OFFICIAL figures show that almost a thousand young people in Lincolnshire are not in education, employment or training – otherwise known as NEETs – and that 162 of them are in South Holland.
Those figures are from the Lincolnshire Research Observatory website, although the chances are the figure for the county is going to be much higher because it is known that there are 7,000 young people unaccounted for in the statistics. No one knows where they are or what they are doing. On top of that, a new group of young adults will be leaving school in June.
It’s possible some of those 7,000 have moved on to employment or training because, as with all things, funding has been cut and monitoring is harder. However, it’s also quite likely that many of them fill their days playing on the Xbox, watching day-time television or just hanging about with friends.
Some people reading this may be tempted to write them off as troublemakers, the young adults with nothing to do and little money who end up becoming a pest to neighbourhoods. However, they are also vulnerable: to becoming victims of crime, to low self-esteem and to ill health – according to studies, long-term unemployment has a detrimental impact on both mental and physical health.
For many young people aged 16 to 18 who have never worked, their chances in life have been limited by the fact that they have struggled at school, perhaps got involved in low-level crime or become pregnant at an early age.
However, one training provider in Spalding is dedicated to proving the stereotype of teenagers is wrong as well as demonstrating to young people that they do have options and can still improve their chances of getting on in life.
Nacro, the largest crime reduction charity in the UK, operates an ‘open door policy’ to the training it provides locally. “We don’t worry about what they have done previously. It’s a clean slate,” says Tracey Hitchborn, centre manager for education with Nacro in Lincolnshire.
Each year, between 80 and 90 pupils study subjects such as maths, English and ICT to a nationally recognised standard in addition to personal and social development and vocational development.
The success rate is high, with 99 per cent of students leaving with six qualifications or more and 60 per cent going on to college, to an apprenticeship or into work.
Tracey refers to the way young people are able to pick up skills they struggled to learn at school as “stealth learning”, mastering maths and English while doing things such as cooking or working on an allotment.
She says: “Schools do a great job, but for some young people it doesn’t work. We work in very small groups and are much more inclusive. The people we tend to get were bullied in school, they have low confidence and self-esteem. By coming to an alternative, more flexible, way of learning they adapt a bit easier and tend to thrive.”
Joyce Cooper, who is team manager for Spalding, emphasises that trainers listen to what the young people have to say as well as supporting their choices, even if occasionally that means helping them realise their choices may be a little unrealistic.
They will also support them through difficult times, such as “sofa surfing” following a break-down in family arrangements, a court appearance or talking to housing officers about benefits.
“We can help them recognise their behaviour isn’t social and that they are worth more than that,” says Joyce.
“When they start to believe in themselves that behaviour changes. Education is a very good deterrent for poor behaviour.”
The trainers will also adapt sessions to fit the young people’s circumstances, so a group of mums who have all given birth relatively close together were given classes on child care and are now able to take a break in their studies before continuing at a later date. Trainers can create bespoke schedules for all the students, whether they are young carers looking after parents or other family members or students living in a rural part of the district where public transport is particularly poor.
The other major obstacle to education for many is lack of money since the end of the EMA (Educational Maintenance Allowance), but Nacro offers a bursary of up to £20 a week towards the cost of training once candidates have been assessed, with bonuses available for referring friends.
The Spalding offices for Nacro are at Unit 12 Broadgate House in Westlode Street (01775 718679).