More needs to be done to tackle different rates of progress between disadvantaged young people and their peers in the education system, according to a new report by Nacro, launched in Parliament on 12 September.
The report has gained support from a cross-party group in Parliament, chaired by Michelle Donelan MP. In it, Nacro highlights the stark difference in progress between young people who reach a GCSE level of competence at 16 and those that don’t. There is a clear negative impact on the future careers of young people who underachieve, as well as in the wider economy. The charity describes how these young people are often left playing catch-up once they have left school, needing more support to progress and better access to post-18 education.
The charity argues that young people fall through the cracks at school for many different reasons. These range from bereavement, bullying, mental and physical ill health to periods in the criminal justice system or being a young carer. Yet the research shows that the system doesn’t respond adequately to the wide experiences of young people, to help them adapt and catch up after a dip in progress or a period of absence.
Young people have spoken to the charity about starting to engage in education, after years of struggle, only for their funding to be reduced from age 18 onwards.
The report’s recommendations include a standardised tracking system co-managed by schools and the Education Funding Agency for better identification of and response to students who need the most help, as well as extending the Pupil Premium, or accelerator fund, to 19 year olds. These measures could help those who have fallen behind to improve their overall outcomes.
Michelle Donelan, Conservative MP, chair of an expert, cross-party education panel supporting Nacro’s programme of work in vocational education, said:
“It is vital that we give every child a fair shot at life and ensure that they have the life chances that they deserve. To do this we must challenge social inequalities meaning not just ‘financial poverty’, but also ‘social poverty’: bereavement, family breakdown, having family members in prison or being a young carer all impact upon the lives and chances of young people in my constituency and the country.
“It therefore seems not only right but essential that we review the allocation of the Pupil Premium to improve social mobility and equality. I am delighted to have teamed up with Nacro to address this as well as push for an extension of the Pupil Premium to age 18. Just as education continues, so do disadvantages. Equality does not miraculously happen at 16 – it happens when all policies seek to target this aim.”
Case Study – G’s story
G struggled to progress at the same rate as his peers at school, presenting characteristics of borderline Asperger’s syndrome without any official diagnosis. He also suffered with an eating disorder and had confidence issues in larger groups of people.
Referred to Nacro, G began to gain confidence in a smaller environment, progressed to qualify in a wood work course and started to work on his English and maths skills which he had struggled with in school.
On leaving Nacro, G was offered a part time paid placement at an upcycling furniture social enterprise.
Speaking today, Nacro’s CEO, Jacob Tas said:
“We are pleased that an increasing number of people agree that education should work for all young people. Young people playing catch up deserve a second chance at education and have a vast amount of talent and untapped potential. It is vital they get to where they can and want to be in life. Our ambition for them shouldn’t be to make sure they are simply in education, they should be thriving, learning and developing skills for the future.
“It is heart breaking when Nacro learners suddenly click with their education only to find their money for learning has run out. There are all manner of reasons why they may have struggled in the past. Adolescence can be difficult: some struggle with bullying, others have significant life changing events such as a close family bereavement or a time in the criminal justice system that will inevitably impact learning at school.
“We need to be more flexible in our approach. Tackling disadvantage isn’t just about helping high achieving young people in more deprived areas into universities or higher-level apprenticeships. It needs a complete approach, and combined with better support will make a significant difference to seizing the potential of all our communities”.