Participation in Education, Training and Employment for all Surrey Young People

Themes this local practice example relates to:

  • Youth
  • General resources

Basic details

Organisation submitting example

Surrey County Council, Services for Young People

Local authority/local area:

Surrey County Council

The context and rationale

Surrey has created an innovative, unique model for services for young people by assessing need and identifying the outcomes required. Existing and new services have been developed to meet the needs and supply the outcomes. Commissioning has been refocused onto prevention. Youth work is being returned to the community with local centres housing more than one service for young people, including skills development provision, maximising the usage of our real estate. Outdoor learning centres are being prepared to become self-financing social enterprises with their obvious capacity to provide a more commercial service. 

In April 2009, Surrey County Council brought together Connexions, the Youth Offending Team and the county’s Youth Service to form Services for Young People (SYP) under the leadership of one Assistant Director (AD). In April 2010, many of the functions of the Learning and Skills Council transferred to the local authority. This was incorporated into SYP as the 14-19 Commissioning Team.

Bringing all of the services under one umbrella was initially a response to a Joint Area Review conducted by Ofsted, where they commented that Surrey’s support for vulnerable teenagers was “inadequate”. This coincided with pressure from the Government Office for the South East (GOSE) to implement the then government’s reforms in relation to targeted youth support (TYS). Surrey was informed by GOSE that they were the “last local authority in the country to implement the government’s youth policy”.

Spending reduction was also a driver for change. As part of overall budget cuts the service has achieved a reduction in budget over three years of 25 per cent or £4.5 million. 

The most important driver for change was service improvement. Members wanted a better service with improved outcomes for young people. It was in this context that the Youth Transformation Project began.

An idea was proposed to completely decommission and recommission Services for Young People, not to cut services but to spend less. To achieve this, a new operating model was designed in line with the council’s youth strategy to increase participation in education, training and employment. A ‘systems thinking’ approach was adopted to look at the purpose of the system. This resulted in a list of over one hundred questions about the challenges faced by young people not in education, employment or training (NEET). Ultimately, the aim was to design and build a new operating model that would deliver full participation in education, training or employment by 2015. The innovation and creativity employed in this project could be described as leading-edge public sector reform and a somewhat novel example of how services can be improved on a decreased budget.

The practice

In 2009, the project to manage a three-year transformation of services for young people began. After a three-month period of project set up, planning and establishment of project governance, Surrey embarked on the first phase, needs assessment. The results were published in June 2010 in a document called One in Ten: A needs assessment of Surrey Young People. The name relates to the 100,000 13- to 19-year-old young people in Surrey or 1 in 10 of the one million population. This was the most comprehensive assessment of the needs of teenagers ever conducted in the county. On completion, an indicative outcomes framework was produced, outlining the needs of young people in Surrey. The framework was consulted on with partners and agreed by the Children’s Trust. A process of design then began. The approach was to ‘imagine there are no services’ and to design a new model around need, abandoning the traditional service model. The key design principle was to come up with a model that contributed to a strategy to increase participation in education, training and employment.

Having established a comprehensive understanding of need, the question - what do we know about the system in Surrey? – was asked: 

1) NEET in Surrey is low as a percentage of population, but unacceptably high as a number (around 1000).
2) Young people face a range of barriers to participation and certain groups of young people are disproportionately at risk of becoming NEET.
3) Some young people are more at risk of becoming NEET in the transfer from school to college.
4) The number of NEET young people has remained static at around 1000 at any given time since 2003.
5) Appropriate learning opportunities of sufficient quality may not always be available.
6) Young people may not always have the ‘employability skills’ needed for work or be sufficiently ‘job ready’ to start an apprenticeship.
7) All young people need high quality information and advice from 14-19 years.
8) Summer and Christmas breaks are periods when young people drop out of provision.
9) The college ‘on-boarding’ process may not always be customer-focussed.
10) It is possible to predict which young people will become NEET post-school and therefore possible to intervene early.
11) Young people need additional support in the first term of Year 12.
12) Young people can drop out in Year 12 and become NEET.
13) Young people at risk of becoming NEET can be identified early.
14) The longer a young person is NEET the more likely they are to remain NEET and then unemployed into adulthood.
15) Not enough employers are taking 16-19 apprenticeships.
16) NEET young people are more likely to prefer vocational education and training in a local, non-institutional setting, foundation or Level One courses, appropriate to learners with learning difficulties.

The One in Ten needs assessment and the above analysis, informed the design process. A set of quality criteria was also developed:

o Integrated
o Targeted
o Local
o Preventative
o Co-produced
o Value for money

The needs assessment identified 6,000 young people who required a specialist service. These were NEET young people, young offenders and statemented pupils in Years 9 to 10. It was estimated that there were around 10,000 young people at risk of becoming NEET or offending. For this group, services were commissioned that were targeted and designed to prevent them from becoming NEET or offending for the first time. For the 100,000 13-19 year-olds, an information-based universal service designed to inform key decisions in relation to education, training and careers, things to do, places to go and health and healthy lifestyles, was commissioned.

The first part of the model consists of the Youth Support Service (YSS), an in-house service for those young people at most risk, specifically NEET young people and those in the criminal justice system. The YSS is a case management service that provides a 1-2-1 caseworker for each young person. 11 local (district) teams in Surrey of 10-15 youth support officers (YSO) have been created. The YSOs were formerly youth offending team officers, Connexions personal advisors or youth workers from the disbanded youth service. Each team has a team manager, is based locally in existing youth centres and assigned cases of local young people. This local integration means that a multi-disciplinary team can focus on those young people most at risk in a given district and work together to meet their needs. The case management approach is based around a process of assessment, planning, intervention and review, identifying barriers to participation (in education, training and employment) and removing them. The key objective of the YSS is to support young people from NEET to PETE (participation in education, training and employment). The key innovation in this model is the use of the ‘YOT’ approach to address the problem of young people being NEET, making preventing and reducing offending a secondary objective and a barrier to participation, rather than the service’s primary objective.

The Learners with Learning Difficulties and Disabilities (LLDD) Assessment Team assess the needs of young people in Years 9 to 11 who have a statement of special educational needs and support their transition from school. This service not only meets a key statutory duty but also responds to the local assessment that indicates that nearly half of all NEET young people have a learning difficulty. The innovation within this service was to assess in Year 9 not Year 11, as was the practice, to allow better planning and commissioning of new local provision. The focus was also shifted from the 139A assessment process to an outcome of successful transition post-16.

The next part of the model is targeted services, where the focus is on targeting those young people at most risk of becoming NEET and ensuring their participation in education, training or employment between 16 and 19 years. In other words, it is a preventative service. To help target effectively, Surrey developed the ‘risk of NEET indicator’ (RONI). This is a database compiled with schools through 14-19 networks looking at risk or predictive factors associated with those who become NEET. A range of support services is then put in place from Year 7.

The Local Prevention Service engages young people at risk of becoming NEET in youth activities out of school hours as a preventative measure. Localism was a key policy objective for this commission, as we endeavoured to ensure that local youth services were commissioned locally. To do this, we established a ‘framework agreement’ with a range of third sector providers of youth services. We then conducted a local commissioning exercise with local county councillors, district councillors, professionals and young people to form a youth task group. This involved setting local priorities within each district, describing the features of the new service and localising the requirement to meet need. We then ran a mini-competition with preferred providers on the framework. The bids were reviewed and short listed, with two or three bidders winning the chance to present to the youth task group on how they would prevent local young people from becoming NEET. The task group agreed the winner or winners and made a recommendation to the local committee of the county council to award contract. Contract award was a wholly local decision, requiring an amendment to the council’s constitution to allow delegation. The total value of this framework was £1.25 million or £100-200 per district, allocated on the basis of need. A new grant programme was also established worth £250,000, which was locally devolved. The grants are used to support youth groups in the district. The youth task groups have also taken on responsibility for recommending the chair of the youth centre steering group for the centres in the district.

Surrey has endeavoured to use its youth centres in a targeted, but also local and preventative, fashion. The intention was to make a distinction between youth work in youth centres and other activity that takes place in the same place. The key challenge was financial - how to deliver the same or more youth work locally with less money. Our approach was to remove the youth service management structure and replace it with a contract that included a 10 per cent (£6,000) management fee per centre. 31 contracts were let to manage centre-based youth work to third sector organisations, many of them charities equipped to provide this service. The commission includes a full time youth worker and one full time equivalent (FTE) of part time workers and a bespoke license to use space in the buildings along with a small budget for activities. Bidders for these contracts were asked to provider a further FTE of part time workers as match funding. This approach increased the local youth offer, despite a significant budget cut. To keep costs down, TUPE was avoided by using a ‘retained employment model’, seconding staff to the new managing agents without passing on employer liabilities. The new providers were asked to deliver open access youth work and engage young people at risk of becoming NEET. 

One activity that takes place in youth centres, other than youth work, is education and training of young people who would otherwise be NEET. This is called a ‘skills centre’. Skills centre provision is also designed around the needs of NEET young people. Young people are more likely to prefer vocational education and training in a local, non-institutional setting and foundation; or Level One courses, appropriate to learners with learning difficulties. Skills centres have been designed in line with this understanding and often provide a service in areas where access to further education is limited for young people who are considered ‘high risk learners’ by colleges. £90,000 was provided for a pilot, then a further £250,000 was allocated in 2012-13. The provision is delivered through a sub-contract with a college or other training provider and then claimed back in arrears through the Young People’s Learning Agency (YPLA) allowing maximisation of the grant which offset the initial investment in the first year.

The transfer from school to college can be a risky period for some. To address this issue, a specific commission was designed to support young people through the transition. This is an outcomes-based contract with an annual value of £500,000 per year to ensure that 500 young people identified as at risk of becoming NEET in Year 11 complete the first term of Year 12 or the first three months of a job with training.

The final targeted commission is Surrey Outdoor Learning and Development (SOLD). This in-house service provides outdoor learning opportunities to young people who are NEET or at risk of becoming NEET. It operates from three outdoor education centres and also trades services with schools and other organisations. This capacity to trade positions the service to become self-financing and eventually provide a service to at risk Surrey teenagers for ‘free’. The long term plan is for SOLD to become a social enterprise.

Surrey’s only universal commission is the Youth Engagement Service. This is another outcome-based contract let to a consortium led by a ‘welfare to work’ organisation called Working Links. The contract enables young people to make informed decisions in relation to education, training, careers, health and lifestyle, things to do, and places to go. This service uses a mix of outreach, peer education, web technology and social media to deliver the outcome.

Crucial to these commissions or operating models is integration. They have been designed as one integrated system with the purpose of increasing participation. The model addresses ‘what we know’ about the social problem of young people who are not in education, training or employment. The Youth Support Service is creating a truly local, multi-disciplinary team. The new performance management system, focussing on participation, considers not just the rate of conversion, NEET to PETE, but also the speed of getting young people into provision and retention of young people in provision. 

Another crucial aspect of the commissions is co-production. To support this work, Surrey is commissioning the New Economics Foundation (NEF), to develop co-production as a commissioning standard. Co-production describes an approach to designing and delivering services through which people and professionals work together to create change. Combined with the complementary outcomes-based commissioning approach, making co-production a commissioning standard has significantly enhanced our model. A key element of the standard is identifying, and then utilising, all possible resources, most notably young people’s peers, family and local community networks, and combining these with resources, buildings and skills from the local community and third sector. In this way, the commissions have harnessed significant latent community asset, increasing the resources available for young people at no additional cost to the commissioner.

Achievements so far

The measurement of success of the new system will be through a new performance management regime. This will include the measurement of impact on the whole population of young people against the outcomes agreed in the framework. Success in delivering full participation for all Surrey young people cannot be attributed to any one agency and only through partnership and working together, can results be achieved. Performance will be measured using a number of performance scorecards to get an accurate picture of how the service is working, which will be reviewed monthly across the service. Each model has been designed using a logical framework approach. All of the outputs from the commissions will have to demonstrate a clear, evidence-based impact on the overall outcomes they are seeking to deliver. Performance information will also come as an output of the youth engagement contrac,t providing valuable intelligence from young people in relation to their experience growing up in Surrey and their view of council services. Quarterly review meetings are also held with practitioners. 

It is too early to say whether the new model works or not. Significant benefits are expected by the end of 2012. The organisational culture has shifted considerably already. The change process was almost three years long and was challenging for many staff. However, the current mood is one of enthusiasm and excitement and people are palpably positive about the opportunity we have to improve young peoples’ lives.


The model is local and based on a local needs assessment, locally-determined quality criteria and a Surrey County Council youth strategy. It would not easily fit in a different social, political and organisational context. The approach, however, could easily be replicated. It is a standard commissioning approach with an assessment of need, agreed outcomes, an options appraisal of delivery vehicles, a business case and implementation of change. This change involved decommissioning the youth offending teams, youth service and Connexions service and re-commissioning eight new operating models to form an integrated system designed to increase participation in education, training and employment.

The financial savings associated with this change programme are considerable. 25 per cent of the gross budget has been saved in three years, without any drop in performance or delivery. From 2009/10 to 2012/13, Services for Young People at Surrey County Council delivered £4.5million of savings or 25 per cent of budget. Performance of services did not drop and, in fact, improved slightly. There are fewer NEET young people, more youth work is delivered to more young people, fewer young people have been arrested and re-offending is down. No youth centres have been closed and no front line council staff working face to face with young people, have been made redundant.

Surrey began its transformation project in the financial year 2009/10 based on a predicted 30 per cent cut in 2012. 

The financial driver for change was the most powerful, with the challenge being to spend less, but get more. Early in the financial year 2010-1,1 the government changed, and the budget was cut in-year by £2.1 million as part of a national savings programme. £0.5 million of this in-year cut fell on the youth offending team and youth service. This was delivered quickly through holding vacancies, reducing grants and emptying pots. The £1.6 million cut remaining fell on the Connexions service. A decommissioning policy was written that set out the criteria that would inform the decisions. Connexions was delivered through one big contract with a private sector partner, 12 small contracts with 12 voluntary sector organisations mostly local, and a team of in house personal advisers (PAs). Cabinet made the decision to cut the Connexions budget in the summer of 2010 under a backdrop of a new government keen to tackle public sector spending. Backbench councillors were being lobbied locally by the voluntary sector. 

As part of the exercise, a decommissioning report was compiled, testing each commission against the decommissioning data. Financial, strategic and political factors were taken into consideration and the conclusions reached were not the obvious ones. The contracts held with the main private sector supplier were changed, and subsequently, five Connexions centres were closed. The cuts were financially modelled and the savings spread over two years, guaranteeing the provider income in 2011/12. The main private sector provider worked with the LA, explored solutions, looked for future opportunities and protected its profit – but made the savings.

The voluntary sector funding was not cut because within the contract, the money paid for staff and related costs and cutting with these organisations would mean bankrupting them. The decommissioning exercise was used to inform them about the current marketplace and the LA’s efforts to protect them by preparing them for future commissions and the realities of 21st century public sector economics. Before this decision had been made, there was heavy resistance to the proposed changes by the voluntary sector. 

As anticipated, soon after the cuts were implemented, NEET numbers went up by 20 per cent from 1000 to 1200. The new model saw a complete departure from universal advice and guidance to young people to a focused approach targeting NEET young people and those at risk of NEET. The new model prescribed different activity each term and for the first time, output and outcome measures were used with the voluntary sector. Local PETE teams around the 14-19 partnerships were set up and after three months of the new model, NEET went down to 850.

In 2011-12, £1.3 million had to be saved. A zero base approach was taken and spend was adapted. The savings were delivered through grant reductions and an internal reorganisation of staff. This reorganisation proposed redundancy of one in three managers and one in two administrators. In total, 30 people took voluntary redundancy and two were made compulsorily redundant. No front line staff were made redundant. 

Risk has been monitored and mitigated throughout the process. The new model became operational on 1 April 2012. The lesson learned is that to achieve savings, you do not have to cut effectiveness, it just takes a new way of looking at what is needed and the courage to step outside the normal process. Over the coming months, Surrey will monitor performance and effectiveness and will start to identify lessons learned and adapt the model where necessary. There is confidence that enough flexibility has been built in to mitigate risk. At present, it is too early to say.

The golden threads are: 
Culture not structure
Unite to succeed
From good to great.

Key leadership behaviour characteristics
The following core behaviours have been identified as part of successful elements of leadership (see National College for Leadership of Schools and Children’s Services/C4EO (2011). Resourceful leadership: how directors of children’s services improve outcomes for children. Full report. Nottingham: NCSL see 

Surrey identified the following behaviours as key to the transformation of their service:

Openness to possibilities
Surrey refocused on the outcomes they wished to achieve for young people in Surrey based on a comprehensive needs assessment exercise. They then allowed potential commissioners to propose how they would address these outcomes locally; the operating model for delivery was not prescribed allowing local needs to be addressed.

The ability to collaborate
Co-production has become a commissioning standard with people and professionals working together to implement change. A key element of this standard has been assessing and widening the resource base, most notably young people’s peers, family and local community networks, and combining these with resources, buildings and skills from the local community and third sector to create the best mix to address the challenges faced. 

Demonstrating a belief in team and people
The model is based on team work. It can only succeed through partnership and working together using an integrated approach.

Personal resilience and tenacity
Resilience is characteristic of those who work within emotionally demanding landscapes. For Surrey, such a radical change in approach resulted in a degree of scepticism within the workforce and initial fear and suspicion from third sector groups. This required a high level of resolve and determination to not be swayed, to lead the changes through and to persuade and prove the value to the rationale and the potential for improved outcomes.

The ability to create and sustain commitment across a system
From the start a commitment was made that there would be no front-line staff redundancies. Despite this there was initial scepticism and resistance but by investing in a popular local third sector and allowing an integrated approach tailored to local needs, enthusiasm is growing and there is now a noticeable excitement about the future.

Focusing on results
A new performance measurement scheme is in place focusing on the impact on the whole population. A structure of monthly and quarterly performance measures and review have been established to keep delivery on track.

The ability to simplify
A complex structure for the delivery of services for young people has been simplified to focus on local need. There are clear measures of success based around independent but integrated delivery. This has not only cut cost but also bureaucracy.

The ability to learn continuously
By using an integrated, locally focused approach monitored and measured centrally, Surrey Services for Young People will be able to facilitate sharing of good practice with real examples of how needs are being addressed. The model recognises the pressure on public services and public spending and has incorporated flexibility into the approach.

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