Norfolk County Council: Positive Activities Programme

Norfolk's approach to supporting pathways for the hard-to-reach groups in the Council is not documented in a single published strategy but is evident through the range of more specific council strategies for supporting vulnerable and hard-to-reach young people. This includes those with special education needs or disabilities (SEND), youth offenders, and those in care or leaving care.


Introduction

Norfolk is a predominantly rural county with a diverse rural economy – it has just three large urban centres and numerous market towns surrounded by rural areas. Whilst the proportion of the 16-17 population that are not in employment, education or training (NEET) is similar to the national average (around 5 per cent), a higher proportion of those 16-17 year olds with SEND or EHCPs are NEET (12 per cent in Norfolk compared to 9 per cent for England overall).

Norfolk County Council’s approach to supporting pathways for the hard-to-reach groups in the Council is not documented in a single published strategy but is evident through the range of more specific council strategies for supporting vulnerable and hard-to-reach young people. This includes those with special education needs or disabilities (SEND), youth offenders, and those in care or leaving care. Other hard-to-reach groups that have become more prevalent recently include unaccompanied asylum seekers, those electing for home education and those excluded from education.

Description of activity

The Positive Activities programme was developed to encourage the development of social skills, team building, growth of confidence, self-esteem and a commitment to a regular activity. It was targeted at a group of young people in year 11 and post 16s who were NEET and who did not have the necessary ‘soft’ skills for progressing into employment.

The programme used engagement in an activity of the young person’s choice (for example, membership of a local gym, fencing, horse riding and music lessons) to ‘hook’ the young person and included IAG and work experience culminating in an escape rooms activity and awards session at Norwich City Football Club, which proved extremely popular with the young people. The sessions each had local inspiring speakers, a practical activity such as cooking and a variety of ‘nudge’ techniques (personalised welcome letters to the participants, delivery of a box of cookery ingredients etc) were used to encourage engagement.

An additional cohort of young people included those that lacked the confidence to attend this programme in person. A virtual programme was commissioned to meet their needs and with the onset of the pandemic and associated lockdowns, this became a way of continuing to support and engage with the wider NEET cohort as well.

Initially developed with NOA funding, Positive Activities has now been embedded as an offer (funded through council budgets) for careers advisers to use, particularly for the harder-to-reach young people. Assessment as to a NEET young person’s suitability for Positive Activities as a first step towards re-engagement and EET is through discussion and one to one work with their guidance adviser. So far this has led to an additional 30 young people being supported (from a target of 35).

Impacts and outcomes

Amongst the original cohort, those young people participating felt more confident, inspired and willing to engage with IAG services. The activities helped those involved to take tiny steps forward to tackling their issues. Half the participants moved into EET opportunities straight from the programme. Of those still NEET, there was evidence that some young people had more frequent communication with an adviser.

Of the 30 young people that have participated as part of the embedded programme, activities included:

  • work experience in engineering, theatre, IT support
  • online courses in crochet, criminology, beauty therapy, jewellery making
  • gym membership.

Outcomes included increased self-confidence and esteem, interest in wider range of opportunities or completely new areas, progression into re-engagement activity and education or employment opportunities.

Successes and lessons learnt

Building on the initial success of the programme, the Council were able to adapt the offer in response to the pandemic and associated lockdowns, tailoring provision to focus on the hardest to reach, and embed the offer within existing provision to provide a sustained approach. Continuing to fund the level of activity involved in the initial programme has been a challenge, but they have been successful in being able to provide some ongoing support for the hardest to reach groups.

Young people’s voices

Young people and their parents and carers where asked for their feedback on involvement with Positive Activities, which included go-karting, kickboxing, and work experience in the IT department of a local school.

As a result of engagement, one young person said he was now less anxious about meeting new people and was able to start a new College course. Another has progressed onto a school-based IT job as a direct result of his positive work experience. IT was identified as a key area of interest for this young person, so his careers advisor encouraged him to focus in this area; identified and facilitated some work experience for him in a local school; and accessed additional interview and CV support for him to apply for the subsequent job. As a result of the work experience, he developed an understanding of what an IT and school-based job would involve and gained confidence and a desire to work in this area.

Young people and their parents reflected on the benefits of their engagement with Positive Activities and the support they had had from Careers Advisors to identify and access the activities:

 The Advisor listened to what my interests were, and he only gave me information on things I liked, focusing on what I wanted to do.

Young person supported by programme

 The Career Advisor was very good at setting things up, knew my son’s needs and made sure these wouldn’t hold him back but were passed on.

Parent of programme attendee