A flexible partnership approach to engage NEET (not in education, employment or training), 16-18-year-olds in tailored provision, Cumbria

Themes this local practice example relates to:

  • Youth
  • General resources

Basic details

Organisation submitting example

Inspira ( formerly Connexions Cumbria )

Local authority/local area:

Cumbria County Council


The context and rationale

Inspira (formerly Connexions Cumbria) has developed an approach to re-engaging some of the hardest to reach young people in Cumbria, to take part in education, training or employment. The simple, but effective approach is underpinned by clear identification of the young people and their real needs and then responding creatively, together with appropriate local partners, to offer tailored provision to meet the individual needs of these young people. 

Inspira wanted to re-engage some of the hardest to reach young people in Cumbria with learning provision that would be specially tailored to their individual needs and circumstances. They started from the principle that in order to make a difference, something different would need to be offered.

Over the past ten years, Inspira has worked with learning providers, support agencies, community groups and other partners throughout Cumbria, to bring about significant and sustained reductions in the proportion of 16-18-year-olds who become NEET. This work has helped to maintain one of the lowest rates of NEET in the country.

Despite this success, some parts of the county continue to suffer the effects of industrial decline and young people in these areas often experience income deprivation, social exclusion and limited aspirations. In parts of Allerdale, Copeland and Furness, youth unemployment, teenage pregnancy, risk-taking behaviour and offending continue to be significant issues affecting local communities.

The aim was to identify NEET young people in these hot-spot localities for whom existing provision simply did not work: young people with specific barriers that prevented them accessing mainstream provision; young people who had sampled and rejected, or been rejected from, existing provision; young people who had experienced ‘churn’ through existing provision to such a degree, that they had all but given up. 

The idea was to re-introduce these young people to learning with flexible, personalised local options designed around their needs, to renew their confidence in learning and their ability to progress. Wherever a number of NEET young people with similar needs, interests or circumstances preventing them from engaging with existing provision were identified, local partners (typically FE Colleges but also community organisations) would be approached to design discrete provision specifically tailored to these young people. 

Inspira has taken an evidence-based approach, drawing upon what they knew worked, through numerous local small-scale examples for discrete groups of young people. The approach also draws upon the detailed practical knowledge, experience and understanding of issues and provision for young people at a local level among staff, and the strong working relationships between Inspira and local learning providers. This approach involves staff and managers at a district level gathering information about the real individual needs of young people in their area and working with providers directly to address those needs. In this sense, it is a ‘ground-up’ approach that relies upon the responsiveness, cooperation and creativity of local partners to develop local solutions.

The practice

Some examples of the local projects Inspira has successfully implemented are described below:

Launchpad Course: In the Furness area, Inspira staff noted a commonly expressed view among some long term NEET young people that they had tried everything local learning providers had to offer, with limited success, and saw little purpose in wasting time ‘treading water’ on courses which they saw as being disconnected from the world of work. They described a sense of training with no purpose, since courses seemed to revolve around key skills and workbooks, rather than being skills-based and focused upon getting into work. Therefore, in partnership with staff at Furness College, a short programme, Launchpad, was designed to combine hands-on skill tasters with motivational sessions to boost employability. The programme lasts 30 hours and, to combat any initial reluctance young people might have about attending college, it begins with college staff visiting our High Street young people’s centres for individual meetings with each participant and their advisers to discuss personal aims, before a relaxed tour of the newly-built college campus. This helps to ensure that every participant feels properly involved and is an opportunity to address any concerns before the programme starts. Each Launchpad programme has places for 12 NEET young people and includes practical tasters of work areas chosen by participants, alongside interactive advice on powerful interview skills, positive self-presentation and effective job search. Incentives of £30 are available for all those completing the programme and travel assistance is provided where necessary. Individual guidance is provided for all participants and an action plan agreed to identify their next steps into work or learning. 

Young Parents: In Whitehaven and Workington, Inspira advisers work closely with partners in the Virtual Teenage Pregnancy Team to identify young parents, usually at the early pregnancy stage, offer them support and guidance about a wide range of topics, and then specifically help and encourage them to engage in some form of work or training once the baby is born. A 0.5 post is dedicated to this role in each area and staff have built up a significant bank of expertise in working with young parents and advising on the options and support available to them. A “Teen Mums Offer”, a menu of more suitable and flexible opportunities which young mums can enter at any level and which offers a progression pathway at each level, has been developed. There has been sustained success in engaging young mums on a bespoke course at Lakes College. 
Included in this programme are taster sessions in college study areas and an offer of a progression pathway into further courses, either specifically for teen mums, or as part of mainstream activity. The taster sessions have a vocational base and include: hair and beauty, nail technology, catering and painting and decorating. Crucial to the success of this course has been the mobile crèche provision which Inspira staff organised, with funding from the college who also offered on-site premises to host the crèche. For those unable to engage in the timetabled structured programme, a distance learning course is offered in which young women are mentored through an accredited programme exploring employability skills. Through this course, the young mums are visited at home, so the same programme is offered on a home study basis, although they are still expected to take part in some taster sessions, in order to complete the programme.

For all of the programmes on offer to young mums, incentives are available which encourage enrolment and ongoing participation. These incentives are largely in the form of activities which the participants themselves are involved in planning and organising, further enhancing their life skills and confidence. Some additional resources have been funded by local or national sources. 

Community-based Progression Award Groups: In West Cumbria, NEET hot-spot areas at ward and neighbourhood level are continually monitored. These areas typically feature prominently in the Index of Multiple Deprivation. In the autumn after college and apprenticeship enrolment, Inspira is able to identify those young people who have refused offers in mainstream learning and stated that they are unwilling to consider any of the existing local options. Advisers engage young people in these areas in a package of community-based recreational activities, employability skills and job search support. This is offered on a youth work model of voluntary engagement, where learning is provided in a community setting alongside some recreational and diversionary activity. The learning programme covers employability skills; job search; confidence and self-belief; research of progression routes. There are visits to a range of learning providers and all participants do three taster days at college, planned and arranged to cover their areas of interest. Days have included: construction, sport, catering, engineering, IT, and hair and beauty. Alongside the learning activities, participants can plan and take part in a reward activity. The most recent group chose to do go-karting, and we have been able to offer a voucher incentive on enrolment and completion.

From these beginnings, bespoke college sessions are negotiated, offering young people on the programme short vocational tasters in areas that interest them, and the chance to gain an accredited qualification. These courses have run on a number of occasions over recent years, with excellent rates of progression into mainstream education, employment or training (EET) and sustained engagement.

Evidence and evaluation - making a difference to children, young people and families

Data: The proportion of 16-18-year-olds in the NEET group in Cumbria has been reduced by 40 per cent over the past decade. The 2010/11 NEET rate of 4.6 per cent represents a record low for the county, despite the very challenging economic climate. Inspira feels that this success in tackling NEET, is in large part due to their approach. In the past three years, more than 300 young people in Allerdale, Copeland and Furness, have left the NEET group by engaging in flexible, locally-designed programmes such as those described above, the majority of them progressing into positive outcomes as a result. This represents approximately 20-25 per cent of the total NEET group in these districts.

Developing bespoke learning packages for specific groups has sometimes helped to produce dramatic improvements to local outcomes for at-risk young people. For example, the proportion of teenage mothers progressing into EET in Copeland reached 62 per cent by the end of 2010, compared to 29 per cent in England as a whole.

One of Inspira’s key measures for success is to reduce the amount of ‘churn’ in the system and to ensure that the interventions do not simply remove young people temporarily from the NEET group, but offer a route to sustained progression. For example, analysis of the activities of young people who engaged with their Progression Groups over an 18-month period showed that 79 per cent had sustained their engagement by moving into further work or learning. Some examples of the kinds of work that the young people moved into are: supermarket worker, trainee welder, Call Centre Customer Service Adviser, Army, seafood factory operative, health and social care apprentice, retail apprentice, construction apprentice and apprentice chef.
Ways to track the long-term outcomes of the interventions, i.e. to measure the impact of wok with the 16-18 NEET group on 18-25 unemployment rates, are currently being explored.

Case study 1: Daniel left school in 2009 and spent a year in training only to become unemployed immediately afterwards. Following a short spell of factory work, he became unemployed again and, despite applying for many apprenticeships and jobs, had spent nearly an entire year in the NEET group when Inspira engaged him on theLaunchpad programme. Daniel found the programme re-energising and taking part gave him a boost of confidence, so much so, that he volunteered for another programme with Young Enterprise. With a renewed belief in his abilities and appetite for learning, he applied for a full time course in engineering, spending the intervening period completing the Prince’s Trust volunteer programme. He is currently enjoying a full time Engineering course with Furness College.

Case Study 2: Joshua left school with good GCSE results, but felt unable to take up any mainstream learning offers due to his religious commitments. For a short time, he gained part time casual work as a handyman and car valeter, before becoming unemployed. Joshua told his advisers that he would ideally like to work in child care or education but was unable to commit to full time learning. Inspira was able to help Joshua find a temporary work experience placement, and encouraged him to join a voluntary programme that had been developed, in which he helped to mentor children at a local private school. As a result of his success on this programme, Joshua decided to pursue his career full time and is studying A Levels at Sixth Form College with a view to university.

Helping others to replicate your practice

Inspira believes it is essential to maintain this flexible partnership approach to tackling NEET and this approach is embedded in the newly-developed county strategy for implementing the Raising of the Participation Age.


Costs: Often this approach involves making maximum use of existing resources rather than securing new, additional resources. Costs of delivery tend to be absorbed into existing staffing and premises budgets, while any additional expenditure, e.g. for incentives or recreational reward activities, has come through bids to small local funding sources or through donations. Inspira makes use of local partnerships and networks to gain in-kind support from a range of community organisations, often basing delivery of activities in community venues, for example. 

Inspira is currently developing new methods to quantify and measure the social return on investment in this work, as they believe the high rates of positive progression from these programmes will result in very significant long term savings in welfare spend.

Essential features of Inspira’s approach are:

• taking young people’s needs as the starting point for designing provision, rather than attempting to fit young people into existing provision;

• genuine cooperation between partners and a willingness to jointly try something different, rather than replicating existing practice and provision. This often involves creative use of resources; 

• encouraging a multiplicity of small-scale, varied local solutions rather than attempting to impose a single blueprint. 

Replication: Inspira is aware that the approach described is an extremely simple one. In essence, it consists of identifying the real needs at a local level and responding creatively and collaboratively to address those needs. It developed this approach in specific areas of Cumbria with NEET hot spots and has found that the approach is sufficiently flexible to be successfully replicated in other parts of the county, in response to different needs, e.g. creating transport solutions for young people who need to access work or learning in remote rural areas. 

Golden threads:
• You can do it
• Prove it

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