocknagoney. Will you tell us more about that? How did those links come about, and what do they involve?

1354. Mr Roberts: Through the work that I have been doing in the area and with Newry City Football Club, I have been approached, in the context of my sporting experience, by training providers and charities that are interested in looking at NEETs, and one of the main organisations is Youth Works. Many training providers, especially in Newry and especially ApprenticeshipsNI, have not delivered one sports programme. That may be borne out by the data, especially from A4e, which holds the contract. I have been approached to add my sporting knowledge to those models. The training providers know that sport is a good driver; however, setting up educational programmes or putting baskets filled with units on courses for progression or the qualifications and credit Framework (QCF) seem to be light on the ground. I have been engaged to try to develop that.

1355. Mr Weir: One of the Committee's concerns is that we quite often see good things being done in particular geographical areas that do not necessarily roll out of good practice. It is good that you and the partnership are being approached to have some input into models that can be applied elsewhere.

1356. Ms S Ramsey: I commend and congratulate you. I think that sport is the way forward for many young people. Another Committee that I sit on carried out an inquiry into obesity. We tried to highlight to officials that sport and activity is one of the ways forward, not only for physical fitness but for mental fitness. I am conscious of the fact that you mentioned the Ardoyne, Springfield and Knocknagoney groups, which are in and around areas where there are soccer teams. Is there any internal bickering about Newry leading the way?

1357. Mr Roberts: Not at the moment. I do not know whether it might be an issue as we move further down the line. When we are engaging young people, it is the activity that is important. Organisations such as the PSNI and the Youth Service would not necessarily be welcomed by certain young groups, especially those who are NEET and have come through the criminal justice system. It is the activity that is important — using sport to engage young people.

1358. Take the Sports Leaders UK model. Its qualifications are not sport-specific; rather, they are all about promoting leadership to try to enhance young people's self-esteem and create a bond in the group. Many young people whom I have worked with have been characterised within other groups with which I have been working. The important point to make concerns the attention that they are giving towards an activity as opposed to who is delivering it. What is exciting about the three groups in Belfast is that they are very strong groups. They are working in interface areas and want to use sport, because the feedback that they have received from young people indicates that that is what they want to do. They dip their toe into different sports, and the message has come back that sport is a strong driver.

1359. Ms S Ramsey: I represent a Belfast constituency. Midnight soccer was seen as an innovative way of getting young people off street corners, and of stopping them from going down the road of drink and drugs and other forms of anti-community activity. However, to address one of the concerns that we have about young people who are NEET and living in interface areas, there has to be a proper, joined-up approach from all Departments. Wee pockets of funding came from the council, the Department for Social Development (DSD) or DCAL, yet there did not seem to be a proactive approach to how that work would have a positive impact in communities.

1360. Mr Roberts: Sorry? [Laughter.]

1361. Ms S Ramsey: It is frustrating, the fact that —

1362. Mr Roberts: Yes, it is.

1363. Mr Butler: She is making a statement.

1364. Mr Roberts: Every time that I have approached somebody, it has been in isolation. That is the case, especially where NEETS are concerned. We know that we are about to be hit, but the damage that is done to our communities through the way in which NEETS are dealt with may not be overly apparent now.

1365. Ms S Ramsey: Let me be more blunt: if I go back to March or April of this year, all Executive Ministers were telling us that they were interested in our NEETS inquiry, that they were passionate about it and that they were all into it. However, we have an event this afternoon, and only one Department is weighing in. The rest are not. Therefore, you can see how frustrating it is when officials cannot see beyond their own noses, but Ministers, who are supposed to be leading the Department in question, can see the positive, on-the-ground work that you are doing.

1366. Mr Roberts: Yes, it is very frustrating. However, the partnerships that have been established in Newry may be the reason that we have been allowed to advance the model with Newry City Football Club. Newry and Mourne District Council has been fantastic, in that it has promoted us and, where possible, signposted me and others to funding streams. Therefore, it has been a great help. The expertise of council officials has also been fantastic. The community services unit of Newry and Mourne District Council is quite strong, and it has allowed us to have direct access to communities where a tremendous amount of work is being done. Those communities include the Newry city to Derrybeg area and the Mourneview and Carnagat areas. To that end, DSD has done very well to ensure that finances are available to address problems.

1367. However, more sports programmes are on neighbourhood renewal agendas, and most are connected to soccer programmes. The local community safety partnership (CSP) is now looking at investing in different sports programmes, with soccer being the main one. Basketball and dance are coming up on the outside, so to speak. Although departmental involvement is frustrating, locally we have achieved this model with the help of many people in the Newry and Mourne area. However, the Department of Education could do a little.

1368. Ms S Ramsey: That is what I wanted to hear.

1369. Mr Butler: I will try to keep my questions simple. Your organisation is called Newry Sports Partnership, but it seems to be based very much around soccer and Newry City Football Club. I wanted to ask you about the number of jobs that could be created as a result of the programme. You talked about threats to the programme, one of which was that too many people are providing too many of the same courses and are, therefore, competing with one another. Could you not broaden the sports partnership to include a lot more sports, with the result that you would have a better spread?

1370. Mr Roberts: I absolutely agree. The GAA, Ulster Rugby, cricketing organisations and other sporting establishments have the necessary infrastructure. The work that I do means that I have quite a lot of engagement with Crossmaglen Rangers, for example. That club has a substantial plot of land, it has community backing, and it also has drivers in the club. Indeed, I will be talking next week to the head of development for Ulster GAA about the potential for using such a club for the programme. Our choosing Crossmaglen Rangers would be an issue to be considered down the line, but some rural clubs could take part in the programme. Similarly, Instonians Rugby Football Club, Ballynahinch Rugby Football Club and Downpatrick Cricket Club could be involved, for example. I am aware of numerous venues in the east and south where the model could be applied. However, the model is at the pilot stage, and I am hoping that within 18 months — that is, if I manage to work my way around the financial implications — we can come to the end of that stage and get some good evaluations.

1371. Mr Butler: That could be a problem in this climate.

1372. Mr Roberts: The chairman of Newry City Football Club, Paul McKenna, has been very supportive. If we pull together, and if there is greater community buy-in, it will allow us to lever substantial partners who have some money.

1373. Mr Lyttle: Welcome, and thank you for your presentation. I am a UEFA "B" licence soccer coach and am increasingly in denial that I can still be an amateur player as well.

1374. Mr Roberts: So am I, and I am twice your age.

1375. Mr Lyttle: My constituency is East Belfast, so I am interested in hearing more about Knocknagoney. For all those reasons, I am enthusiastic to hear about what is happening.

1376. My question is similar to the previous one. Can you tell us more about who exactly makes up Newry Sports Partnership? You are also the IFA grass-roots development officer in the area, yes? Can you tell us about the apprenticeship programme? What exactly is the type of work undertaken on the programme-led apprenticeship and what are the coaching programmes delivering?

1377. Ms S Ramsey: He is looking for some coaching tips.

1378. Mr Roberts: He is most welcome. We are looking for volunteer coaches.

1379. My remit within the IFA is about participation and, to a degree, coach education. However, as we are all aware, the IFA is going through something of a rebuilding process in many ways.

1380. The Acting Chairperson: Is that a new word for it?

1381. Ms S Ramsey: It is like Liverpool FC.

1382. Mr Roberts: Exactly. However, my contract finishes in March. The community sports partnership is twofold. First, it allows me to engage in programmes that are outside my IFA remit. Secondly, if a new contract does not come in March, there will be so much more work left to be done. I have been there for eight or nine years. I have been through this situation with the IFA before and have seen a great deal of work fall by the wayside, because of the break. I do not want that to happen this time. In my area, there is a great need to engage young people. We can do sport. From an infrastructure point of view, Newry City Football Club gives me the opportunity to do that, because of the potential of securing investment and because of the club's need to switch from a voluntary to a professional set-up. That is what the community sports partnership is. It is a community interest company, because it is a not-for-profit company. The idea behind the legal status is that it effectively will mean investment in training and development through sport.

1383. Your second point, if I have them in the correct order, concerned the programme-led apprenticeship. I have wanted to establish an academy-type programme for many years. My experiences in England and France have shown me that, from a footballing point of view, to play full-time football is to improve the footballer. When I was a footballer, I had the opportunity to go into education or take an apprenticeship, which involved kicking around the stands, cleaning boots and doing a little training, with little or no education attached. Therefore, I had to choose between them, and I chose education. Although I did not go on to tertiary education, I went down the further education college route. Once I had acquired my coaching licences, all the relevant coaching qualifications and a driving licence, I decided that the world was too much to let it pass me by, and I went travelling, where I worked in the sports industry. I have gone from recreational sport to finding myself in employment. The educational aspect helped me to do that, not the playing aspect.

1384. The programme-led apprenticeship allows us to offer both those opportunities. The NVQ level 2 in instructing, teaching and coaching is what the club needs. It needs more community coaches and people who have a —

1385. The Acting Chairperson: Excuse me a second, Malcolm. I am sorry, but somebody's mobile phone is ringing constantly on silent.

1386. The Committee Clerk: It is cutting out the Hansard recording. Hansard is not getting any feed. If anyone has a mobile phone that is on silent, please turn it off.

1387. The Acting Chairperson: Sorry about that, Malcolm.

1388. Mr Roberts: It is OK. Hopefully, the incriminating bits will be left out.

1389. The programme allows us to do both. I will not name any names, but a couple of the young people who are part of the programme tried to go into education and take a BTEC level 2 or BTEC level 3. However, they fell out of education because they were just not familiar with the environment, whereas they have shown a great deal of —

1390. Mr Lyttle: Therefore, you are picking up people because of their interest in football?

1391. Mr Roberts: Yes.

1392. Mr Lyttle: Do you use football to connect them to learning opportunities?

1393. Mr Roberts: Yes. That is basically it. In a sense, we use the sport to offer people the opportunity to stay in education or to enter further education. I picked up a young lad from Bessbrook who came on to the programme four or five weeks ago. He had left school with no qualifications at all, yet his reports from the tutor are very positive. He has just signed for the under-18 football team. The programme-led apprenticeship is very good. However, we want to move it on to an employment-led apprenticeship, because we believe that the club will grow.

1394. Mr Lyttle: Is that employment as a soccer player or in other —

1395. Mr Roberts: The pathways are that people will get a contract to play but still have some working role in the club, which, obviously, will be full-time employment, or they can become a full-time coach. There are also the marketing and hospitality aspects. The chairman indicated that he would like to take 40% of the current crop on to the employment-led apprenticeship. That is the intention. The idea is his business plan. The club is investing in a new stand, which is part-funded by Sport NI, a training room and a gym facility, where we can take private clients. Moreover, the learning centre will enable us to take health referrals, which gives us another opportunity to access the community.

1396. Mr S Anderson: Thank you for your presentation, Malcolm. You mentioned your relationship with Southern Regional College. It would be interesting if you could expand a wee bit on about what its thoughts are. Is the proposal an extension of sports development that clubs had some years ago, which, owing to funding issues, all went by the wayside? A number of Irish league players worked with clubs full-time to bring on young people and players. Is the proposal an extension of that, with the young people's education taken on board at the same time? On a lighter note, will it lead to Newry City Football Club having a better standard on the playing pitch?

1397. Mr Roberts: I wish that you would stop asking four questions at once. I have difficulty remembering them. [Laughter.] The potential for Newry City Football Club to become a business is greatly enhanced through the programme-led apprenticeship and the learning centre. Not all the full-time footballers will go to Newry City Football Club, but we hope that the majority will. However, we hope that we will raise the bar for those young players and that they will go to other clubs. There will be a fanning-out. For example, we have a young lad from Banbridge. If he does not make it with us, he will, presumably, go to either Banbridge Town or Glenavon.

1398. Mr S Anderson: Or Portadown.

1399. Mr Roberts: Yes. The idea is to try to have another intake in September. Effectively, we could have 30 young people in 18 months leaving the programme and going out to different clubs. They could raise the standards at some of those clubs. Obviously, there is potential for them to make first-team appearances, not to mention the grail of selling them over the water, the fee from which would be reinvested in the youth development programme.

1400. Mr S Anderson: If the project were to develop that young player and he were to go to another club, would your partnership be able to claim any transfer fees or moneys raised?

1401. Mr Roberts: No.

1402. Mr S Anderson: The club that develops a player may have a hold on that player.

1403. Mr Roberts: It is the club that develops the player. The partnership facilitates the programme and puts it together.

1404. Mr S Anderson: For the benefit of Newry City FC?

1405. Mr Roberts: Newry City Football Club will then be eligible for UEFA compensation payments, providing it signs all those players either prior to or during the time that they are on the programme. Currently, only three players are not signed. We have a game next week at which we are hoping that they will be assessed and signed up by the club. The club would then be eligible for UEFA compensation for the two-year development, and if the players go on to stay at the club until they are aged 21 and then move on, the club will gain the full five years of compensation.

1406. I think that Newry City FC is looking at the prospect of developing players for the first team, but the chairman is also very keen that we get some workers out of it. There is a 3G facility, community sports coaching and a vibrant business arm at the club. Newry City FC has been blessed in many ways, in that people are still willing to sponsor the local club, because of where it is and because some local businesses have been doing reasonably well over the past 18 months to two years. The chairman is keen to ensure that we have somebody who can work in the office, do the catering and do the other things that are in his business plan.

1407. Mr S Anderson: Where does Southern Regional College fit in?

1408. Mr Roberts: You will all be aware that the colleges are reluctant to do programme-led apprenticeships. As was highlighted in the minutes of a meeting of this Committee in June 2010, almost 50% of students were not placed in work environments. I am also led to believe that the financial rewards or pull-down from the colleges from programme-led apprenticeships are not that great. There is a consensus among most regional colleges that the programme-led apprenticeship is difficult to manage financially. We found that to be the case at Newry City, because we have not had the opportunity to draw down any delivery funds, although I am paying for swimming lessons and pool time for one of the apprentices. A whole raft of equipment is needed to do water-based training. All of that is being invested by the club and is not part of the apprenticeship, because it is work-placed.

1409. That relates to the point that clubs will still have to invest heavily to ensure that they reach a high standard of delivery at their own end. The leap from a voluntary to a professional set-up in the club comes at quite a price.

1410. The role of Southern Regional College at the moment is to deliver the NVQ level 2, and it has also stated that it will deliver the technical certificate. Although the IFA could be delivering the technical certificate level 2 and technical certificate level 3 coaching qualifications, the college has decided that it will deliver everything, because it is the first time that it has done it. We are happy to go along with that, purely because the college has the experience, and it also has the contract.

1411. The Chairperson: Thank you very much for your presentation and briefing paper, Malcolm. On behalf of the Committee, I wish you well. I know that you are waiting to hear about various funding opportunities, so we wish you well.

13 October 2010

Members present for all or part of the proceedings:

Mrs Dolores Kelly (Chairperson)
Mr Jonathan Bell (Deputy Chairperson)
Mr Sydney Anderson
Mr Paul Butler
Rev Dr Robert Coulter
Mr Chris Lyttle
Mr David McClarty
Mrs Claire McGill
Mr Pat Ramsey

Witnesses:

Ms Nuala Kerr
Ms Frances O'Hara

 

Department for Employment and Learning

1412. The Chairperson (Mrs D Kelly): I welcome Nuala Kerr and Frances O'Hara from the Careers Service. You will have five or 10 minutes to make a presentation, after which members will comment and ask questions. Thank you for your written briefing.

1413. Ms Nuala Kerr (Department for Employment and Learning): Thank you for the opportunity to talk about the work of Careers Service in relation to your inquiry.

1414. The Careers Service is well integrated within the Department for Employment and Learning (DEL), particularly in the skills and industry division. Members will be aware of various aspects of the work of skills and industry division in relation to apprenticeships, management leadership and other support activities for individuals and businesses. The Careers Service has an important part to play in guiding young people towards appropriate careers, providing them with independent advice and guidance that allows them to make the right choices, and providing them with support at various points while they are in school or training and as they progress through life.

1415. Our service is not just for young people, although that is the part that is most familiar. We also offer careers advice and guidance to people of all ages at all stages in their careers. In the main, we have free and easily accessible careers facilities that allow people to gain for themselves the information that they need and to seek advice as they need it in our careers advice structure.

1416. Our objective is to develop effective career decision-makers so that young people and others have appropriate engagement in education, training and employment. We offer that service through two teams that work within the Careers Service: the Careers Service operation and delivery activity and the careers policy and strategy. Ms O'Hara heads up the Careers Service operation and delivery, which is the area that the Committee will want to focus on particularly.

1417. There are the equivalent of 163 full-time staff in total in the Careers Service, of which the equivalent of 100 are full-time professionally qualified — postgraduate qualified — careers advisers, and they are based in jobcentres, jobs and benefits offices and careers offices throughout Northern Ireland. The services are free to whoever wishes to avail themselves of them, whether they are young people or adults. It is recognised that clients who are vulnerable to social exclusion should have a high priority, and the Careers Service focuses particularly on those clients. I know that the Committee wishes to consider that area today.

1418. In addition to the offices and locations that I have talked about, we have a direct service available through our website. We have developed an extensive range of information about various industry sectors with the sector skills councils, and the Committee is probably aware of that already. We also have partnership arrangements with others, in particular the Educational Guidance Service for Adults, which provides an outreach service for adult careers guidance. That includes work with people between 19 and 25 who are disengaged. That contract is worth around £700,000 per annum.

1419. The Committee is interested in three areas: the overview of the work done with young people, which we will talk about in a little more detail; the work we do at year 10; and the partnership arrangements we have with others to deliver services to people who become disengaged or who are at risk of being not in employment, education or training (NEET). We also want to talk about the quality standards and how we track and monitor NEETs.

1420. Ms Frances O'Hara (Department for Employment and Learning): The Committee asked three specific questions: an overview of the work done with young people at schools; whether there is a new strategy for those who are not in employment, education and training; and how we monitor and track young people who are not in employment, education or training.

1421. The objective of what we are trying to deliver in schools has four key aims. It is to support the delivery of impartial careers education advice — the whole guidance programme that is offered in partnership between us and the Department of Education; it is, as Nuala said, to enable learners to make well-informed and appropriate career decisions; it is to intervene at pivotal points in the transition process and the decision-making process; it is to provide tailored education, information, advice and guidance, to promote inclusion, and to increase appropriate participation in education, training and employment, which is particularly relevant to what we discuss today; and it is to support continuous improvement in delivery of the education, information, advice and guidance services. Those are the key aims of our work in schools.

1422. Traditionally, that work has focused on year 12 in order to intervene at a time when most young people make fundamental decisions about where they go for post-primary education. In total, careers advisers spend about 60% of their time in schools. The balance of their time is then spent dealing with adults. As Nuala said, our guidance service caters for all ages, which is unique in the UK. Northern Ireland offers a complete, impartial advice and guidance service to all.

1423. Therefore, advisers spend the remaining 40% of their time dealing with adults and young people in further education colleges and talking to young people who have gone into training organisations. Indeed, the service is also available to anyone else who wants to change job or move around the system.

1424. Historically, the work has focused on year 12. However, increasingly, we have to deal with youngsters much earlier than that, particularly those in year 10 who are making decisions about the courses and subjects that they want to hold on to and progress in. Therefore, from this year, we have developed a partnership agreement with the Department of Education. You have been given a copy of that. It articulates the range of services that we provide to schools, which go right back to before year 10, to years 8 and 9, although there is little activity in those years. Certainly, there is careers education activity, which we want see reflected in the partnership agreement. Our advisers intervene at year 10. This year is the first that we have taken a structured and focused approach in year 10.

1425. We undertake a bit of work in year 11. Then, resources are concentrated in year 12 and sixth form. Delivery of that is through an initial class for all of them, after which they fill in application forms. From what they have said in their applications forms, we determine who needs help and when, and what type of help they might need. There is very much a partnership arrangement with careers teachers in schools.

1426. This year is the first of the new partnership agreement. It is very much a formalisation of what we have had before. However, we see it as ensuring that schools are aware of the range of services that are available to them across all year groups. It is entirely up to schools to decide how they make best use of the resource that we offer them. They can decide to concentrate the resource on a particular year group or to spread it across year groups. Certainly, we will advise on that, butt is for schools to decide how to use the available resource.

1427. Will I move on to questions 2 and 3?

1428. The Chairperson: Just go on, please.

1429. Ms O'Hara: Your second question was about specific actions in the careers strategy that relate to NEETs.

1430. Mr P Ramsey: I am sorry to interrupt you. The noise outside is very distracting.

1431. Ms O'Hara: Am I speaking too quietly?

1432. Mr Bell: No, there is a machine working outside. You are fine. Keep going there. It is very good.

1433. Ms O'Hara: OK. We have already mentioned that a key issue for us in the careers strategy is the introduction of the partnership agreement. We are pleased that that has been a successful collaborative arrangement between us and the Department of Education. As I said, this is the first year of the agreement. Other things that are dealt with in the strategy are year 10 work, which we will see more of this year. Hopefully we will see the fruits of that coming through. We see that as an opportunity, not only to advise youngsters about the implications for their vocational futures of taking on particular subjects or dropping others, but to intervene earlier with youngsters who may be at risk of dropping out of the system. Sometimes, when we intervene at year 12, a lot of them simply are not there, so we cannot make an impact. We see the fact that we can now intervene at year 12 as an opportunity to work with the teachers to see if there are any at-risk youngsters there and give them the help they need.

1434. The other thing mentioned in the strategy is the need to have closer working relationships with other agencies and other Departments. We have a very good working relationship with the health and social care trusts, which have an employability scheme to deal with people who have a range of problems. That is working very well at the moment. The other thing we are particularly proud of is the Give and Take project, which is a community and voluntary-based project that deals with youngsters who have particular social and other issues that may affect their attainment.

1435. In relation to the other things mentioned in the strategy, we are doing work on vulnerable groups, and we see those as falling into two categories: people with a disability and people who have other social barriers. We are developing policy to improve our services for those two specific areas.

1436. We are also looking at quality standards, because we know that we need to assess how effective we are and whether we are getting things right. We do questionnaires and ask people how they feel about our services and whether we are doing everything to expectation, but we feel that we want to introduce more robust quality standards, and we are working on that. We are also working on the impact of the advice we give. We are looking at impact assessment and at best practice across Europe for that. Those are some of the things from the strategy that we are currently working on and that we want to see developments on over the next year.

1437. The third point relates to how youngsters not in education, employment or training are tracked and monitored. That is an issue for us, which I think you are aware of, in that we need to make sure that we have a complete data set on all the young people who will be leaving school at any given time. We are working closely with the Department of Education to try to overcome the difficulties with sharing data. There are obviously legal implications, and the schools are, quite rightly, nervous about passing over information unless they are legally entitled to do so. The Department of Education has been very helpful and is co-operating well with us on that. It intends to write to schools to see if it can do anything to overcome those issues. Over the next year we will be working on that. Both Departments share a common aspiration of sharing data that is in the best interests of the youngsters, and that is what we are working towards.

1438. We currently have a list of young people whom we have seen in schools and who are eligible to leave in June of any given year. We have data on some of those who have moved into DEL-funded training organisations or programmes and further education colleges, so we are able to track some of those. We know others who have stayed in further education within their schools, and there are others that we are just unable to track. This is a period that is quite fluid, with a lot of movement, but we will wait until things settle down some time towards the end of October or beginning of November to see where the young people are and track those that we have no record of. The issue for us is that that is not necessarily a comprehensive list, which is why we have to get the class lists from the schools.

1439. Of those that we are able to trace, from last year's figures we were able to engage with around half of those who were deemed as being NEET at the end of October. We appreciate that we need to do more work on understanding where the other half are and, indeed, what happened to the half that we did engage with. Did they go into training? Did they stay in training? Are they still at risk? We accept that we have more work to do on tracking and monitoring, and that is something that we are going to progress over the next year.

1440. The Chairperson: Thank you very much for that, Frances. You have covered many of the salient points that have cropped up in numerous evidence sessions and the areas that need strengthened.

1441. Mr P Ramsey: Good morning; you are very welcome. You made some interesting points. Does somebody independently evaluate Careers Service's work with the schools, in particular? Are there measureable outcomes? Are there year-to-year targets? The evidence that Careers Service has not been able to trace or track almost 50% of people is worrying in itself. The earlier points and all the language are connected, and early intervention is obviously what we are after. How does Careers Service identify vulnerable groups?

1442. Yesterday morning, I went to an event at Barnardo's about the 40,000 young people across Northern Ireland who are NEET. However, there was a careers fair in Derry a few weeks ago — Claire will be interested in this point — that, from the Department's perspective, was an absolutely tremendous success. I am sure that you understand the point that I am getting at. Nevertheless, I was concerned because there were three companies there from the IT sector, and one had something like 100 vacancies, but it could not get the people to fill those vacancies. Then we had the other side: hundreds of people were queuing to apply, in desperation, for Christmas jobs at Primark, Tesco and Sainsbury's.

1443. In terms of trying to evaluate, the point that I am getting is that there are careers education programmes there. Is there one template across Northern Ireland? I imagine that if I went to Coleraine I would not find the same people looking for jobs. There would not be the same companies — there might not be the need for the IT sector, but there could be another area. I am wondering whether there is a regional package fit for purpose to meet the needs of a particular area. Derry is very different from west Belfast or north Belfast.

1444. We always talk about audits and information and looking at best practice and models, and some of those models have come from the community and voluntary sector, but the biggest complaint is that there is no-joined up thinking between DEL, the Department of Education and the other Departments. I am wondering how we get to the stage where the Department comes along and says: "This is where we are going to now, and this is what we want, but this is where we are getting frustrations and blockages." I am not getting that from the Department at any stage. We know where we want to get to, but there is a bit of —

1445. The Chairperson: Maybe that is just one of the obstacles.

1446. Mr P Ramsey: A wee bit of weight has to be put on some of those things. They say that they know in particular in terms of looking at best practice. You referred to the Give and Take project, which we have heard from. However, there are a lot of other projects that do tremendously good work. Getting back to the questions, how does the Careers Service identify vulnerable people? How does it trace those people, and what interventions does it make directly?

1447. The Chairperson: The other question was about independent evaluation and auditing.

1448. Ms O'Hara: I will deal first with your question about how we identify those at risk. It is accepted — I think that the strategy mentions this — that by intervening only or mainly with year 12s, there may be youngsters who have already disengaged with the system and that it may be too late at that point. The strategy addressed that, and we are now saying that we need to intervene much earlier, at year 10. However, intervention at year 10 may not be early enough either. That is why we have had the partnership agreement, looking at what happens in year 8 and year 9.

1449. We see the careers education programme having a vital input at years 8, 9 and 10. It is essentially about making those youngsters, who are still quite immature in respect of their vocational direction, aware of the world of work and of how they can play their part, and encouraging them to have the aspiration and drive to achieve their full attainment. We work very closely with schools to try to identify those youngsters who are at most at risk and who need our help and intervention as early as possible. We are pegging that back to year 10, but we may peg it back even further.

1450. Mr P Ramsey: If you are getting that information, can you tell me how many schools in the Foyle constituency have identified children who are at risk? That information must already be there if it has been identified. Perhaps we could get that information for all the constituencies.

1451. The Chairperson: We can come back to that.

1452. Ms O'Hara: Risk factors will certainly have been identified. For example, if a youngster's attendance is persistently poor or if the school knows about things in their family background that will have an impact on their attainment, that will be shared with the careers adviser. It is very much a partnership arrangement at that point, and we develop very close relationships with the health and social care trusts, for example. Although our advisers are professionally trained in giving vocational guidance and are very skilled at that, we need to understand that there are limitations to what they can do. They will need to work closely with other professionals and use their help to find posts and make sure that youngsters have access to all the other services that are available to them to deal with whatever problems are happening in their lives.

1453. The arrangement that we have for partnership working with schools and the health and social care trusts involves a collaborative approach and tackles some of the arising issues. Making sure that we have an impact is recognised in our new strategy. We have to do some work on that to determine the effectiveness of the guidance and the intervention that we have at any particular point in time, and that work will be progressing over the next year.

1454. There is no independent evaluation at the minute. At the end of every year we ask the schools and the young people how they feel about the service that has been provided to them, and we have figures to show that the feedback is very positive, but there is no independent evaluation at this point.

1455. Mr P Ramsey: How do you measure the outcomes?

1456. Ms O'Hara: We measure the outcomes on the basis of the satisfaction surveys that we get back from the people we deliver the advice and guidance to. There are two customers in that scenario: the schools and the young people. Both are asked at the end of any given year how they felt that our services matched their expectation, and the feedback that we are getting is very positive.

1457. Mr P Ramsey: Can you share that information with us?

1458. Ms O'Hara: Yes, we can share the survey information with you.

1459. Mr Bell: I am particularly interested in what you said about evaluation. Are you getting any direct feedback from the young people themselves as to how valuable this is, on both an immediate and a long-term basis? Are we getting any indications from young people who have not been successful on what areas they would like to see improved?

1460. Ms O'Hara: We are currently producing our annual report, which shows results for student satisfaction. Of students in years 12, 13 and 14 who participated in careers guidance interviews and completed a student satisfaction questionnaire, 98% rated the helpfulness of the careers advisers as either good or excellent, and 91% rated the usefulness of the getting connected profile — that is the form that we have been asking them to fill in at the beginning, to determine how vocationally aware and mature they are — as either good or excellent. The usefulness of the summary of guidance, which is the information that they get at the end of the interview, and that of the action plan was rated by 94% of respondents as either good or excellent. Furthermore, 96% of the respondents felt that the interview had helped them to move forward with career plans. So we are getting positive feedback from young people.

1461. Mr Bell: I welcome that information; it is important that it is written into the record.

1462. How futuristic is your planning for careers? Clearly the market five years from now is going to be different from the market now. I was very struck by one leading educationalist who told me to teach my children Mandarin rather than French, because there is going to be a whole new range of job opportunities opening up in Asia. He had all these figures for how many million were going to move into the middle classes in Asia and open businesses. How futuristic is your careers planning, in order to cope with those emerging markets?

1463. Ms O'Hara: Yes. Careers advisers have an ongoing professional development programme that involves six sessions a year where we bring in people from the industry to tell them what is happening in growth areas. That is a key area for us in ensuring that our advisers are up to speed with what is happening in the labour market.

1464. We have also developed much better labour-market intelligent information in leaflets and advice sent to advisers and available to young people. That has developed significantly over the past couple of years, because we appreciate that there is a changing market and we need to let people know, right back to third-form choices about subjects to pursue or drop. If the right decisions are not made at that point, everything connected to a young person's career direction can be affected. The answer to your question is that we have done a lot over the past few years to improve labour market information and identify trends — in so far as we can, because things can change very quickly.

1465. Ms Kerr: It is also important that the careers service is embedded in skills and industry division. We are responsible for the skills strategy, the STEM strategy and our other forward-looking activities in the Department. The connection between the services and the interventions that we fund, and the close relationship with our being part of that division and that activity, are important. Careers Service is close to any change in thinking about what industry and business will need in the future.

1466. The Chairperson: All politicians love to hear officials say "we are responsible", because it is good to come back on.

1467. Mr Butler: Is it fair to say that tracking and monitoring is not as robust as it should be? That issue keeps coming up in the inquiry. Right across Europe, people fall out of education and training, and there is no robust tracking and monitoring system of where they go. You said that you have contact with half the people in the system. Is that fair to say? You mentioned legal difficulties about post-primary pupils, but what way is that going to roll out over the next couple of years? This is a key theme of this inquiry that is coming up all the time.

1468. Ms O'Hara: You are right. It is not as robust as it should be, and that is recognised. The scoping study has spotlighted that type of activity and we now know that we need to do more. The Department has analytical services people — economists and statisticians — who are working with us to try to find a system that will monitor and track young people so that we can access and offer help to all of them.

1469. As I said earlier, we know that there are issues, but they are not insurmountable, they are not show-stoppers. We need to ensure that we share data with the Department of Education appropriately and legally. Schools are, rightly, nervous about sharing personal information about pupils, even though that information would be relevant to us and to training organisations or other schools that those pupils may move to. However, we will work through those issues over the next year, and I am confident we will find a workaround. The key is to share data between the school and us.

1470. Mr Butler: At present, would you know where somebody is a year or two from now? Are so many other people coming into the system that you cannot track them?

1471. Ms O'Hara: Young people are most vulnerable when they are below the radar of the benefit system, which is when they are under 18. Between the ages of 16 and 18, if they do not avail themselves of education or training, they could simply be not doing anything, they would not necessarily be anywhere. That is the age group that we really need to look at. Those under 16 should obviously still be in school, and the education system should be making sure that they are there. I know that that is not always the case, but at least they are on somebody's radar. Between the ages of 16 and 18 is a very vulnerable period; that is the time when a lot of damage can be done to someone's career aspirations and what they do for the rest of their lives. That is the key point.

1472. The people that we have identified as being NEET at this particular time — around the end of October or beginning of November — represent a snapshot. We pick this time because there is a lot of fluidity between when they started in September and now, but youngsters move in and out of education, training and work right through the year. Of the people we have seen in school — which is most of the school leavers — the careers adviser who was responsible for them in school is responsible for trying to keep contact with them right up until they are 18.

1473. That system is in place, but it is not as robust as we would like it to be, because we do not know that we have all of them. We have not necessarily seen all of them in school, but of the ones that we have seen in school, the careers adviser will trace them and try to keep in contact with them until they are 18. If they change address, we lose contact, or they simply do not respond to our invitation to come in to talk to an adviser, there is not much we can do, but there is a system at the moment.

1474. The Chairperson: I would appreciate brevity in both questions and answers if possible, but I am grateful to you for giving a comprehensive answer.

1475. Mr S Anderson: Thank you, ladies, for your presentation. I think my question has been answered. The Minister mentioned in the Chamber yesterday that there was concern about the number of young people leaving school without even the basic skills of reading and writing. You touched on the need for a proper database for early intervention, and the legal implications with that. Is there a real difficulty in getting that proper database? If you do not achieve that, there will be quite a number of young people who will still fall out of the system, and they are probably going to be the most vulnerable. We need to get to those young people. Do you see big problems with getting that database and working with the schools?

1476. Ms O'Hara: We do not, actually. I absolutely agree that those youngsters are the people who need our help most, and it is vital that we find out who they are and offer them help. The Department of Education shares that view, and we have a common goal in trying to overcome that problem, so I think that is a great starting point. As well as that, everybody is aware of the issues about sharing data, and those rules are there for a reason — to protect. We have to find a workaround, but I think we will.

1477. Mrs McGill: Thank you for your paper; you are both welcome. I welcome the research that has been carried out on social inclusion projects, disability and other social barriers. Is there a time frame for that?

1478. Ms O'Hara: We hope to have something that we can share towards the end of this financial year. The scope for that is quite broad at the moment, and it is a question of scaling that down a bit to see where we can make the biggest impact, but we hope to have something by the spring or summer of next year.

1479. Mrs McGill: I have a question to follow that, and I will be brief.

1480. It is vitally important that the transition planning meetings are robust and structured. You mentioned partnerships, which are key, a number of times. You also referred to the trusts. My experience is that the provision for people with a disability who move from a particular kind of school into, perhaps, an adult centre was not as coherent or robust as it should have been. Adequate funding did not come from health to make sure that those people had training and skills. I note that on page 30 it is stated that:

"The Careers Service must be invited to all Transition Planning Meetings."

However, it is then stated that:

"Careers Advisers will endeavour to attend all Transition Planning Meeting where possible and where it is considered appropriate."

Is that a watering down of what seemed to be a very robust intention? If the Careers Service is to develop in the way that it should, rather than being an add-on, it should certainly be present at that kind of meeting.

1481. The Chairperson: That is a very valid point. Well spotted.

1482. Mrs McGill: Thank you, Chairperson.

1483. Ms O'Hara: We will note that point.

1484. The Chairperson: Are you not able to answer?

1485. Ms O'Hara: I am not aware of there having been any issues of non-attendance at transition meetings. The special needs careers officers largely attend those meetings, but I will check to see whether there are issues with advisers attending.

1486. The Chairperson: Mrs McGill is also asking why it is watered down from "must" to "will endeavour".

1487. Ms O'Hara: I do not know.

1488. The Chairperson: Is it a get-out clause?

1489. Ms O'Hara: It could be that it is essential that the special needs careers adviser attends some transitional meetings but not others. It is all down to making the best use of available resources. As Ms Kerr said, we are an all-age guidance service. There are lots of priority groups. I would be concerned if there were significant numbers of non-attendants at those meetings. I have not heard that that is the case, but I will look into it.

1490. Mrs McGill: I am pointing this out because I have had experience in my area of young people transferring from a special school to an adult day centre. The Health Service was involved. As I said earlier, according to the information that I had, the provision did not seem to be there for those people to progress. That is important if the Careers Service is to be the robust mechanism that we all believe that it should be.

1491. Ms Kerr: It would be helpful, Claire, if you could share those details with us. We could then make a specific enquiry in that regard. We expect attendance at all of those transition meetings. I take your point about the seeming dilution. We are separating out the practical issues, but we will come back to you with the detail and we will happily investigate the case to which you referred.

1492. The Chairperson: That would be most useful. Thank you.

1493. Mr Lyttle: Thank you for your presentation. Careers guidance is an issue that is raised frequently as being extremely important. There is a lot of detailed information and a wide-ranging menu of services and options for the schools. The schools decide how to use those resources, so how do we know the efficacy of the menu that each school decides to use and the outcomes? Despite the satisfaction survey responses that you received, I continue to receive feedback from young people that the careers guidance that was provided to them was not necessarily as helpful as it could have been. One flippant but trying-not-to-be-flippant question: are we teaching our children Mandarin?

1494. Ms Kerr: There is sometimes confusion about the difference between careers education and careers information, advice and guidance. The school has the responsibility to develop the career decision. It is there to support young people in the school and education environment. We then come in with our professional and technical information and provide the independent advice that allows them to make the decision. Quite often, what young people see as careers advice is a mixture of those activities.

1495. We see a high level of satisfaction with the specific things that we offer, so it is not always clear later on what it is that has made a young person's experience unsatisfactory. That will always be an issue for us; trying to unpick what the young person reports as their experience of what careers advice has meant to them.

1496. Ms O'Hara: That is right. There are a variety of reasons why young people may not see it as particularly positive. It may be that they have not got out of it what they wanted, but we want to know if that is the case. We want to know if they had an expectation that they were going to get something and it did not materialise. There is an opportunity to articulate that through the survey.

1497. Mr Lyttle: I accept and understand that it is difficult, given that it will be a number of years after the service is provided before an assessment is made of how helpful it has been. It sounds like research is being done into tracking; that might be something we can look at further. How significantly does the menu of services adopted vary among schools?

1498. Ms O'Hara: It is a bit early to tell, because it was only introduced in September. The agreements are being worked out with schools as we speak. I think that there will be a fairly standard approach to concentrating the resource available. There is a finite resource available to each school, and it is entirely up to the school to decide how it is used. However, our advice would be that you still need a considerable concentration of resource at year 12, but also that we want to see more activity in year 10. That is something that we are in agreement with the Department of Education on. We have fought to get additional resources through. We would certainly like to see year 10 activity. The activity can be outside or on either side of those two years; it will vary from school to school depending on the type of school and, sometimes, the expertise of the careers team in the school.

1499. For example, if someone has a lot of experience in dealing with youngsters who are applying to higher education, and has built up that expertise over the years as a lot careers teachers have, they may see that as their role and want to hold on to it. They will not necessarily see our advisers as being involved in that. Equally, however, if a school has a reasonably new careers teacher, that teacher may feel that they want to use our advisers for that because it is very important. So, it will vary depending on a range of factors, such as the type of school and the expertise available, but it is a bit early to tell yet how well it being used and whether there is a huge variance across Northern Ireland in how it is being used. This is the first time we have had this menu, and we should be getting good things from it.

1500. The Chairperson: It might be useful to do a mapping exercise of schools in each constituency that use the careers advice service. Arguably, it should not be left to the schools to make that decision; surely it is a matter of parental and individual choice? We would be interested to see those statistics so that we could take them up elsewhere. Also, can you provide us with some idea of the cost of the service overall?

1501. Ms Kerr: We are in the process of finalising an annual report on the careers activities. We produced one for last year, and I can make that available to the Committee. In total, we spend around £5·75 million on careers activities.

1502. The Chairperson: Is it just DEL that spends that money?

1503. Ms Kerr: Yes, it is.

1504. The Chairperson: We would be very keen to see that mapping exercise. It would need to be done across constituencies and differentiate between year 10 and year 12 intervention. We would be very keen to hear anything further that you have to say on where some of the obstacles lie with the provision of services at year 10, which seems to be much more sensible, and where the blockages are.

1505. Ms Kerr: Chris raised a point that struck me; it was about the long-term impact of careers advice. The point that we want to make is that careers advice is available throughout someone's career. We offer a gold standard service, because we offer a greater range of services both to young people and to adults. People who have left school and completed their initial training can still come and get advice if they want to change careers, jobs or the direction of their lives. If they feel that they have made a mistake early on, we still have advice to give and guidance to offer.

1506. The Chairperson: It does not seem that there is a lot of public awareness about that. There should be a campaign to raise greater public awareness about that, particularly in these straitened times when many people find themselves redundant or find that their career progression has been stunted.

1507. Ms Kerr: We take that point. We have pilot resource centres located in Ann Street and in Derry. People can come off the street to look at books, use the facilities or get direct advice from an adviser. That is interesting for people, particularly in places where there is a high footfall and where there is an opportunity for people to know that the centres are there; they walk past, see them and, some day, call in.

1508. The Chairperson: How long will the pilot last and when will there be a report on it?

1509. Ms O'Hara: We are looking at how we could extend the model that we are delivering in Richmond Chambers and in Ann Street in Belfast to other parts of the Province. Although that model works very well in an urban location where there is high footfall and where that concentration of resources can be justified, we need to look at how we can deliver that model in other, more rural locations.

1510. The Chairperson: We will come back to you about that. I am very conscious that your brief was to come here to give evidence about the NEETs inquiry. Thank you both very much indeed.

13 October 2010

Members present for all or part of the proceedings:

Mrs Dolores Kelly (Chairperson)
Mr Jonathan Bell (Deputy Chairperson)
Mr Sydney Anderson
Mr Paul Butler
Rev Dr Robert Coulter
Mr Chris Lyttle
Mr David McClarty
Mrs Claire McGill
Mr Pat Ramsey

Witnesses:

Mr Peter Davitt
Mr Billy McClean

 

Fastrack to Information Technology Northern Ireland

1511. The Chairperson (Mrs D Kelly): I formally welcome Billy McClean, programme manager from Fastrack to Information Technology Northern Ireland (FIT NI) and Peter Davitt, chief executive of FIT Ireland Ltd. Thank you for your attendance. The general format is that you have five or 10 minutes to speak to your briefing, and there will be around 20 minutes thereafter to allow members to ask questions, seek clarification and make comments on the points raised.

1512. Mr Billy McClean (Fastrack to Information Technology Northern Ireland): Thank you for the opportunity to come to talk to you. First, I will give a brief introduction to what FIT is, and then I will go into some of what we have been doing more recently. I will provide a summary of some of the recommendations that we are putting forward, and maybe we can discuss some of those.

1513. Fastrack to IT was established in 1999. It is a registered charity, a not-for-profit organisation. Its board is made up of industry representatives. Most of the main blue chip IT-type organisations are part of our board. The focus of the organisation is on the young people who meet the not in education, employment or training (NEET) criteria. In that 12 years, over 8,000 jobseekers have completed FIT programmes. Over 5,000 have gone into employment, and, every year, around 2,500 people come through some of the FIT programmes. Therefore, it has a fairly high success rate of people going into jobs or further training as a result of coming through the programmes.

1514. In Northern Ireland, we set up in around 2005. It was initially a working group, and we started working on some pilots. The main work that we have been doing over the past couple of years is on a project called Learner Access and Engagement, which is a Department for Employment and Learning (DEL) programme that is delivered through the colleges. I will come on to explain a little more about that. It is targeted at the hardest to reach in disadvantaged areas to try and bring them to a point of training and a level 2 education.

1515. Under the Steps to Work programme, which I am sure you are familiar with, we have a contract with three of the providers in Northern Ireland. Previously, we worked on a project called Equal, which was a peace project for women coming into IT, and we have partnership programmes with Belfast Metropolitan College and Springvale Training.

1516. I am sure that you are aware of the statistics in Northern Ireland. The latest labour market research shows 6·8% unemployment. In particular, the unemployment rate for 18-to-24-year-olds is 17·2%, and 41% of people from that age group who are unemployed have been unemployed for over one year. The statistic that stood out to us when we first started working was the high proportion of people in Northern Ireland who are economically inactive. The latest figure is 28·6%, which is the highest of any region in the UK. It stood out for us, and we were trying to see how we could target some of those folks and get them on to some of the programmes that we are familiar with.

1517. We have been running the Learner Access and Engagement project for the past two years. As I said, it is to engage the hardest to reach, which is the NEET category of people, in community settings. As was mentioned, DEL funds the programme through FE colleges. We tendered and were awarded contracts by five out of the six colleges initially, and we currently have two contracts with two of the major colleges. There are around 1,250 learners overall, and we have run about 135 courses. This year, we expect around 1,500 people to have come through similar programmes by the end of June, so we believe that we are trying to reach out.

1518. The programme is about recruiting and finding those people, motivating them and engaging them to come on to the programmes and providing mentor and support services to them as they complete the programme. The colleges provide a tutor, and our role is mentor support, recruiting and engaging at the outset, and trying to encourage them to stay on the programme through to the end. At the end, we look at what the next step is that they can move to. We provide that advice to the classes, having got them through a course. We ensure that they have no issues as they go through it and that we deal with anything that might prevent them from learning and achieving their level 1 or level 2 qualification.

1519. A major concern is about the Steps to Work programme, which we see as a natural follow-on. We have encountered difficulties in getting it to work, so we do not see a natural bridge for those, potentially, 1,200 people from last year and 1,500 people this year that would bring them on to a further programme that would develop their skills to the point where they could get employment. That is what we are about, and that is what we are trying to achieve for those young people. Perhaps we will come back and discuss that.

1520. We see some inhibitors to training and job opportunities in Northern Ireland. There is a dependence on the welfare system — the poverty trap that we are all aware of. There is a lack of substantive training and skills development programmes in key priority industry sectors. FIT was established with the name Fastrack to Information Technology because of the growth of the information technology sector, and people with those skills are required in all sectors; 90% of jobs require some ICT skills. That is why we focus on that.

1521. More recently, we have been looking at other areas of growth, for example, the green economy. We have been looking at maintenance of wind turbines. We look at the areas where jobs will be, the priority sectors, and we train the people towards those types of jobs. There is very little substantive training in some of the programmes that are there. Sometimes, there are small, short courses, but we have had difficulty finding six-month or full-year programmes for these folk. Steps to Work may help to do that, but we have had some difficulties in making it work. The current training and development programmes are not making the impact that they should. There are little interventions in the local community where some of those folk are at, and the impact of structural unemployment has a negative effect on them.

1522. Perhaps we can discuss some of the points that we made in the recommendations. We went to the forum meeting last week. A collaborative approach between government, the education industry and the community is essential to make this work properly and tackle unemployment and economic inactivity. We have seen in the South of Ireland a very effective join-up between social welfare and training. We could do more in that space in Northern Ireland.

1523. Quality training programmes must be responsive to industry needs and the standards that the industry wants. They must provide the basic skills and knowledge, and the personal and professional development, that people require. Significant technical skills require at least 26 weeks' training for someone going into that area of employment, otherwise the employer does not want to know them. There are also the issues of appropriate pedagogy, monitoring of certificate of achievement, and then individual progression pathways developed, and ongoing support for three years once in employment.

1524. A NEET taskforce would provide closer collaboration for cross-departmental action. It was good to hear last week that something had already been set up. We are looking forward to participating in that, and we hope to go to the next meeting. We recommend introducing a similar programme to the vocational training and opportunity scheme (VTOS) in the Republic of Ireland, which has helped people in this situation get to employment.

1525. Another programme for young people who drop out of school is Youthreach. It tries to correct that dropout and bring them through programmes that get them back into employment. There are other one-off projects that are activity-based, but lead into skills-based, such as Gaps PC, in the Wicklow Gap, and Right Skills.

1526. Overall, the significant thing for us is that the strategy has clear targets, clear outcomes and clear impacts.

1527. Mr Peter Davitt (Fastrack to Information Technology Northern Ireland): We are delighted to have the opportunity to speak with you. We were at the event last Wednesday, and it was very interesting. The workshop element was particularly interesting. However, it was slightly demoralising in that 30 years ago the same debate would have gone on about what we are doing about young people and their needs — exactly the same questions in exactly the same scenario — and that is quite disconcerting. Back then I was young, but, you know.

1528. One thing that struck me in the room was accountability on all sides. People can look to government and agencies and say "What are you doing?" or "What are you not doing?", but accountability is for everybody. One thing that was lacking was any indication of targets or outcomes. My personal belief is that anything around any group of people to do with training and development must have targets and outcomes. For example, I make it clear to everybody in FIT that we make our living out of poverty. We earn a living because other people are unemployed, so we have an obligation to address that issue.

1529. I have been involved in initiatives in Northern Ireland over the past five years, and have found agencies and individuals to be very receptive. It has been a very positive experience. However, we are seeing some difficulty in what I call joining up the dots. FIT works because we can get community groups and organisations to work with social welfare and recruitment selection. We work with training providers on the provision of training and with industry in the development of the curriculum and the progression pathways. We all talk to each other through some formal mechanism. That is one key component that, for me, works very effectively. The different entities need to join up the dots and talk in some effective manner. It does not need to be through long-term workshops, but there must be some mechanism for interaction.

1530. The other thing that has really struck me about Northern Ireland is the need for industry engagement in the identification of skill needs and opportunities. That, for me, has not been as easy here as it has in the South. That may be because of the balance between small and medium-sized enterprises and larger companies, but it is the industry that knows its skills needs. There are huge needs and opportunities out there at the present time, and we need more effective dialogue around that.

1531. There is a lot of good news and opportunity out there. Our economies are in a difficult space, but there is tremendous opportunity in, for example, the whole area of renewable energies. We have developed a new curriculum from scratch to equip people with the skills to work with renewable energies. You do not need a PhD or a degree to work on a wind turbine. You need smart skills and to be physically able to climb up there in the middle of October to do the maintenance.

1532. For example, in the UK over the next five to 10 years, about 36,500 jobs will come on stream in wind turbine maintenance. There are about 3,500 in the South of Ireland. On top of that, 60% of all wind turbines on mainland Europe are behind on maintenance. Therefore, there is a huge opportunity now for skills development training. In the South of Ireland, part of our strategy of recovery will be a period of emigration. However, let us give people the skills to compete for the most effective jobs out there.

1533. There are other huge areas such as gaming, cloud technologies and maintenance of medical devices. Those are all growth sectors. However, there is little development of curriculum content to respond to industry needs, and a coherent strategy around those aspects would give direction to everybody and to jobseekers. People who are long-term unemployed might look into a database of training that offers courses in foundation training in this, or introduction to that. That will not mean very much to them. However, if there is training in databases, warehousing, PC maintenance or wind turbine maintenance, people will have a clear vision that that training will put them on a certain path. Those are my observations. We are struggling with the same issues South, but a more focused approach, engagement, joining up the dots and industry leadership will help.

1534. Mr P Ramsey: The point about wind turbines is interesting. When President Clinton was here recently, he said that not only is the maintenance of wind turbines an issue, but that nobody here is manufacturing them and using that niche market. He talked about the range of jobs that would result from that.

1535. I am interested in your point about identifying skills needs. I brought that point up to previous witnesses from the Department, and they did not answer. You mentioned the Learner Access and Engagement pilot programme and said that you have 1,250 young people on that. Where do those young people come from? Who identifies them? You talk about targets and outcomes. How many of those young people, measured over a period of time, have secured full-time employment or remained in full-time education, and how many have fallen out of those programmes? We are looking to measure outcomes.

1536. This is a Committee inquiry. Although we are not trying to reinvent the wheel, there are exceptional circumstances in Northern Ireland, and a number of people have told us about the vulnerability, mental health problems and other issues that affect them. We are trying to identify good models with which we can go forward and ensure that the investment is put in place. While those figures are grand and look the part, we need to know about performance levels, outcomes and measurable outputs. I am not saying that I want that today, but you could send us a written submission on that.

1537. The Chairperson: Do you want to respond?

1538. Mr Davitt: With regard to targets and outcomes, very few people have gone into jobs in the North of Ireland. The reason for that is that we are the first rung of the ladder. We get people out of their houses to start training and to look at IT and other areas, but we do not have effective progression pathways.

1539. Mr P Ramsey: Where do those young people come from?

1540. Mr McClean: We recruit and engage with them through talking to community associations —

1541. Mr P Ramsey: Do you go into schools?

1542. Mr McClean: We do not focus on schools particularly. The programme focuses on people who are over 18, so it is not for people who are aged 16 or under. Therefore, in many cases, the people who we bring to the programme have already left school. We work with their local community in youth clubs, schools — clubs and things like that, but not particularly the schools, because it is below the age bracket. Also, it is a level 2 education at best, but when they finish the programme after two years, level 2 will not get them a job in IT. They need to get to level 3 or 4. Our struggle is getting them progressed into Steps to Work, for example, where we can make it work and get them the progression to get them a job.

1543. Mr Davitt: To be honest, we have a slight concern that we have been able to encourage people to try to go back to education, but we do not have an effective follow-on. Are we doing them a disservice by mobilising them? Would we have been better to not engage them in the first instance if we do not have effective progression pathways? What we are seeing is that a lot of people have the innate ability and skills, they want to do something, and they want to progress and pursue employment opportunities, but they are not seeing fit and effective pathways towards that end. From our experience, that has been difficult to discern, and we have been involved in this activity in the North for five years.

1544. Mr P Ramsey: How many people do you employ across Northern Ireland?

1545. Mr McClean: Eight people are employed at the minute.

1546. Mr P Ramsey: Is that across all of Northern Ireland?

1547. Mr McClean: Yes.

1548. Mr Bell: It is a very inspirational programme, and, if I have understood your figures, of the 8,000 jobseekers who completed the FIT programme, 5,000 are in employment.

1549. Mr Davitt: That is predominantly in the South. The overall numbers in Northern Ireland are small, because, as I said, we are not seeing the effective progression pathways. However, I am very much of the view that those types of numbers can be achieved in the North. Billy mentioned two programmes earlier: the VTOS focuses on long-term unemployed people who are over 21 years old. They keep their social welfare, and they go into further education or vocational training for up to two years. The Youthreach programme is for early school leavers — 15 or 16 year olds who have dropped out of school. It is vocationally focused training until they are 18 years old, with the expectation of directing them towards a job.

1550. I like those programmes because FIT only focuses on marginalised jobseekers. We are not interested in unemployed architects or unemployed legal secretaries. Do not get me wrong, they deserve support, but our focus in FIT is on the more marginalised and disadvantaged people in society. Those programmes work well to engage them and to facilitate them to acquire the skills to compete for jobs in the labour market.

1551. Mr Bell: There is a highly impressive range of organisations on the FIT board, from AOL through to Apple, Microsoft and Siemens Systems. Is there a representative from each of those organisations on your board?

1552. Mr Davitt: Yes.

1553. Mr Bell: Are they involved in telling you what they need?

1554. Mr Davitt: Exactly.

1555. Mr McClean: The board comes together and decides on the curriculum, and it meets every three months to review it. There are around 22 full-time curricula, and a number of part-time ones as well. The jobs range from PC maintenance engineer through to forklift drivers with database management skills. They are specifically job-related. Those folk help to design the curriculum that the participants go through and the certifications that they want people to have so that they can then hire them.

1556. Mr Bell: I find that highly progressive.

1557. At the South Eastern Regional College, which is in my area, 650 young people are classified as NEET. What next steps need to be taken to try to get some of those 650 young people into employment, like the 62% who go into employment in the South? What lessons can be learned and put into practice here?

1558. Mr Davitt: There seems to be a slight bottleneck. The Learner Access and Engagement project (LAEP) works at one level and Steps to Work comes into operation when an individual goes into a jobcentre and makes a request about what they want to do next. Therefore, although LAEP reaches a huge number of people, the jobcentre facility does not enable those young people to take the next step. I do not know why. Perhaps they are not going forward to it. There is something there.

1559. Mr McClean: There is no natural progression for people who come off LAEP to go into Steps to Work. For people to get into Steps to Work, they need to go into a jobcentre and say what they want to do. A personal adviser then needs to suggest potential programmes and jobs that they can do, both of which are not necessarily known. We have had many cases of people who went through FIT programmes and never knew what the job was. They would not have been able to explain the job title. People just do not know what those jobs are. On the other side, sometimes, personal advisers do not have good awareness of the latest roles, particularly in the ICT sector and new areas. There is a double hit there.

1560. For example, we had a contract with the South Eastern Regional College for more than a year. Ten people were referred, which is less than one person a month. To run a programme on a six-month contract, we need 10, 12 or 20 people a month. We just could not do it with one candidate per month being referred. The issue is trying to fix that. We suggested to the college that we bring people in a pilot from LAEP to see whether we can bring them straight through into Steps to Work and have that continuity. We are currently in discussion to try to make that happen.

1561. Mr Davitt: While we have caught them, let us hold on to them and move them on, rather than let them go out the door and have to come back individually.

1562. Mr Bell: Maybe the Committee can come back to that issue. During my years as a social worker, I would have taken young people down to the jobcentre when they had finished their courses. They would be assigned a personal adviser, who would give them an appointment to come back. Then I had to get the young person and bring them back. We tended to meet a different adviser, who would be looking at the file for the first time. We would come back again and meet another different adviser. That was the point at which many of those young people dropped out of the system.

1563. The Chairperson: If you want to submit any additional detail to the Committee Clerk, I am sure that we will be happy to receive it. You can add further comments in response to the Deputy Chairperson if you wish. However, we need to move on. Perhaps you can tie it all up together.

1564. Mr McClarty: Thank you for that presentation. I enjoyed it thoroughly. From what Peter said in particular, it seems that our neighbours in the Republic of Ireland are much better at this than we are. They are further down the road than we are, perhaps because there are many more opportunities for NEETs in the Republic of Ireland. Can we learn from areas of best practice, either through meetings or visits?

1565. Mr Davitt: Initiatives such as VTOS and Youthreach are good examples in terms of their ability to focus on those more distanced from the labour market and to hold onto them. There are other good initiatives in Europe. As regards the type of cohort that we are trying to draw in, those initiatives focus on the most distanced among them and provide industry-orientated vocational training. If members want to visit our programmes and talk to some of our candidates, I can, quite happily, facilitate that.

1566. Mr McClarty: That should be taken up, Chairperson.

1567. The Chairperson: We can follow up on a number of action points after the meeting. Thank you for that.

1568. Mr Lyttle: My question has largely been addressed. It was about how we can improve the bottleneck between your organisation and the Steps to Work programme. However, that was addressed and I know now that there are ongoing discussions.

1569. As regards the wind turbine industry, a company called B9 Energy was represented last week. Do you have a good connection with that company? You also mentioned the gaming industry, and, interestingly, there is an alternative training provider in my constituency in East Belfast. It is trying to do some work with young people and NEETs in the area of gaming skills, and it seems to be an emerging industry. Do you have any links with them?

1570. Mr Davitt: The gaming industry and the wind turbine industry present huge opportunities. I am aware of B9 Energy. We work very closely with all of the manufacturers, and we involved all five of the major manufacturers in the development of the curriculum.

1571. I do not know whether the Committee has seen our brochure, but we changed our tag line this year. Everyone is talking about the smart economy and the knowledge economy, and there is a general view that the smart economy or knowledge economy is about having PhDs or degrees when it really about smart people. Therefore, the tag line for the brochure is "creating an inclusive smart economy." Even those who are NEET have the innate skills and abilities to participate in our economy and need to acquire skills in those areas. The renewable, wind, gaming and cloud industries are huge growth opportunities for Ireland incorporated. We must respond to them.

1572. Mr S Anderson: Thank you for your presentation. I know that we are running short on time, so I will be brief. I note Billy's good work in working with the communities here. In an earlier evidence session we were talking about the young people that we cannot touch base with and the need to identify them. I take it that your organisation is touching those people or doing its best to touch them and bring them into a programme for their future development. That is a good point that I have noted. You also mentioned the strategy recommendations and the support that you supply for a period of three years. Will you expand a wee bit on that and tell us what that means? Finally, I welcome Peter's comments and his enthusiasm for future employment. It is good to hear someone talking about future job opportunities. I hope that you are correct in everything that you said.

1573. Mr Davitt: I just want to make a general point on how we operate in FIT. We make a commitment to stay with people for up to three years. A FIT course will normally last for six months or a year depending on its nature, and, thereafter, the participant may go into further education or get a job. Either way, we stay with them for three years. Our view is that it is not good enough just to get our client a job, we must commence careers. People will fall off the ladder, get jobs, fall out of jobs — they require support for a period of time. If they go on to further education they should be picked up the following year on where they want to go to ensure their effective progression. Although the programme provides training, there is also a need for an ongoing period of maintenance to ensure that the person gets to where they want to go.

1574. Mr S Anderson: Do you monitor their progress from when they come to you until the end of that three-year period?

1575. Mr Davitt: Yes; exactly. Unless someone tells us to stop annoying them, we will stay with them for that period. We have a three-year commitment to anyone who does a FIT course.

1576. The Chairperson: Thank you both very much indeed for your presentation. I think that we strayed a bit outside of the NEETs inquiry, but it was interesting nonetheless. We would be very keen to have any further written submissions, particularly on where you see the bottleneck and how that can be resolved through careers advice and other methods. Your invitation — David suggested that we can visit.

1577. Mr Davitt: You are welcome.

1578. Mr McClean: I have our corporate brochure and course information about LAEP. They are split into those who are close to the South Eastern Regional College area and those who are with the North West Regional College. It would be best if members took the appropriate information.

1579. Mr Davitt: Having pilot projects in disadvantaged areas and creating local role models is a huge incentive for people to engage.

1580. The Chairperson: Nevertheless, a degree of risk-taking is also warranted in some places. Thank you.

Appendix 3

Written Submissions

1. Alternative Education Providers Forum

2. Barnardo's

3. Belfast Metropolitan College

4. Bryson Charitable Group

5. Corpus Christie Youth Centre

6. Department of Agriculture and Rural Development

7. Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure

8. Department of Education

9. Department of Employment and Learning

10. Department of Enterprise, Trade and Investment

11. Department of the Environment

12. Department of Finance and Personnel

13. Department of Health, Social Services and Public Safety

14. Department of Regional Development

15. Department of Social Development

16. Disability Action

17. Fastrack to IT (FIT) NI

18. First Housing

19. Gerry Rogan Initiative Trust

20. Glastry College

21. Include Youth

22. Include Youth/NIACRO

23. Inter-Board Youth Panel

24. Junior Ministers – Office of the First Minister and Deputy First Minister

25. Leathem, Conor

26. Minister for Education and Skills – Republic of Ireland

27. Minister for Education and Skills – Republic of Ireland (additional)

28. Minister for Health and Children – Republic of Ireland

29. Newry Sports Partnership

30. NIACRO

31. NICCY

32. North Down Training

33. North Monaghan Schools Completion Programme

34. North West Regional College

35. Northern Ireland Youth Forum

36. Northern Regional College

37. Opportunity Youth

38. Positive Destinations

39. Princes Trust

40. Queens University Belfast

41. Rathbone

42. Royal National Institute for the Blind

43. South Eastern Regional College

44. Springvale Learning

45. The Bytes Project

46. Training by Choice

47. VOYPIC

48. Wilson, Kevin

49. Young Farmers' Clubs of Ulster

50. Youth Action Northern Ireland

51. Youth Council for Northern Ireland

Alternative Education Providers Forum

The AEP Forum

The Alternative Education Providers' Forum was set up in 1999 and is made up of Community based Organisations and Stakeholders set up in response to the identified need of our (school age initially and increasingly 16+) Young People who, for a wide variety of reasons, were outside the mainstream school system and who were 'best placed' in smaller, multi disciplinary educational settings best suited to meet their needs.

The AEP Forum has been involved in lobbying on behalf of Young People who would fall under the category 'not in education, employment or training' for a number of years now. To this end we have met with Department of Education's Committee and officials and Department of Employment and Learning's Committee as well as others, to address issues facing our most marginalised, disadvantaged and vulnerable young people. We are also assured that the AEP Review (due for release this Autumn) includes 'concern about provision for pupils in Key Stage (4) and post-16 age group[1]'.

'NEET' Young People

Not being in education, employment or training or 'NEET' Young People, (as they are increasingly referred to), between the ages of 14–16, 16-18, and 18 - 25 is an enormous waste of young people's potential, talent and their contribution to society. It is also linked to a number of other 'poor life outcomes', including low levels of attainment, unemployment, teenage conception and/or many other 'at risk' behaviours which ultimately cost society more. Reducing the proportion of 'NEET' young people therefore is / should be one of the Department's and other relevant Government Departments' key priorities.

Further work on personal and social development and/or life skills may also be required to help these Young People maintain the benefits gained from AEP. As young adults entering the world of further training and/or employment, they will need support in making decisions about competing pathways and qualifications, how to obtain and sustain employment and how to ground aspirations in their achievements to date. The following issues are highlighted by those of us who having worked for a long number of years in AEP and have the skills, knowledge and experience relevant to address them in collaboration with other relevant stakeholders including our Government Departments. As stated in a recent letter from the DEL Committee to the Minister Sir Reg Empey:

... the Forum's primary goal is to manage the transition of disengaged young people into further education, training or employment. ... the Committee is keen to support any work that will reach out to the so-called 'NEETs' and bring them back into the mainstream. The Committee agrees with the Forum that investment in work to reach this NEET group now could well lead to savings in associated social costs that might arise in the future if this group is not engaged now.
September 2009

The AEP Forum's response to those questions/issues posed by the Committee for the purposes of this Inquiry follow:

1. (a) Characteristics/experiences/barriers

The experience of our Young People which has led to their disengagement, disaffection and/or exclusion from 'mainstream' school provision is summarised as factors set out below:

  • 'Unsuitable' learning environments;
  • Family difficulties / breakdown;
  • Legacy of the 'conflict';
  • Poverty (J. Rowntree Foundation recent research put figure at 50,000 children in NI living in poverty);
  • Generational unemployment;
  • Lack of educational aspiration;
  • Fulfilling role as Primary Carer in the Home;
  • Inflexibilities in the system;
  • Mental Health issues;
  • Other health issues;
  • Bullying;
  • Learning difficulties;
  • Social, Emotional and/or Behavioural Difficulties;
  • Inappropriate learning and teaching approaches;
  • Inappropriate or un-motivating curriculum content;
  • Young people 'lost' in big schools/classes;
  • Falling behind;
  • Lack of clear and consistent progression pathways (including clearly defined vocational pathways);
  • Lack of resources.

There is a general lack of understanding of the importance of 'joined up working' across agencies.

1 (b) Prevention/Intervention strategies .

An integrated, holistic and multi disciplinary team approach is one which has worked very successfully in Alternative Education settings and which should form part of the thinking underpinning educational provision in the 21st century. Such provision in smaller, more supportive and community linked provision is key to successful educational/training experiences for young people and their families. Provision needs to be flexible and diverse. Learning needs to be 'learner centred'. We need to improve our responsiveness to the needs of our children and young people if we are to reduce the numbers of our young people becoming 'NEET'.

There needs to be development of qualifications and programmes targeted at young people 'at risk' of becoming 'NEET' i.e. a broader qualification framework to recognise wider achievement – not purely academic - is vital. Academic and vocational qualifications need to be given equal value. There should be a very appropriate/individualised approach to curriculum assessment and certification for those young people deemed to be Pre-NEET. There should be greater recognition and accreditation of learning that occurs in a wide range of formal and informal settings.

We believe that making 'NEET reduction' one of the key indicators for measuring the pre and post 16 systems' success is / should be integral to education and training provision / outcomes.

Educational establishments need to employ staff who have skills and qualities to develop meaningful and supportive relationships with the young people and their families, many of whom have had negative experiences of adults and people in authority. Support for young people's transition beyond their involvement in school/centre is key to successful engagement, retention and attainment levels.

Clear and effective teaching and learning policies and practices impacting on the successful experiences of students/ trainees are vital. Greater expectations on the part of those providing education/training will impact positively on young people as will celebrating their achievements. Behaviour management programmes / 'contracts' drawn up in consultation with young people are also key to their sense of empowerment and ownership over their learning/training and subsequently to their ambition and achievement. Teaching methodologies by the multi disciplinary team should be focused on motivating pupils and developing their self-esteem. Personalised learning opportunities tailored to individual needs from the outset will aid success.

In summary also:

  • Intervention/prevention strategies
  • Additional necessary 1/ 2 years in AEP
  • Additional focused support
  • Smaller Training Organisations
  • Alternative training programmes/more choice
  • Partnership approaches between AEP & Schools & Training Organisations
  • Transition Programme in schools
  • Transitional support
  • Quality Assurance measures in AEPs, Schools, FE, Training Organisations.

2. Best practice…. what has been shown to work particularly well in our local Situation?

We believe the AEP Model developed over the past 10 – 15 years is a model of best practice and works particularly well for those young people regarded as/at risk of becoming 'NEET'. The integrated, holistic and wrap-around approach towards young people and their parents/guardians/families has been proven over time to work in terms of personal growth and development, engagement in education / training, successful outcomes.

The key factors also include:

  • Key Worker system;
  • Individualised Education Programmes;
  • Formative assessments;
  • Involving pupils more actively in their learning – thus giving them additional responsibility for it;
  • Young people agree challenging but achievable individual targets;
  • Progress and achievements monitored effectively and celebrated;
  • Tutorial Support / Supported study;
  • Targeted support for families – home-link worker/s;
  • Summative assessments;
  • Progression tracking.

The Committee strongly supports the Forum's desire to create a 'sixth form' within their centres to provide an environment where the Forum's client group can be supported through the transition into further education, training or employment. The Committee continues to seek ways in which it can support outreach to those who have 'dropped off the radar' in the 16 to 19 age group and Members regard the work undertaken by the groups within the AEP Forum as being very important to re-engaging these young people and allowing them to contribute to society generally[2].

3. 3. Tracking and Monitoring

It is crucial that monitoring, evaluation and review (MER) mechanisms are integral to the delivery of education/training and the following suggestions may be helpful in this regard:

  • Central Coordinating System/s or Agency responsible for overall collation of data
  • Information sharing at the transition stages between Schools, AEPs, Training Organisations and/or employers
  • Mandatory tracking, progression route monitoring over following 3-5 years
  • Clearly set out Monitoring, Evaluation and Review Systems – MER
  • Sanctions for those who fail to comply
  • Support mechanisms/systems for young people who 'fall out of' education, training or employment
  • Duty of care should include duty to report 'fall out'

4. Neighbouring Jurisdictions' Strategies for Young People who are NEET

The Scottish Executive has under the 'Additional Support for Learning Act (2004)' introduced a new framework for supporting children and young people in their education setting, and their families. The framework is based on the idea of additional support needs.

'More Choices, More Chances' agenda: These initiatives are aimed at pre-NEETS focusing on 'prevention' rather than 'cure'. We believe that early intervention – at all stages – is key to this approach and the success of any 'Anti-NEET' Strategy drawn up by our Assembly here. This will also require cross departmental work, practice, resourcing and responsibility.

It has been noted by the Scottish Executive in their work in this area that they recognise the need to deliver learning in alternative environments 'not like school[3]' as this is what is working with such young people – the importance placed on their views being considered and acted on has been key to the development of their strategy.

The Dept for Children, Schools and Families strategy is focused on three strands and asserts that all three strands must be addressed together in a linked strategy.

These three strands are:

  • Provision of a full range of courses to meet demand - to engage young people through sufficient provision at every level and in every style of learning;
  • Tracking - careful monitoring to identify early those young people who are NEET, or who are at risk of becoming NEET;
  • Support - Advice and guidance to make sure young people know how to access education, training or employment and to enable them to overcome barriers to participation.

The expansion of the AEP model could provide a vehicle for a similar approach – with the correct resourcing, support systems from relevant government departments and noting previous input. It is worth noting that current plans to raise the school leaving age[4] will necessitate such creative and innovative approaches.

5. Elements/funding required within a strategy for young people who are NEET and 'cross-departmental'. Action/Implementation Programmes to address the situation?

The AEP Forum believe the model they have developed should be integral to the bigger vision of addressing an 'Anti NEET' Strategy and involved in the development of relevant action plan.

Further the following are vital considerations:

  • Sponsoring Department or Body: this is vital as it will be necessary to have one overall body responsible for overseeing the Strategy and implementation of its Action Plan;
  • Sponsoring Body responsible for collation of cross departmental resources iro Strategy implementation;
  • Central funding mechanism responsible for allocation of funding where young person is receiving education, training;
  • Sponsoring Body should include relevant statutory and community stakeholders with relevant skills, knowledge and expertise;
  • Resource allocation based on objective need and going to 'frontline';
  • Monitoring, Evaluation and Review Systems – MER (as mentioned already) re' engagement, attendance, outcomes;
  • Support systems / mechanisms in place if young people 'fall out' – funding 'following young person to place of provision';
  • Options open re' e.g. returning to school (if appropriate), training organisation or moving between them;
  • Activities such as enterprise, citizenship, health, creativity etc. which have been deemed to be 'add ons' need to be recognised/valued and built in to curriculum framework.

In conclusion therefore the AEP Forum wishes to stress that early intervention at all stages is key to reducing the number of NEET young people and our work with pre-NEETs and increasingly NEETs will be invaluable asset to taking forward the necessary Strategy and Action Plan to do so. It has been noted by the Scottish Executive in their work in this area that they recognise the need to deliver learning in alternative environments 'not like school' as this is what is working with such young people – the importance placed on their views being considered and acted on has been key to the development of their strategy.

Submitted on behalf of the AEP Forum by:

Mairead McCafferty
Chair

E-mail mairead@wbpb.org maireadnewstart@hotmail.co.uk
maireadmccafferty@hotmail.com

Community Based Alternative Education Providers - Belfast

Alternative Education Provider Alternative Education Provider
Newstart Education Centre
Unit 13/1Blackstaff Mill
77 Springfield Road
Belfast
BT12 7AE
Pathways
174 Trust
Antrim Road
Belfast
BT14 6BP
Alternative Education Provider Alternative Education Provider
Conway Education Centre
5-8 Conway Street
Belfast
BT13 2DE
Open Doors Learning Centre
8-30 Barrack Street
Belfast
BT12 4AH
Alternative Education Provider Alternative Education Provider
Education by Choice
The Bridge
135 Ravenhill Road
Belfast
BT6 8DR
Upper Andersonstown Community Forum (UACF)
37a Tullymore Gardens
Belfast
BT11 8NE

[1] DE letter to Committee December 2008

[2] September 2009 Letter from DEL Committee to Department Minister Sir Reg Empey

[3] Understanding transitions' Professor Rob MacDonald, University of Teesside

[4] Government proposes to raise the age for young people to remain in compulsory education or training: to 17 from 2013, and 18 from 2015.

Alternative Education Provision
[Community Based] – Greater Belfast

Contents:

Alternative Education Provision [Community Based] – Greater Belfast: Overview Table

Alternative Education Model & Stages

AEP Provision – Outputs and Outcomes: Supporting Young People who are 'NEET' / 'Pre-NEET'

AEP Curriculum & Accreditation Overview

AEP Centres' Referral Procedures / Support Systems / Transition Support

Alternative Education Provision [Community Based] – Greater Belfast: Overview

Alternative Education Provision [Community Based] – Greater Belfast: Overview Table

Alternative
Education Centre
Base / Postcode Annual Intake No.s
  • 'Pre-NEET' [14-16]
  • 'NEET' (inc' 'Pilot prog's) [16+]
Referral Wards
& ELB Areas
Referral Sources Funding Sources Progression Route/s
Newstart Education Centre BT13 2QU
  • 20
  • 6 'Pilot' Programme ['10-'11]
NB: Service delivery within training organisations working with 'potential NEETS' – first carried out 2007/8. [no.s of young people vary].
  • Clonard;
  • Falls;
  • Beechmount; .
  • Whiterock
  • Springfield
  • Falls Park
  • Glencolin
  • Andersonstown
  • Colin
  • Glen Road
  • Poleglass
  • Twinbrook
  • Antrim South
  • Nth / Sth / Gtr Belfast wards
BELB, NEELB, SEELB.
  • BELB Educ' Options Panel;
  • Schools;
  • Training Organisations;
  • Family/parents
  • Community org's;
  • Social Services;
  • Youth Justice.
  • DE / BELB;
  • Schools;
  • Training Org's;
  • Big Lottery;
  • Children In Need;
  • DEL/ESF
  • Trusts &
  • Charities
  • 'Returners' to AEP;
  • Further Education;
  • Training Organisations;
  • Employment;
  • Reintegration into Schools.
Conway Education Centre BT13 2DE
  • 12
  • Falls,
  • Andersonstown, Beechmount,
  • Ardoyne
BELB, NEELB, SEELB
  • BELB Educ Options Panel
  • Schools
  • Parents
  • Community Organisation
  • Social Services
  • DE/BELB
  • Big Lottery
  • Children in Need
  • Other charitable org's
  • Further Education
  • Training
  • Post 16 (Adult Provision @ Conway
  • Employment
Pathways Project BT14 6BP BT15 1AB BT13 3AA
  • 36
  • New Lodge;
  • Legoniel;
  • Bellevue;
  • Ardoyne;
  • Chichester Park;
  • Water Works;
  • Ballysillan;
  • Duncairn;
  • Fortwilliam;
  • Shankill;
  • Ballyhenry;
  • Woodvale;
  • Highfield.
  • Glencairn;
  • Upper Malone
BELB, NEELB, SEELB
  • Schools
  • BELB Options Panel
  • DE/BELB
  • Return to mainstream school
  • Further Education
  • Training Organisations
  • Employment
Education by Choice BT6 8DR
  • 46
  • Woodstock
  • Mount
  • DE/BELB/Schools/
  • SS/Family
  • DE/BELB
  • Schools
  • College
  • Training
  • TBC
Training by Choice  
  • 30
  • Island
  • Castlereagh
  • Greater East Belfast
  • Short Strand &
  • Markets area
  • Community/SS
  • Training Organisations
  • DEL/Training Org's
  • College
  • Employment
  • FE
Upper Andersonstown Community Forum BT11 8NE
  • 20
  • Falls Park
  • Whiterock
  • Glencolin
  • Andersonstown
  • Colin
  • Upper Springfield
  • Glen Road
  • Twinbrook
BELB, SEELB
  • Schools
  • Family
  • Community Organisations
  • Training organisations
  • Schools
  • Parents
  • Return to mainstream school
  • Further Education
  • Training Organisations
  • Employment
Open Doors Learning Centre BT12 4AH
  • 15 per annum
  • 1-2 per annum
  • Belfast:
  • Balmoral;
  • Castle;
  • Laganbank;
  • Lower Falls;
  • Upper Falls;
  • Oldpark;
  • Pottinger:
  • Victoria.
  • Antrim:
  • Antrim South East,
  • Carrickfergus:
  • Carrick Castle
  • BELB NEELB SEELB
  • Schools
  • Parents
  • Community Org's
  • Social Services
  • Congregation of Christian Brothers Trust NI. (CCBNI).
  • Schools.
  • Return to mainstream schools.
  • Further Education
  • Training Organisations
  • Employment

Alternative Education Model

Alternative Education Model

Stages

1. Initial referral from Statutory, Community or Voluntary Agency as per AEP procedure.

2. Assessment of 'status', need, ability, area/s of interest carried out. [* e.g. 'LAC', Homeless, etc]

3. Identification of specific interventions and / or support necessary – Key Worker Assigned – key agencies involved.

4. Individual learning (education) plan (ILP), intervention / support plan drawn up in agreement with young person / referring agency as per SLA (Service Level Agreement).

5. Programme – inc' induction programme - is delivered and monitored as per AEP policies and procedures.

6. Transition programme implemented before placement period finishes (inc' relevant info' sharing as per format), progression route/s are tracked, monitored and recorded.

Alternative Education Provision – Outputs and Outcomes: Supporting Young People who are 'NEET' / 'Pre-NEET'.

'Hard' Outputs: 'Soft' Outcomes:
All outputs measured and monitored through KPIs (Key Performance Indicators) systems. All outcomes measured and monitored through KPIs (Key Performance Indicators systems.

1. Links between all Statutory, Community and Voluntary Agencies working with our most marginalised, vulnerable and/or disaffected Young People and their families.

2. Appropriate, targeted curriculum provision;

3. (Re)engagement and retention of Young People in educational / training provision;

4. Reduction in disengagement levels;

5. Increased attainment levels in qualifications of young people;

6. Enhanced employability and employability skills – Vocational training;

7. Improve / increase access to Careers advice;

8. Increase employment related experience/s;

9. Transition Support programmes for Young People at relevant stages – incorporating relevant information sharing;

10. Liaising with relevant support services on behalf of Young People and Parents/Guardians;

11. Individual 'tracking' / progression routes;

12. Influence / input at a strategic policy level with relevant stakeholders / decision makers.

Benefits to Young People
  • Continuity of education / training / personal development / life skills provision through AEP links / School / TO / employer / referring agency;
  • Engagement and retention of 'Pre-Neets' / 'NEET's;
  • Appropriate curriculum – academic / vocational / life skills;
  • Greater attainment levels;
  • Greater access to individual support;
  • Enhanced preparation for World of Work;
  • Enhanced employability;
  • Access to skills development;
  • Access to a range of relevant support services;
  • Development of positive life choices;
  • Deduction in 'at risk' behaviours;
  • Motivation through activity based learning / celebrations of achievements;
  • Training to include alternative methodologies to help in working with 'at risk' Young People.
  Benefit to Parents /Guardians
  • Young Person engaged in education, employment or training;
  • Greater awareness of, and access to, support services;
  • Young Person achieving . /'stake' in attainments;
  • Young Person as 'role model' to other siblings;
  • Greater family support through AEP support structures Enhanced knowledge of rights and (where appropriate) responsibilities;
  • Closer working relationships with range of relevant organisations.
  Benefit to Schools / Training Organisations / Employers / Referring Agencies
  • Enhanced working relationships with AEPs in the interests of 'Pre-NEET' and 'NEET' Young People;
  • Early intervention work with Young People 'at risk' of disengaging;
  • Additional support for identified Young People;
  • Higher Retention rates of Young People;
  • Transition support at relevant stages inc' appropriate sharing of relevant information to support placements;
  • Enhanced working relationships with all relevant Stakeholders;
  • Availability of 'mutual' INSET training / seminars / presentations etc;
  • Sharing of knowledge, skills and expertise between Staff in AEPs and Staff in Schools.
  Benefit to local Community / Society
  • Reduced levels of disengagement by Young People;
  • Anticipated reduction in levels of anti-social behaviour;
  • Enhanced citizenship;
  • Improved mental health & well-being;
  • Greater vested interest on the part of Young People in the life of the local Community / Society;
  • Reduced pressure on Govt dept' budgets DE / DEL / DHSSPS / DoJ etc.

Alternative Education Provision [Community Based] Greater Belfast Curriculum

(List of subjects and associated accreditation offered across AEP Forum to meet the needs of individual participants – currently under review)

CCEA
Academic / Vocational
OCN AQA NFTE OCR City & Guilds Other Courses
Range of GCSEs including
  • English,
  • Maths,
  • Learning for Life & Work,
  • Art, and
  • ICT
  • History
NB Individual Centres offer additional courses in GCSE Occupational studies [level 1 and 2] in: Hairdressing, Motor Vehicle and Horticulture, Digital Media (arranged by ISCYP AEP) L1 & L2 Essential Skills – Application of Number/Communication L1 Personal Money Management L1 & L2 Employability Skills L1 Creative Crafts
Personal Development Drama OCN Music Technology EL3 'Choices' Programme L1 Developing Independent Skills for Living in the Community A range of GCSEs including Maths, English, ICT, Citizenship, Science, and Emotional Literacy National Foundation for the Teaching of Entrepreneurship Level 2 ICT Nationals Level 2 Media Studies Nationals Level 1 & 2 Employability
  • Groupwork
  • Young Enterprise
  • Drug Awareness
  • Independent Living Skills
  • Coping Skills
  • An Gaisce Award
  • Duke of Ed'/President's Award
  • ECDL
  • Microsoft Academy (MOS)
  • 'Money Matters' (CAB/FSA)

 

Referral Mechanisms / Procedures Support Systems for Young People/Families Transition Support
Referrals are taken from:
  • ELB's 'Education Options' Panels;
  • Schools,
  • Parents,
  • Youth Justice, and
  • Social Services.
A formal application form is completed. The young person is invited with their parents/guardian and 'referrer' to attend an interview with the Head of Centre. The young person is involved in a collective decision as to 'appropriate placement' in AEP and meeting the young person's needs. For further information re' process see AEP Model.
Initial assessment Monthly report system Key Worker System – assigned to individual young people Family / Parent Support work – Home visits, Parent programmes Referrals to community support systems – ISCYP Services, FASA, Counselling, Lighthouse, etc Transition Programme [ISCYP] incorporating information sharing / support during transition stages / initial period in new placement / review process. Monitoring of placements and progression for 2 year period DEL Careers Guidance Service Help with application forms / Interview Skills / follow up Support attending open days in FE, TOs, Emp'ment etc 'Open door' support Informal drop-in service available

Barnardo's

Barnardo's NI Response to the Employment and Learning Committee Inquiry on Young People Not In Education, Employment and Training

Introduction

Barnardo's NI has over 50 distinct services that work with over 8,000 children and young people and their families every year. We work on a wide range of issues and across local communities in Northern Ireland and our work ranges from early years, to school age to young people and we provide child protection, family support, educational support and a specific range of services that seek to address disadvantage.

Barnardo's NI have drawn specifically on our services that seek to both prevent young people becoming NEET and intervene with those who may already have become disengaged from education, employment and training. Specifically we have used the experience of our work in schools with pre and primary school aged children. We currently provide services in over sixty schools in Northern Ireland working with children who have already experienced disadvantage and who may not be in a place to take best advantage of the education system. We have also drawn on our work with young people who are disadvantaged and who are or are at risk of becoming NEET. This has included young people who use our leaving care services, Barnardo's Dr B's service which provides training and employment to young people who are disabled and our adolescent partnership projects that work with young people at risk of becoming disaffected or offending.

From our services Barnardo's are only too aware of the impact on young people of becoming NEET. This is financial, social, emotional and physical and impacts on young people's life experience and life chances. It also continues to impact when those young people become parents and contributes significantly to the inter-generational nature of poverty and disadvantage.

We consider it essential that there is a coherent NI Strategy that seeks to intervene both with the current group of 16 – 24 year olds who are NEET and vitally, develops a clear programme of intervention to reduce the numbers of young people who will become NEET in the future.

We welcome the Inquiry by the Committee and would want to put on record our appreciation of their commitment and focus on some of the most disadvantaged young people in NI. We very much hope that the Committee Inquiry is instrumental in achieving real change and a better future for our most disadvantaged young people.

Core NEET Issue

NEET young people are not a homogenous group. While there are significant proportions of young people who will spend time out of education, employment or training, there is a core group of NEET young people who face multiple barriers and for whom re-engaging will prove incredibly difficult. The numbers of young people who are core NEET has remained a considerable issue both in times of prosperity and times of recession. While without doubt the current recession has led to an overall increase in the numbers of 16 – 24 year olds who are NEET the core group has remained stubbornly persistent over time.

Barnardo's believes that reducing number of young people who are core NEET must be the key element of any Strategy.

Between 1993 and 2000 the rate of 16 – 124 year olds who were NEET showed a steady decline. There is no clear analysis for why this was the case and could have been linked to migration or towards the middle to latter end of the period was most likely linked to improved economic performance. From 2000 to 2009 the rate of young people NEET has on the whole increased. In 2000 there was a rate of 13% and 2009 this had reached 19%.

This would suggest a number of possible difficulties.

  • The current range of programmes and interventions are not reaching the core numbers of young people who are NEET in any significant manner.
  • The programmes are reaching NEET young people but failing to make a significant impact.
  • The flow into NEET continues to be more significant than the range of interventions addressing it and so the numbers remain stubborn.

Barnardo's recommends that there is a more comprehensive and significant analysis of why the numbers of NEET young people have increased since 2000 and why we have failed to make any significant impact.