Supporting young people experiencing disadvantage into education, employment and training

These case studies showcase the work local government is carrying out to ensure young people experiencing disadvantage are engaged in education, employment and training.

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One of local government’s key roles is their statutory duties to ensure young people are engaged in education, employment and training (EET) to 18 (or up to 25 where an Education, Health and Care Plan is in place). This statutory duty includes re-engaging those who have left, or are on the verge of leaving, education and training, and developing a local strategy that provides young people with sufficient choice and opportunities. The initiatives undertaken by the councils below are focused on groups with specific needs. Such interventions are additional to standard national initiatives and are typically financed through council funding or through a range of external funding bids. They cover councils from all regions throughout England and across the political spectrum.

The case studies below showcase the work local government is carrying out to support and develop pathways for young people experiencing disadvantage. They demonstrate good practice, with a focus on initiatives to support young people, including those with special educational needs, young offender backgrounds, Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) heritage and those with experience of the care system. Evidence produced during the delivery of these case studies supports the argument for devolving further responsibility to councils.

The individual case studies covered the following programmes in their respective areas:

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Key findings

Across the nine case studies there are a range of different examples:

  • Enhanced support for all young people experiencing disadvantage (Norfolk, Kirklees and Bristol). These case studies describe additional support to all targeted groups. They typically involve some of the following: enhanced access to support (e.g. the same specialist Level 6 qualified careers adviser over time); focus on schools with high numbers of harder-to-help young people; and specific support for harder-to-help sub-groups (e.g. those requiring ‘soft’ skills such as social skills, team building, increased confidence, self-esteem and a commitment to a regular activity).
  • Care experienced young people (Blackpool, Durham and Hampshire). Some councils have specific programmes to provide additional tailored support to care experienced young people, including ring-fenced work experience and apprenticeship opportunities with the council as an employer. Others developed pathways for care leavers to improve young people’s chances of a positive progression to EET.
  • Young people with disabilities (Derbyshire and Sandwell). Tailored support to young people who may be facing barriers to opportunities or who are not given opportunities by employers. This covers a range of physical and mental health impairments. In one council, the pan-disability service is part of its mentoring service for apprentices in the private or public sectors.
  • Young black males. One council (Hackney) focuses recruitment of level 2 apprentices of particular groups experiencing disadvantage, which includes young black males. They also have a priority to recruit more locally living employees to address inclusivity. Outcomes are good with recruits retaining their jobs and achieving good levels of income.  

Challenges faced by young people according to council staff are: transport to access opportunities (especially in rural areas), digital connectivity, anxiety issues (often not accessing available support – heightened during COVID-19 lockdowns), negative prior experience of education (for a variety of reasons e.g. lack of support, bullying, special educational needs and disabilities, choosing not to respond, lack of entry or level 1 learning opportunities, September entry (lack of roll-on-roll-off provision), financial concerns about the implications of further study, and inconsistent careers education information advice and guidance. Councils highlighted the extent of young people presenting with multiple barriers, for which they need support to overcome and progress.

Funding for these activities comes from a variety of sources including LA budgets, combined authority funding, European Social Fund, Opportunity Area (Department for Education) funding and Youth Futures Foundation. In cases where council funding was used, it was often said to be ‘under annual review’, which limits long-term certainty. In other cases, provision is reliant on cross-subsidy support from team members from other council services, which cannot always be guaranteed. This also meant that it was a challenge to retain the best staff as policy and funding uncertainty created employment insecurity for practitioners.

Some positive outputs and outcomes were identified through the case studies (such as numbers on programmes and sustained EET). However, some councils did not have access to performance data for their services.

Feedback from young people indicated how important this support had been for their own development. In particular, young people praised the patience and positive support provided by practitioners. Some examples are included below:

Key messages emerging from the case studies and the workshop with councils included:

  • some respondents felt that solutions and funding are weighted towards Level 3 and above, in a bid to be aspirational, whereas the need was to support those at Level 1 and 2 to help ensure progression routes are not ignored
  • funding landscape sometimes runs the risk of creating fragmented provision with delivery partners focusing on one specific area and not joining up with ongoing delivery
  • sharing practice greatly is appreciated, through workshops such as the one organised through this project
  • some challenges were experienced in supporting young people experiencing disadvantage who were engaged in apprenticeships and similar employed provision when working from home, including clear policies on handling social media posts
  • local authority colleagues have noticed an increase in employment without training, especially as young people drop out of education for a job, and there has also been a related increase in year 12/13 drop-out from college courses for similar reasons
  • challenges faced working in between Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) and combined authority activity around special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) support.

Note: Many respondents during this study refer to young people experiencing disadvantage as ‘hard to reach'.