Emma Shipstone FIEP, Industry Specialist in Post 16 Education

I have worked within post 16 education for over 25 years and whilst there have been many crisis and recessions before I have never seen an impact as that which I am witnessing with Covid. I am currently a school governor as well as working with Apprentices, Traineeships and NEET learners. The lack of face to face intervention is having a huge impact on those who need our support. Remote learning does not always work, it is not always the option they need. For some young people, they quite simply do not have the access, technology or funds. For some, even if they do have the access, it is still not the right approach.  

For the past few months I have been working with a group of NEET learners and most of them are regularly attending the centre for one to one sessions in a Covid secure environment. Many of these learners are care leavers, carers, or looked-after children. We started with trying remote, online activity but it just wasn’t working. Their employability qualification includes elements of Interpersonal Skills and Healthy Lifestyles, but when you talk to these young people about what that means to them, right now, the answers are stark. Their hope is fading in a society that is trying its best to keep people safe and keep the economy moving. Their GCSE grades were predicted after their education was severely affected by the first lockdown and their results don’t necessarily reflect their reality – some better, some worse, which causes both funding and engagement issues at both ends of the spectrum. Their daily routines are terrible, with all of them seeing no point in getting up in a morning. So, offering them the opportunity to come into a centre right now feels like a lifeline. A time where we can talk and support and progress learning. We have another 2 years of young people leaving school this summer and next, who will be even more adversely affected and signs of mental health issues with young people are evident and increasing. 

So how do we support this group? How do we show them that they can still have great aspirations? How do we join up Skills and Employment and maximise all the initiatives and funding opportunities that providers of education and employment are working with, or bidding for (Restart, Traineeship, AEB, Devolved areas, Bootcamps….the list goes on)? As a sector there is a complex supply chain of primes, subs and associates, public, private and voluntary, how do we ensure that they are all included and aware of the opportunities? There is then the dilemma of funding. How do we do the best for the learners with the funding we have and how can we work better as one whole sector to truly support these young people? How do we use non-regulated funding to support those learners who have had their GCSE maths and English over graded or their anxiety is affecting their confidence so much it is hindering their ability to progress and learn?

We need to find an efficient and effective way of connecting the newly approved Traineeship providers, Kickstart jobs and Restart activity with Apprenticeship providers to ensure we can support young people into lifelong learning with careers and education that will see them through this next generation. I don’t have any easy answers to this. Maybe the new local area plans might help and I know that many devolved areas have a better, all-round picture of provision in their local areas but how does that information get shared and get the information to the learners within the confines of GDPR? 

There are very few organisations that can offer the full spectrum of support from unemployment, employability courses, into employment, health and wellbeing, traineeships, apprenticeships, and in work qualifications. I am using my knowledge and connections within the sectors to ensure that these young people are connected for progression opportunities, and to support schools to be aware of post 16 opportunities. This isn’t about funding farming, but truly about joining up the dots to support progression, something which I haven’t yet seen.   

I would welcome the opportunity to work with other individuals and organisations to see how we can create meaningful partnerships, shared job boards, a charter or agreement, and not in competition. We have to work together to ensure we support this younger generation to avoid a future catastrophe.

By Emma Shipstone FIEP, Industry Specialist in Post 16 Education

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