Eight things schools can do to prevent young people

becoming NEET Comment by FLEUR SEXTON, Deputy Lieutenant West Midlands and Managing Director, PET-Xi Training

1. Unpick the underlying issues Behavioural difficulties are often triggered by Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) or traumatic events occurring before age 18 such as abuse, neglect, parental mental illness, substance use, divorce, incarceration and domestic violence. Unpick the underlying issues to uncover why a student is lacking in self-confidence, not achieving in line with their ability, not engaging or is displaying behavioural difficulties - then tackle the root causes. 2. Provide unconditional support No matter how complex a student’s issues are, understand that with the right intention and 100% commitment they can – and must - be fixed. It’s crucial for schools to give the message “You have our unconditional support, we will help you to break the barriers and the negative behaviours, and we will do that together.” 3. Prioritise inclusion When something isn’t working and a young person is showing troubled behaviour, it’s often because their life is out of control and they’re fearful. School leaders need to translate anger as fear and recognise that these students need more input and intervention. Excluding a pupil goes against every bit of sense and only serves to exacerbate issues – and typically leads to further isolation from society. To stop the negative cycle, school leaders should prioritise inclusion for all pupils, and discipline and behaviour policies should be reviewed to reflect this. 4. Use positive reinforcement Positive reinforcement must be embedded in school culture – actively look for opportunities to give specific verbal praise, reward small steps rather than waiting for big achievements, and tailor rewards to each individual pupil so they are meaningful. Consistency is key to success with positive reinforcement so ensure that all staff are fully on board with this ‘best practice’ model. 5. Involve students in the community Find ways for students to give back to their community – this is proven to bolster self-esteem. Often when students learn that they can help the elderly or the homeless through practical volunteering projects and change the world for the better, they realise that they can use these skills to help themselves too. 6. Empower staff through training Provide training in child development and mental health to equip staff with the necessary skills to identify the underlying causes of behaviour difficulties so that they can initiate appropriate intervention as early as possible. Share information at regular, well-structured staff meetings to ensure that all staff are consistent in their approach to supporting pupils. Staff need to be aware of the full range of intervention options available and how to refer students for support – including to outside agencies- to achieve the best possible outcomes. 7. Focus on individual needs Some young people – including those with additional needs – learn more effectively when they are practically engaged in “hands on” activities. Ensure that staff are aware that this can manifest as a behavioural issue – which could be resolved by adapting their teaching style to suit individual needs. Alternative provision such as a special school or other non-mainstream environment should always be presented as a different path with real opportunities and not as a second rate option. 8. Grab the opportunity to rewire communities The deep inequities and divisions within our communities – poverty, domestic violence, drug use, criminality - have been exacerbated by COVID. We now have a great opportunity to rewire society in a fairer way, to hear these voices – we don’t have to go back to rules that are based on inequality. If we’re to fix society, we have to grasp the things that are easiest to ignore – and this begins in schools.

November 2020

We must celebrate not condemn students during this pandemic

Comment by Professor LIZ BARNES, CBE DL, Vice-Chancellor and Chief Executive at Staffordshire University.

It’s hard to look at a news publication at the moment without being overloaded with negative news. We are currently living in a world where media outlets are publishing daily stories blaming students for the second wave of COVID-19. From sharing stories of house parties to branding the generation ‘superspreaders’, it seems students cannot get a break.

Whilst the narrative is slanted towards negative coverage of students, it is important to remember that these articles do not show the full story. It is time to focus the spotlight on the students who have joined the frontline to fight the virus and those who are making efforts to help their communities.

For example, at Staffordshire University many of our student nurses volunteered their services to the NHS straightaway, putting themselves on the frontline to provide care for those that needed it. In March alone, we had 158 of the University’s third year Adult, Child and Mental Health students reporting themselves as willing and able to undertake voluntary paid roles within the NHS.

In addition to this, many of our students who were yet to finish their degrees were presented with the opportunity to complete placements at a higher capacity so they could play a frontline role in protecting the country. This included 75 of our students training to become Biomedical Scientists who pivoted to work in hospital pathology laboratories throughout lockdown to help ramp up testing capacities at hospitals. This is where we need to focus our attention – on the students who have selflessly given up their time to ensure that they can help as and when it is needed.

Here at Staffordshire we’ve heard many stories of students volunteering in their communities to support the vulnerable – from helping to delivery emergency food parcels to those selflessly fund-raising for good causes.

We also need to commend not condemn the students who have kept studying throughout the pandemic. They have faced the same worries as the rest of the population and yet, despite this, most young people have adapted to their new COVID-secure environments and are carrying on as normal regardless of the challenges they are facing.

Soon at Staffordshire University our graduate taskforce will launch as a test pilot. This scheme will see our students and graduates acting as mentors to pupils across Stoke-on-Trent to support young people to re- engage with their studies. The mentoring programme will see incoming year ten and year eleven pupils in the region provided with a personal mentor, with a focus on disadvantaged pupils who are in danger of falling behind.

By working in close contact with schools, the students and graduates will offer a broad range of support, including developing positive habits of work and learning in addition to wellbeing and careers coaching.

A pilot will begin in some local schools later in the autumn term, with a view to rolling the programme out across more schools in the new year.

Building for the future means building our young people up and I’m proud of the role that Staffordshire University’s students play in their local communities.

With the number of coronavirus cases across the country only rising, the public may again need to rely on students playing a key role in assisting on the frontline in addition to them helping to rebuild our workforce and economy post-COVID-19 so let’s, for once, focus on them. 21

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