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Hoping for work? Failed by school, trapped by the recession

Release Date: 17 Mar 2009

Barnardo's research report 'Second Chances' launched today reveals a swathe of young people trapped between a school system which failed them and a shrinking job market, in which unskilled young people have little hope of getting work or an apprenticeship.

On the eve of this month’s unemployment figures, Barnardo’s warns that young people who want to work at 16 or train in the workplace face vastly fewer opportunities than a generation ago:

  • Young people aged 16 and 17 have by far the highest unemployment rate (in the economically active population), with over 28% - and rising - unemployed in the last quarter of 2008 (latest data, pending the new statistics).
  • Over the last two decades (1987-2007), the number of 16 & 17 year olds in work-based learning (including Apprenticeships and Entry to Employment programmes) fell by 63%. In this context, Barnardo’s strongly supports the current drive to expand apprenticeships, particularly in areas which have suffered most industrial decline - but this will be challenging in the current economic downturn.

Based on their research with young people ‘NEET’ (not in education, employment or training) across the UK, the children’s charity is calling for:

  • vocational courses to be made much more widely available as a positive option for 14-19 year olds
  • more work-based learning to enable young people to gain the skills and experience expected by employers
  • better support to help young people who drop out of school or are excluded to get back on track in their education – with one-to-one support from a key worker; practical help e.g. with childcare, housing or transport; and a flexible approach so they can progress at a realistic pace and grow in confidence

The Barnardo’s research found that far from the ‘idle’ and ‘feckless’ stereotypes associated with ‘NEETs’, young people who had left school at 16 or earlier were overwhelmingly motivated to work or get an apprenticeship or other training - but were held back by poor exam results, a lack of self-confidence and social skills, and a wide range of ‘barriers’ to going to work or college - such as caring for a child or sick family member, housing difficulties and mental illness.

Martin Narey, chief executive, Barnardo’s said:

Many of the young people interviewed for this research lived in workless, poor households – some where successive generations of adults have not worked. We have made some progress, not least with apprenticeships, but must do more to break the cycle of deprivation facing too many young people, who believe the world of work is nothing to do with them. A more relevant education system with greater recognition given to vocational and work-based learning is needed - and urgently - as the economy slides deeper into recession.

Our experience, based on working with young unemployed people around the UK is that those who have struggled in school can flourish on vocational courses and learning in the workplace – developing the skills they will need as plumbers, hairdressers, decorators and caterers.

The ‘Second Chances’ research was carried out by Barnardo’s in response to the Education and Skills Act 2008 which will require 16 and 17 year olds in England remain in education or training until their 18th birthday. Barnardo’s lobbied actively to ensure that the new law improves opportunities for the young people we work with – many of whom are excluded from school or leave at 16 (or earlier), with few qualifications and poor long-term prospects.

Anne Pinney, Assistant Director in Barnardo’s Policy and Research Unit, said:

Too many young people leave school convinced that they are a failure, wanting to find work or an apprenticeship, but lacking the skills and qualifications that they need. Given a second chance – with relevant learning opportunities, the right support and a little belief – they can transform their attitudes and aspirations, achieving more than they ever thought they were capable of.

Notes to editors

  • View the Second Chances video of young people from two Barnardo's services speaking about their experiences: full length version (7 mins), shortened version (2 mins) (Windows Media files)
  • The Second Chances research was conducted in 19 Barnardo’s services across the UK, working with young people who were (or had recently been) NEET. 75 young people were interviewed, with separate interviews with project workers and managers. The research also drew on a literature review and small survey of young people in Barnardo’s services.
  • Data sources quoted: ONS (Feb 2009) Labour Market Statistics, table 9; DCSF (June 2008) SFR 13/08, Participation in education, training and employment by 16-18 year olds in England (Barnardo’s analysis of table A13).
  • Barnardo’s has been involved in education since 1867, when Thomas Barnardo founded a ‘ragged school’ for poor children in the East End of London. Today, over two-thirds of Barnardo’s services involve some education or training – including vocational education and training services for 14-19 year olds; alternative provision for young people excluded from school, or at risk of exclusion; and a wide range of support services for young people facing barriers to participation, including teen mothers, young people with learning difficulties, disabilities or mental illness, young carers and care leavers, homeless young people and young offenders.

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