A Neet Solution: Increasing Numbers of Teenagers Stumble at the Transition from School to Work. There Is an Answer

By Leadbeater, Charles | New Statesman (1996), July 14, 2008 | Go to article overview

A Neet Solution: Increasing Numbers of Teenagers Stumble at the Transition from School to Work. There Is an Answer


Leadbeater, Charles, New Statesman (1996)


The day I met Jackie on the Carnel wing of Darlington's [pounds sterling]37m Education Village, she had just revealed she had not slept at her mother's house for the past three months, preferring to "sofa surf" with friends. One of Jackie's half-sisters is in her class: they were born a month apart. A barely younger half-brother studies across the hall. That night Jackie was due to meet the father she shares with these half-siblings for the second time in her life: she is 15.

Jackie is not out of the ordinary. In the class next door I met a young boy--perhaps 14-with deep scabs on his hands acquired while fighting on the streets at nights and weekends in bare-knuckle bouts that attract large crowds who bet on the outcome.

Normally Jackie and her mates would be about to join the ranks of the Neets: young people not in education, employment or training. The scale of the Neet problem is the most telling indicator of the social challenges our education system faces and the inability of conventional schooling to respond. About one in ten children leaving school in Manchester is a Neet; in Leeds it's 4,000 children a year. Children who are Neets have lower incomes, poorer life chances, higher risks of teenage pregnancy and imprisonment. It is an indictment of our education system that it produces Neets in such numbers.

It is not as if the innovations required to address the problem were rocket science. The staff on Carnel seem to have some answers. The 60 children there were the most disruptive in the school, many heading for exclusion. Now they are in school and enthusiastic about learning.

The Carnel recipe is simple: children learn when they have relationships which make them feel cared for; which give them recognition for who they are, where they come from and what they have achieved; and which motivate them to learn. In addition, they are participants in their own education, in shaping what they learn and how they learn it and in setting their own targets and reviewing their own performance.

Carnel has a better-than-normal teacher-pupil ratio, but it is not just a question of numbers and money. The atmosphere is conversational but focused. Many of the most effective staff are teaching assistants and non-qualified teachers who know how to connect with kids. The teaching skill most needed for Neets is the ability to motivate. Carnel feels like a small school, though it is part of a large institution. That is why Jackie--bright, engaging, wry--is about to get 13 GCSEs.

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

Over the past few months, I have visited a clutch of innovative schools and local authorities working with the Innovation Unit (created by the then Department for Education and Skills) to see how they tackle social problems. It has become clear to me that we need to redesign learning--at school, in families and the community--around relationships. What might that mean so far as Neets are concerned?

First, it means providing families at risk of social exclusion with more intensive, tailored, preventative support. …

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