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Not Always What They Seem Report of the Learning & Engagement Project

by Stewart Martin Bill Williamson May 2005

Acknowledgements We would like to thank the many individuals and organisations that helped us with this research (see Appendix 2), by giving so freely of their time. It is clear that the support which has been offered to us has been founded upon a tacit understanding of the importance of the work in this enquiry. There is widespread recognition that research into this area is of importance not only for the client group under consideration but also for many mainstream services and the wider community of young people and those who work to support them. The responsibility for the interpretations, conclusions and recommendations presented in this Summary Report and expanded to greater depth and length in the Full Report is, however, ours alone, as are any errors within it and they do not necessarily represent the official views of Northumberland County Council or, except where specifically attributed, the views of its employees or agents. Front image: Frome the ‘tile wall’ at Hexham Youth Initiative. Each member makes their own tile that is then fixed to the wall. Young people often return to look at their tiles. We liked this image because it captures in many ways the world of young people. Reading the images from left to right and top down, we can see that for some there is lack of clarity; for others life is whirl. To some the world is a dark, bleak place without shape. But for most – probably – there are grounds for hope and happiness.


Executive Summary This report sets out the analysis and conclusions of a project commissioned by the Youth Offending Team of Northumberland County Council. The project is part of an overall search to find ways to increase the numbers of young people at risk of offending in Northumberland who become engaged in education, training or employment. The report presents an analysis of this problem and an approach that will enable many different agencies in the county to develop new solutions to it. Analysis The analysis highlights that: •

The problem of below target enrolments in education, training and employment is the symptom of a series of other problems not unique to Northumberland but which nevertheless have a particular twist to them in a large, rural county.

Levels of engagement in education, training and employment among 14-19 yr olds are a complex outcome of patterns of social change, the structure of the lifeworlds of young people and the services that are provided to meet their needs.

In Northumberland the lifeworlds of young people are highly differentiated and reflect the social and economic differences of the county and the region.

Work-related education and training of the right kind is a powerful tool to help disengaged young people to change. Current provision is too narrow and ad hoc and not enough employers are strategically engaged with provision.

Current levels of participation in education and training are below what they need to be to meet the economic and social challenges of the future. Merely to improve the current performance levels of schools and colleges or the achievement profiles of agencies like Connexions or the Youth Offending Team in the county will not solve the problem. New structures of provision and practice in the field of building opportunities for young people and their families are needed.


Policy Policy development and practice in Northumberland for the 14-19 yr old group is complex involving a number of inter-agency partnerships and the work of many different organizations. The changes that are needed to improve participation in education, training and employment are already well-known and have been highlighted by the work of this project. So far as the target group – those at risk of offending – are concerned, they are measures to: • • • •

Improve basic skills and confidence; Provide stronger frameworks of social support including parent education and community development; Engage young people in learning-rich work and training placements that reflect the best practice in this field; Extend the current provision beyond E2E projects to offer pre-E2E programmes and learning support into adulthood.

Practice The practical realization of these policies requires co-ordinated and well-led action at three levels: the macro, meso and micro. We recommend the immediate establishment of five action-learning groups that will work in the three main regions within the county – in the North, the South and East and in Tynedale so that the special needs of each can be properly considered. Each of these five groups should deal with the following specific questions: • • • • •

What are the best ways to recruit, engage and help more employers develop learning-rich placements for the target group; How can we extend the reach and effectiveness of ‘extended schools’; What are the most effective ways to co-ordinate youth policies with community development; What are the most effective ways to sustain and mainstream parent education and skills; How can we enhance reflective practice and professional development on an inter-agency basis for all those who work with young people to nurture the development of communities of practice and of discovery.

Each action learning group should be constituted on an inter-agency basis and be expected to report the implications of its work for the County as a whole; for the work of particular organizations such as Connexions and the Youth Offending Team; for schools; and for the work of colleagues as they engage with young people.


The thread that pulls this together is the need to develop new working arrangements that will produce both new and better outcomes for young people and new learning and development for all the adults who work with them. The process must be led and co-ordinated. We recommend that a single individual should be identified for this role and that they should be someone with sufficient political credibility and financial resources to ensure that the process results in tangible action according to a published schedule. In this way the good practice that is currently taking place can become the platform to develop the better, innovative practice that is needed and the professionals working in the relevant agencies can feel confident that the process will result in tangible, measurable change and improvement in the lives of young people. The community of practice that from time to time comes into view, and which is a requirement of successful partnership working, can in this way develop vigorously into the community of discovery that is required if the momentum of current work is not to be dissipated by future challenges.


Reading this report Drafts of both sections of the summary report and of the full report have been extensively commented on by colleagues involved in this project and this final version has been revised accordingly. We were advised that the draft report needed to be altered so that its conclusions were much more obviously practical. Those without time to read this document can find an abridged version of it in the Summary Report. Those who wish to read this report quickly should read the signpost comments at the beginning of each section, then focus on the paragraphs highlighted in bold and then read the concluding section.


CONTENTS Page Acknowledgements


Executive Summary


Reading this report


1. Introduction


2. The problems


3. Methodology


4. Northumberland – the context


5. The view from County Hall


6. Knowledge of Policies


7. Knowledge through Participation


8. Lifeworlds


9. Professional Perceptions


10. Contexts


11. The voices of young people


12. Lifestyles on the street


13. Life chances


14. Family Life and Parents


15. Differentiation


16. Learning


17. Aspirations


18. Current practice - Philosophy of approach



19. From the tacit to the explicit i) Relationships ii) Community development iii) Self determination iv) Engagement in civil society and avoiding stigma v) Work on the margins vi) Needs-related provision vii) Broad criteria for judging outcomes viii) Young people’s views

56 58 58 59 59 59 60 61 62

20. Adequacy of existing frameworks of service i) The policy environment ii) Funding iii) Schools and Youth Work iv) Inter-Agency work v) Partnership working vi) The contradictions of Funding and Targets vii) The importance of housing and accommodation viii) Deficiencies in Education and Training Provision

65 69 70 71 72 73 74 74 75

21. What is to be done? i) Turn Uncertainty into Opportunity ii) Support change in Education iii) Work experience iv) Employers’ needs and interests v) Personal characteristics sought in employees vi) Employers’ views of the client group vii) Learning rich environments

76 76 77 77 80 81 82 91

22. Conclusions and Recommendations i) Communities of practice and discovery ii) Priorities and Methods iii) Audit tool

94 94 98 100



Appendix 1 – Methodology of the project Appendix 2 – Those consulted Appendix 3 – The Employer Questionnaire

106 112 114


1. Introduction This section stresses the urgent, practical need to establish among the professionals who work with young people in Northumberland an agreed interpretation of the problems they are dealing with.

In what follows the results of a research and evaluation project commissioned by Sorted! Under the auspices of the Youth Offending Team and the Northumberland County Council Crime Reduction Division are reported. The brief was to review provision for the support of vulnerable young people in Northumberland – those at risk from substance misuse and offending behaviour – and to identify whether there were obvious gaps in that support and to make recommendations for improvement in the services open to them; in particular we were asked to review those opportunities related to employment and work experience. In Northumberland, the Learning and Skills Council (LSC) and the Youth Offending Team (YOT) are concerned to discover the ways in which young people at risk can be helped onto progressive paths of education and training. The North East has a very similar profile of offending behaviour to that of England as a whole, having slightly higher incidences of offences of public order and criminal damage and slightly lower ones for offences relating to motoring, vehicle theft and violence against the person. At the moment, approximately 66% of young offenders are placed in work or employment related training (for a minimum of 25 hours per week). The target figure set by the Youth Justice Board is that 90% should have these opportunities by March 2006 (Youth Justice Board, 2004). The Learning and Skills Council of Northumberland seeks to improve the life chances of young people who have found it difficult to engage with learning and see the Entry to Employment (E2E) programme as an important vehicle to achieve this. E2E could be an important means to enable the Youth Offending Team to achieve its 90% target figure. The Learning and Skills Council is the body that will monitor progress towards these targets as will the Connexions Service and the Local Education Authority. They are all agreed that it is their aim to achieve the target figures. We were informed by Louise Woodman the LSC manager for the programme that it is planning for 500 starts in E2E this year and has 323 to date. The average length of stay on the programme is 18.2 weeks which LSC managers consider to be very low and they may seek to increase this figure. During 2004 there were 285 leavers, of whom 4 went to Further Education, 16 went into Work Based Learning and 38 into employment.


This report has been written to clarify what – against this background - can and should be done to help young people with a background in offending and substance misuse to reengage with education and training through work and employment. The main conclusion is that there is a great deal already being done to help all young people in Northumberland to achieve more in their education and careers. There is much innovative work targeted at those who at are risk of offending and of substance misuse. What is being done is still not sufficient to meet the challenges of a changing labour market or to offset the consequences of the changes that have been experienced over the past two decades in the lives of families and young people in some of the poorest communities in the county. Much of the work we have observed is well focused and is based on innovative and sound principles of effective practice. Colleagues in Northumberland are working hard to achieve coherence and progression in what they are doing and to work in partnership with one another. The key weaknesses in current frameworks of provision are twofold: the complex structure of partnership working needs to be integrated and led more effectively; and better arrangements are required to enable key agencies and colleagues to learn more from one another. Both these issues come together as one main question: to what extent do colleagues in Northumberland share the same analysis of the problems to be tackled and to what extent do they have a common understanding of the underlying rationale for what is currently being done? As the work for this report developed it became increasingly clear that colleagues from different services did not share the same basis of knowledge and understanding. What is more, the complex framework that exists within Northumberland for planning and delivering the services to help young people at risk is not well understood by those who work within it. Moreover, the management of services through partnerships can disguise the fact that individual services may have funding and staffing arrangements and performance criteria to meet that make it difficult to engage fully with partnership objectives. These problems can be overcome, however, and are being overcome in some places in interesting ways in the county. The challenge is to improve the ways in which partnerships function and build more effectively on what are often the quite isolated achievements of many much more localised initiatives.


2. The Problems In this section it is shown that the way the problems of young people are perceived is bound up with how services to meet their needs are provided. The practical conclusion is that if the complex, inter-connected problems that create disengaged young people are to be tackled, changes are needed in how services collaborate and prioritise their work.

The problems that form the background to this report are those of substance misuse and offending. Both are damaging to the longer term life chances of young people and both corrode the social capital of communities. Geoff Buckley and Joy Wakenshaw of the Youth Offending Team explained that on current figures there are approximately 1,200 to 1,500 young offenders in Northumberland - 80% of them are boys and of the whole group some 10% are assessed as having problems related to substance misuse. It is recognised, however, that there are serious problems with encouraging this clientele to improve its engagement with education, training or employment, most notably the lack of suitable provision for those who are excluded from school; a lack of resources for sufficient pre-Entry to Employment programmes; and weak links to employers (Northumberland County Council, 2004a). These restrictions have also been recognised in our research and are discussed within this report. We know from national data and research that the overall level of substance misuse and offending among young people is much lower than is often believed (Social Exclusion Unit, 2004). Twenty per cent of teenagers say their friends pretend to take drugs. Almost half of UK teenagers (49%) say the need to fit in with their ‘tribe’ as this dictates their group’s behaviour, with a fifth of teens claiming that peer pressure leads their friends to pretend to take drugs, or actually to do so, in order to look ‘cool’. Generally speaking, young people do not misuse substances primarily in order to experience the effects of drugs (Social Issues Research Centre, 2004). But we also know that substantial numbers of young people known to the youth justice system have problems with substance misuse that are linked to their offending (Hammersley, et al, 2004). The behaviours associated with substance misuse and offending are of great social concern. In a review of research on offending behaviour for the Social Exclusion Unit, Brynner and Londra (2004) draw on work done by the Audit Commission to show that the risk factors in offending behaviour include under-achievement in school, family poverty and poor parenting and the development of communities with high levels of unemployment and drug abuse. (2004:81).


The Audit Commission is clear, however, that although much is being done in a reformed youth justice system to change the profile of offending behaviour: “The best means of tackling youth offending remain under-theorised. No welldeveloped and tested model is put forward of the processes through which young people drift into offending and the protective processes that help to reverse them.” (Social Exclusion Unit 2004:93). What has been learnt from evaluating projects in this area has not been integrated into practice nationally and what is most needed if we are to improve our effectiveness is the evaluation of provision to young people as a whole, not just the discrete treatment elements (Hammersley, et al, 2004). Class A drugs (amphetamines, cannabis, cocaine, crack, ecstasy, heroin, LSD, magic mushrooms and methadone) were used by about 3.2 per cent of the population in England and Wales during 2001-02. The figure for the North East was lower than this at 2.6% but this was due largely to the reduced use of cannabis, LSD and magic mushrooms; for all other Class A substances the North East did not vary significantly from national averages. The overall use of illicit drugs in the North East was, at 7.5%, significantly lower than the average for England and Wales (11.9%). These overall figures conceal significant differences in drug use between types of areas, with ‘affluent urban’ and to a lesser degree ‘new-home owning’ areas having much higher use of class A drugs (especially ecstasy and cocaine) than ‘affluent family’, suburban or rural areas. Inner cities generally also have much higher drug use than urban or rural areas. There is also a strong relationship between substance misuse and perceptions of levels of neighbourhood disorder (Aust and Condon, 2003). It is clear that within this context successful preventative measures need to include elements of educational activity and training and the challenge is to help such young people onto pathways of progression into further education, training and jobs. At the centre of this complex task is a paradox: the social arrangements and institutions (including schools, families, communities and labour markets) that are implicated in generating the factors that propel some young people into drugs and offending are the same ones that are meant to prevent it and to open up different futures for young people. A strong theme running through this report is that if the life chances of disadvantaged young people are to improve, the institutions that presently exist to help them have to change. For this reason, quite rightly, policy-makers in Northumberland adopt a holistic view of the problem of substance misuse and offending. These are behaviours that cannot be separated off from the wider contexts of education, family and community life, training and employment opportunities and the policies and


specific programmes and initiatives that are in place to improve each of these domains of civil society. There are tensions in all of these arrangements that constrain what is possible in terms of behavioural outcomes. There is great pressure to achieve quick solutions to change the behaviour of young people. On the other hand, the changes that are most successful take a long time to become effective. There is pressure to regard some problems as discreetly manageable e.g. drug abuse, educational failure, teenage pregnancy, homelessness. Professional who work in these fields know, of course, that they are not discrete problems but are inter-connected. It is difficult to deal with them in an holistic way, however, because clients with different needs exert different kinds of pressures and public services operate in different ways with different performance targets against which they must be accountable. And none of them is amenable to the ‘quick fix’. Joy Wakenshaw of the Youth Offending Team captured this point when she noted that professionals tend to perceive the problems of helping young people from the point of view of finding the immediate practicable solution. “My responses,” she noted, “don’t afford me the luxury of seeing how the massive structure can be changed.” This is not evidence of any inadequacy in the way this particular colleague does her job. It is instead a comment that accurately describes the work situations of many different professionals. For these reasons, the starting point of this project is only ostensibly specific. The questions: what is being done to help young people? what gaps are there in provision and works? are deceptively straightforward. This report shows that the answers that can be provided are limited by the prevailing arrangements in the county for managing public services. If changes in those services can be envisaged - and to the way they are led - then a different set of answers is possible. Policy makers and managers of services have to take a view on how far they prepared to make changes in the policies and in the services they provide. And for members of Northumberland’s diverse communities the question becomes: how far are they prepared to change the ways in which young people are perceived, valued and supported?


3. Methodology Here we describe the methods used in producing this report. The practical point is that the consultation described is a useful and productive way to learn about the needs of young people and one that service providers can use themselves as a powerful tool of evaluation, staff development and service improvement.

It was agreed that the work to be done, beginning in July 2004, would be carried out in three phases and be completed by the end of 2004. In phase one emphasis was placed on drawing together existing materials – reports, policy documents and other appropriate research – and conducting some preliminary interviews with key personnel throughout the county who work with the client group. This culminated in a conference at Newbiggen Community centre in July 2004. The discussions of the conference were written up (Behind the Baseball Cap: New Learning for Young People at Risk in Northumberland, July 2004) and circulated among attendees and members of the Steering Group for the project for comment and feedback. Phase two involved a programme of visit to providers, discussions with key officials in a range of organizations and conversations with groups of young people, their parents and with front line support workers who support them. This phase of information gathering and analysis was reported to a second conference of practitioners (including County Councillors) in September 2004 at Hepscott Park. The results of those discussions were written up in a second interim report (At the Top of the Pyramid, September 2004) and reported to the Steering Group. The main focus of Phase three of the work involved employers and parents. With the help of the Chamber of Commerce, a survey of employers was carried out to discover their views about providing work experience for this group of young people. Several already had experience of the LSC-funded Entry to Employment programme. We were able to visit employers and to consider what their needs were and to discuss what would enable them to work more closely with Connexions and the Youth Offending Team to the benefit of young people. The results of this work have been discussed by employers’ representatives and training providers and are incorporated into this final report. The precise methods used to collect information and to enable colleagues to share and develop further their understanding of the problems of the client group are set out in Appendix 1 of this report. The methodology underpinning the work and which lends credibility to its conclusions is based on three key principles. The first principle is that assessments of gaps in provision of services must be based substantially on the views of front-line practitioners who work with the client groups in question. On the other hand, these individuals may not always be fully aware of what


they know. We have consulted them, discussed their work, analysed what they have said (and not said), drawn conclusions from what they have told us and then fed back these conclusions for revision and comment. We have enabled them to talk to one another, to reflect on each other’s work and to discover in doing so ways of thinking about the needs of the client group that they had not been fully aware of previously. In this sense the working methods of this project were simultaneously a way to sustain continuing professional development (CPD) among members of an emerging community of practice (Wenger, 1998). This term describes the loose groupings of colleagues who work with the client groups in Northumberland. Through the sharing of ideas and reflection on experience, they develop the foundations of their professional practice. We set out what these principles of good practice are so that they can be discussed further, refined and further evaluated. The second principle is that deeper insights into the needs of young people must come from young people and their carers themselves. In this project we have tried to explore the lifeworlds of young people and to understand the complexities of the lives they lead in the contexts in which they live. The client group is relatively small. Across the whole county there are somewhere in the region of 2000-3000 young people aged 14-19 whose behaviour brings them into the view of the Youth Offending Team (YOTS) and the criminal justice system. They take up an amount of time and other resources which is quite disproportionate to their absolute numbers. They are demanding, challenging and dependent and threaten to be so for a long time – perhaps throughout their adult lives. Many are well known to the Police and are thought of as trouble-makers by those in their own localities. Many labels are applied to this group. They are described as offenders, substance misusers and youngster disengaged from school. The social descriptors they themselves use are even more colourful. They live in a world where their friends and acquaintances divide in to ‘Charvas’, ‘Goths’, ‘Radgys’, ‘Freaks’, ‘Smackheads’ and ‘Divvies’ and do so largely as a result of their search for identity and support (Social Issues Research Centre, 2004). A core group within them can be legitimately described as homeless. Many have special educational needs. Many have needs for which mental health services are required. Many come from ‘poor estates’. They are all children at risk. There is a plethora of services and schemes open to children at risk – in education, training and the community. What is not so clear, however, is how they make sense of their lives and how the world in which they live, including their hopes and aspirations, appears to them. We have tried to explore these themes to understand better the challenge faced by service providers in helping such young people develop new possibilities in their lives and a new sense of hope. The third principle of the methodology concerns our knowledge of young people and the information that is collected about them. The prevailing views of their needs, across a range of public services, are based on data that is generated around the operational tasks of providing education, health care and other services such as advice, work experience


and community safety. Using the measures and targets against which this work is judged young people come into view into particular ways. They appear as underachievers or as successful pupils. They can be variously described as disengaged , socially excluded, challenging or at risk. Others appear as normal, ordinary, responsible kids. The problem with such descriptors is therefore that they circumscribe what the adult world expects of young people by highlighting some aspects of behaviour whilst ignoring others. They presuppose that when young people do not perform to the expected standards it is because they are in some way at fault. Failure at school will be recorded as something negative - but it is only meaningful to do this if it assumed that what schools currently offer is relevant and of an appropriate quality to meet the needs of all young people. If that is not the case then data about failure at schools tells us more about the schools than it does about young people. The same would be true about data on the effectiveness of work experience. Failure in placements that are part of Entry to Employment (E2E) schemes may have more to do with inappropriate work placements than inadequately prepared or motivated young people. Failure to engage with education and training opportunities post-16 may have as much to do with contradictions in the ways the benefit system works or with the curricula on offer in FE colleges than with problems of young people and their families. For these reasons it cannot be taken for granted that the mainstream services available for young people function adequately to meet their needs. Those who provide such services – local authorities, statutory bodies, employers and voluntary-sector organizations that receive public funds – are a powerful constituency within the partnerships that plan and provide those services. Their voices are powerful in defining the needs that exist and in saying how they should be met. Their services are built into a wider picture of how the county of Northumberland should develop in the future. The Northumberland Strategic Partnership looks forward to a high-tech future - small business development and tasteful tourism as the foundation of a better economy. The plan requires higher levels of educational attainment, more vocational education and strong links between educators and employers. If young people do not engage with this agenda, fault may be less with the young people than with the agenda itself. There is no a priori way of knowing which is the case. There is, however, a responsibility on the part of elected bodies to ensure that the voices of all constituents – including young people – are heard and acted upon in giving shape to the kind of future that people will want to look forward to. The young people we have spoken to and about whom we have learned a great deal have no grasp at all of the future that is being prepared for them. Since they have not been engaged in the process of shaping it, this is hardly surprising, but if they fail to match up to its requirements, it is not necessarily therefore their fault.


In simple, practical terms, this means that they have to be consulted rather simply surveyed. They have to be engaged in a dialogue in which they are enabled to interpret, reflect upon and share their understanding of their needs an interests. It is their views on what should count as success indicators that need to be taken into account. Their views on the service open to them must be carefully audited. Too many never have such an experience or opportunity to be consulted. The result is that the prevailing public descriptions of their problems and their behaviour have built in distortions. The performance standards by which services are measured are set in ways that guarantee the failure of some young people and contribute to de-motivating the professionals who support them. We hope the methods used in this report provide at least one way of finding out what young people think about the services on offer to them. We hope, too, that the service providers who read this report will debate its conclusions and take the analysis further and will be open enough to consider that their services may need to change in significant ways in order to properly engage the young people who are most in need of them.


4. Northumberland: the context Improvement in the level of engagement of young people at risk depends upon there being an agreed understanding of the contexts of their lives. In this section we highlight features of Northumberland that must come into view to understand and change those contexts.

Much change has, of course, already taken place in recent times in Northumberland. Much remains intractable, however. There are too many families and communities that have not been able to share in the general improvement of living standards and life chances. There are problems of homelessness, teenage pregnancy, crime and unemployment – none of which are helped by the region’s relatively extended geography and poor infrastructure. The overall development strategy for the county is well researched. It fits in with regional development goals. It is a programme of change that will benefit different parts of the county in different ways. Following a visit to a training provider in Ashington there was an informal opportunity to chat to a group of young men who were following an E2E programme. They were asked about what it was like living in Northumberland and especially Ashington. They said it was boring, that: “there’s nowt to dee”. “Aal yi can dee is watch telly and that’s boring’ and that’s why so many get into drugs.” This young man mentioned with a gesture a nearby estate and said: “Yi cud gaan doon there noo and yi’d see them all hangin’ aboot.” He didn’t advise doing that, though, because it could be dangerous to go there. What they would like to be available for them in the town? What would improve things for them? They were clear about that: an off-road motor bike facility. They want somewhere to go with their bikes. Without that they are always being harassed by the police. They know places in the area that could easily be made over to them so that they could ride their bikes without getting into trouble. What about work? They were now nearly 18 years old and were still looking for things to play at. “Aye!”, one of them said as he ate his pot noodle, “That’s what we want but theor’s ne work roond heor!” This was said with the full agreement of the others and with a spirit of resignation rather than anger.


These young men are at least engaged in training and are seeking to improve their job prospects. The training provider staff who work with them are confident that they will succeed and work hard to help them maintain an optimistic outlook about the future. Their training will lead on to work or to further education and training. What this little encounter shows, however, is how all the key players involved – the young people, the training provider, the community within the town – have fates that are linked. Their futures depend upon whether the development strategies for the county will realise the aim of creating new jobs and of building stronger communities. Those mentioned by the young man who live their lives on the rim of the abyss of drugs and who are not in education or training, are also dependent on the regeneration strategy. Certain features of the local context stand out that are highly relevant to the provision of services for young people. The first is the complexity of Northumberland’s economy and society. Northumberland is a large, beautiful county with marked gradients of social inequality among its diverse communities. These shape the life chances of different groups of people in very different ways that will be explored in more detail later. Secondly, there are many changes taking place in the ways in which the County Council is delivering its services. The development of the Family and Children’s Trust (FACT) provides a new framework to integrate the services that are relevant to young people. Most of the colleagues we have consulted as part of this research see these developments in a positive light. There are many uncertainties but there is solid agreement that they should be transformed into opportunities for change. It is far beyond the remit of this report to develop an analysis of how the social structures of Northumberland have changed and to explain why each year a proportion of young people become offenders or run the risks of taking drugs. On the other hand, it is vital that this discussion is taking place in Northumberland. Unless these processes are properly understood it will not be possible to develop policy responses that can change them. The young people at the centre of this report have grown up in the communities and the schools of Northumberland. Their life chances and experiences, hopes and aspirations, are shaped in that complex space where the lives of families are touched by pubic services in education, health, community development and criminal justice. The performance of those services limits or enhances the life chances of different groups in the community. The profiles of opportunity, basic skills, attitudes and values that describe different communities in Northumberland are the outcome of how these services have functioned in the past. Fortunately, the inter-dependence of all these themes is well acknowledged in Northumberland and the extensive work being done in the county has been well described in the report The Big Picture: for children and young people in Northumberland (2004). There are 70,000 young people under the age of 19 in the county, of whom 48.8% (on average) gain five or more GCSEs. Over half of 14 year olds drink alcohol and 8% of


them use cannabis. Nearly three quarters of all the youth crime in the county takes place in the south east where the highest levels of social deprivation exist. The Big Picture report highlights a range of things that need to be improved. There is rural poverty and a pattern of low aspirations – “many young people see few opportunities, which lowers their self esteem and motivation to do well” (2004:11) - and young people are often seen as a problem by older people. Work undertaken for the Northumberland Information Network (Hanmer, et al, 2002) showed that in Northumberland there are 48,000 people who are functionally illiterate, a figure representing 26% of the working age population. This work also established a strong link between these factors and social deprivation. Work done for the Learning and Skills Council has shown that Northumberland has a lower unemployment rate than other parts of the North East (and indeed the UK) but for young people (aged 16-24) “unemployment remains an important social and economic problem to tackle”. (2002)


5. The view from County Hall Front-line practitioners do not always fully appreciate the county-wide regeneration strategies that are being followed to bring about the cultural changes that are needed to promote higher levels of engagement in education and training. In this section ‘the view from County Hall’ is made clear.

Five priority areas have been identified in the County Council Corporate Business Plan to address a range of needs. These are to promote education and training, develop the inclusive society, regenerate the economy, build a healthy environment, engage the community and develop the culture of improvement. (The Big Picture, 2004: 14) These aims have been articulated into objectives and targets and the responsibilities of different agencies and networks for achieving them have been clearly identified. There is clearly much being done across a range of services to create new jobs, regenerate communities, attract inward investment and strengthen the local economy. Mr Wann of the County Council Economic Development Office set out for us what was being done to promote economic development and regeneration in Northumberland. At the centre of all the initiatives was the Northumberland Strategic Partnership, seeking ‘joined up approval’ from a range of key players in the county. The approach was an inclusive one that recognised the diversity of the county and its communities. The aim was to attract inward investment and to promote initiatives in parallel with regional economic objectives. These were to develop jobs and companies in the new sectors of biotechnology, renewable energy, tourism and culture. There was a need to develop a shared understanding among a range of partners of the problems of the county. Mr. Wann set out the background to these initiatives. Since the time before the catastrophe of Foot and Mouth, the rural economy of Northumberland has been fragile. There were tourist ‘honeypots’ like Alnwick, Woodhorn Colliery, and Hadrian’s Wall but there was still scope for diversification and a need to be very realistic about prospects in farming. It was crucial to understand that Northumberland was a county of low incomes so there is a real challenge to raise farming incomes. Ideas to do this include the development of wind power and biomass growth. The structure of employment is that of a low skill economy dominated by a large number of small businesses. There is a real need to engage small businesses in training and development and there are initiatives to achieve this. Given the skills mix of its labour force and low levels of educational attainment among some groups (e.g. one fifth of the adult population of the county have basic skills deficiencies) Northumberland will find it hard to attract new high technology investment.


We talked about international competition, the loss of manufacturing jobs from the UK and the need to have higher levels of education attainment and training to fit people to compete in the new global economy. The threat to areas like Northumberland is great, especially given the county’s levels of educational attainment, which are no more than average. In response to this observation Mr Wann highlighted two matters: one concerned the Aspire programme and the other concerned strategies to promote intermediate labour markets. The aim with this programme is to help people who are out of work to get into work. Both sets of initiatives under these headings are aimed at cultural change and seek to “change the boundaries of people’s horizons” and remove barriers to work. They are bound up with other programmes to generate work, such as the Aurora project that engaged artists in the county in employment generation. The county attaches great importance to the Aspire partnership and its programme to address these issues. It is a programme developing in conjunction with the business community to raise educational aspirations. It hopes to overcome the constraints of an older work culture and its associated attitudes which are often negative about the prospects of employment and which do not encourage entrepreneurship. It is therefore, essentially, a programme of cultural change. There will be business ambassadors, student mentors, information packs, promotional events and efforts to improve the quality of work experience for young people. Aspire will build on links with employers to secure the participation of more employers in the programme. The idea of developing intermediate labour markets is related to the need to remove barriers to work. In collaboration with Development Trusts and Job Centres (including the Action Team for Jobs) efforts are being made to create more job opportunities e.g. through local labour agreements when investors have received funding support from the county. This will not, of course, be easy. There are deep rooted cultural barriers to be overcome are to do with the ways in which people perceive their futures and construe their approach to how to realise them. Ordinary people, noted Jeremy Cripps (the Families and Children’s Trust (FACT) Implementation Manager), are confused about the future. Whole communities are affected by loss and change (such as pit closures), and no one knows what should be done. Their ‘models of the world’ no longer describe the environment in which they live and seek to work. Jackie Telford, also from the economic development section, explained that she took a positive view of the client groups most at risk of disengagement and joblessness. The idea of intermediate labour markets grew from work under the New Deal and the Environmental Task Force and Northumberland Training Agency. Clients with a family history of unemployment benefited from some of their projects, such as those with the National Trust. The experience showed it was possible, despite the underlying problems


of hopelessness, to effect change in attitudes and motivation. It was a question of rebuilding confidence and of helping people back into work routines. The central idea about regeneration in County Hall is that partnership working will achieve its objectives and that the way forward is through programmes, schemes and initiatives that are all focused – though in different ways and to different degrees – to engineer a cultural change among employers and employees alike. It is seen as particularly important to engineer such change in the minds of Northumberland’s young people, particularly those in the more deprived areas, who are victims of a culture of low aspiration and hope. It was put to Jeremy Cripps that the complex structure of partnership working in Northumberland could be compared to a spider’s web without the spider. Partnerships were difficult to lead. Font-line practitioners in the field of services to young people could not grasp the full complexity of it all and that such a framework is not conducive to bringing about sustainable change in practice. His response to this was that it is important to distinguish between partnerships and networks. Some networks do not need leaders. Some partnerships do have clear leaders and champions: he singled out as examples Sure Start, the Youth Offending Service, Connexions and, he hoped, FACT. With the appointment of its Director Mr Trevor Doughty in November 2004, there will indeed be a spider at the centre of the web. This new structure will control nearly 70% of the County Council’s overall budget. Many other organisations will be part of the partnership, seconding staff to it and thus securing their commitment. There will be integrated teams of practitioners to promote co-operation. In comparison to the Children and Young People’s Strategic Partnership, which, having no budget, has never been more than a network, FACT has the potential to be a powerful commissioning body.


6. Knowledge of Policies In this section we highlight the practical importance of helping those who work with young people have a better understanding of how the complex range of services and initiatives that govern their work can be integrated and better understood.

We talked about how far people at different levels in the County Council and in a range of statutory bodies understood the policy frameworks governing their work. Jeremy had some sympathy with the idea that they did not. He was clear, however, that the process of setting up FACT had engaged everyone fully and there had been a great deal of consultation and feedback at well attended meetings. There have been follow up seminars and the messages about FACT have cascaded throughout the key agencies in the county. This has given everyone involved the confidence to move forward. Network arrangements, he felt, were not always strong enough to enable people to work together strategically. There was a particular, continuous problem of getting new ways of thinking and working in schools. They are very busy and new ideas ‘fall off the edge of the desk’. Front line ‘busyness’ is compounded by mixed signals from government. For example the government expects to see inter-agency working and the early identification of problems among children and young people. But this message is filtered through different initiatives such as Sure Start, extended schools and Connexions. The key challenge is to work out how these initiatives can come together. Some schools have responded to government initiatives about extended schools to set up their own models of achieving them. Some are developing independently of FACT and he felt this was regrettable. The group at the heart of this project – young people at risk of substance misuse and offending – present special difficulties. Jeremy believes that the evolving frameworks of services and of planning have not properly engaged with the problems of this group. FACT has not connected well enough yet with training providers, with the LSC and with Northumberland College. Nor has it engaged as well as it might have done with District Councils. To date, he feels, some people have had a narrow view of FACT, or have focused mainly on what might happen to their own organisation or even their own job. Some work has been done to overcome this and more will be done through Local Strategic Partnerships (LSPs) to promote FACT and the new ways of working it is hoped it will bring.


FACT has a challenging agenda to address if it is to meet local and national expectations for education, training and employment over the next five years. By 2008 all secondary schools will be expected to ensure that at least 50% of 14 year olds achieve level 5 or above in English, maths, ICT and science and pupil absence in term time other than for sickness is expected to be exceptional. Young people in secondary education may be based in one place, which will provide their pastoral care and manage their learning, but may do their learning in a variety of other locations. Employer involvement is seen as being very important to achieve for all young people, not only for those doing vocational subjects (DfES, 2004). It was intriguing to hear some of these issues articulated in a conversation with Mr Gordon Simpson of the Northumberland Training Agency (NTA). He explained a little of the background of NTA. It is a lead provider of work-based learning in Northumberland and has been involved in work with employers for over 25 years. He commented on the planning and partnership framework of provision for training in Northumberland. We agreed this was complex; that there were many networks and partnerships with overlapping membership. Gordon has been and remains involved in these networks but explained: It loses me off. I’ve sat on many committees, steering groups and partnerships. I’ve attended workshops and seminars. It daunts me. I come back to get on with my own job. It is too complex to understand I’ve found myself going round in circles to understand the bigger picture. He went on to explain that the best anyone can do in such circumstances is focus on their own work and try to do it well.


7. Knowledge through Participation In this section we highlight the need for a wide debate about how far the community development strategies of Northumberland actively and effectively engage and consult the people they are designed to help.

A key theme emerges at this point: the need to cascade awareness of the new framework and its possibilities but to do so in a way that engages people as it were ‘from the bottom up’. In Northumberland there is a clear commitment to community development approaches and different agencies are willing to share information and ideas about good practice. This became obvious in the County’s response to the requirement of the Children’s Bill to develop systems of Information Sharing and Assessment (ISA). Perceptions of how cultural change will occur shape how the senior managers of the County’s development plans think about change and development. Some people doubt whether these assumptions have been thought through well enough. Julia Lyford of the Northumberland Community Development Network (NCDN) acknowledged there is a slow realisation among those responsible for the county’s economic regeneration of the importance of community-based micro enterprise. One North East (ONE) is heavily involved through the Northumberland Strategic Partnership in trying to develop the economy of the area but is totally focussed in practice on large scale and traditional economic regeneration. There is no real understanding, Julia feels, of the need to build social capital as a sine qua non of economic development. Even major charitable trusts that fund the community sector have become preoccupied with a narrow version of the economic dimension of development without grasping the links between the economic and social aspects. The result is that it is difficult to promote community development despite an apparent official recognition of its importance. This means that the regeneration policies of the county are in some ways unhelpful to the need to build up community enterprises that fit the grassroots priorities and to imagine forms of economic development that are different but complementary to those being promoted by the dominant official agencies. Running through the conversation with Julia was a trope of the embattled character of community development. It is very hard to influence the dominant mainstream institutions to bring into view the subtle and complex needs of different localities or to get them to work across the boundaries of their own domains of practice. The outcome is that only the voices of those with power are heard. It is they who are able to define the needs of others, especially those of young people and other excluded or less powerful groups and to shape the conditions of their lives. Quite apart from the fact that this is


undemocratic, it is also a barrier to the development of new ideas and solutions to the regeneration needs of the county as a whole. Nevertheless, despite these problems there is much creative work being done in different localities. There are many good examples of community-led research involving young people (e.g. through Our Part) and through NCDN. The challenge is to find better ways for this work to become relevant both to the ways in which mainstream institutions are managed and led and the county council’s planning and partnerships work. At the moment, as Julia put it, “There is no route to the strategic decisions” that are being made, unless Voluntary Sector organisations have the capacity to engage with Local Strategic Partnerships (LSPs) and this is an under-resourced, unequal experience for many. The connections between creative work on the ground in different localities and the development planning at the centre are in her view weak. This is partly a facet of all community development, wherever it takes place. In Northumberland this problem takes on a special form because of the complexity of the county. It is large, there is a clear rural-urban divide producing communities with different problems and needs and the social divisions of the county that shape the pattern of its politics and the social relations of its communities are long standing. There are many features of contemporary housing markets that accentuate social differences and economic change (a declining rural economy and coalfield) has left its residue of social deprivation that is difficult to overcome. Jeremy Cripps was optimistic on this front. Because there were fewer players in Northumberland (e.g. only 1 primary care trust, compared to Essex where there are 12 and only I Connexions service) key people know each other well. Because the administrative boundaries of key services overlap with geographical ones there is a possibility for co-ordination that might not be possible elsewhere. Despite covering a large area, Northumberland has a small population; it has only the population of a typical London borough. This makes networking effective and, because of low staff turnover in many services, it is possible to work inter-professionally. On the other hand, people are very busy. “They have their noses to the grindstone”, so that it difficult to find time to stand back and think of new approaches. Jeremy is confident that the integrated team working that FACT will promote will provide the context for such new ideas to emerge.


8. Lifeworlds This section highlights the practical need to constantly seek to understand the changing lifeworlds of young people as a necessary pre-condition of successful policy development and practice.

The socio-economic profile of Northumberland and its districts is, as we have seen, are well described in all the public policy documents covering regeneration, education, health and community safety. Less obvious in such reporting are the styles of life, attitude and values, ways of thinking and feeling that are part of the lifeworlds of different groups of young people and especially of those who offend or who risk substance misuse. We have tried to discover through conferences, project visits and conversations with young people the factors that are giving shape to the attitudes, values and lifestyles of young people in Northumberland. The idea of the lifeworld has an important place in the vocabulary of social science. It evokes the ways in which people make sense of themselves and their world, how they view the past, anticipate the future and justify the choices that form the patterns of their lives. The concept invites us to ask questions about how people’s lives are constructed and constrained and about the resources available to them to enable them to make sense of their experience. It sounds a very theoretical and abstract idea but it is a very necessary one. The lives of young people are complex and the factors that shape those lives are subtle. If we are to be able to help young people make different choices about their lives we have to understand why they currently make the ones they do. We have to try and see what the world looks like from their point of view. The self-awareness of young people is not merely a reflection of their experience. It is something shaped by how they are perceived by the adults with whom they are in contact - parents, and professionals - and by the ways in which they are seen in the media of mass communication and by public opinion. It is as if young people live in a hall of mirrors in which some of the reflections are much stronger than others. In the course of growing up young people negotiate constantly with significant others – parents, peers, teachers – the ways in which they wish to be seen and valued. Sometimes they succeed. At other times they fail. For example, they can create positive self-images among their peers but fail badly with their parents, teachers, or the police. They negotiate, too, with themselves as they compare their highest hopes with their current achievements. They struggle to find a firm foundation for their self-respect, but they often fail. Some find a peaceful way to live with themselves only through the oblivion of drugs or the frenetic hedonism of their peer group. The challenge is to build a


firmer, long term basis for a better self image that is based on both real achievement and credible hope.


9. Professional Perceptions The professionals who work with young people know a great deal about them. In this section we highlight what they have come to know about them and the roots of their behaviour.

We have to understand the prevailing ways in which the professionals who work with young people interpret the lives of their clients, for such perceptions are powerful and have profound implications for what happens to them. The professional colleagues who attended the Newbiggen conference that was part of the first phase of this project, work daily with young people at the margins of society. The Open Space and Active Listening activities gave them a chance to share in a systematic way what they have come to know about their clients and their circumstances. The analysis of these problems to emerge reflected the complexity of the lives of young people and of their responses to it. Colleagues described a youth culture in which, for some, crime offers a positive social identity. Binge drinking is socially acceptable and peer-group pressures can easily undermine the efforts of some young people to stay free of drugs. The culture prevailing among the client group was typified as ‘materialistic’. One colleague noted that “Instant satisfaction is expected.” There is a “lack of respect for self, parents, teachers, police, social workers etc.” Young people themselves use the descriptor ‘Charver’ to characterise people and behaviour that is laddish and aggressive. Colleagues noted, however, that behind the bravado is low self-esteem, an unwillingness to take risks and a great deal of fear and anger born of the violence in their lives. One commented that young people “hide behind the baseball cap”. These are young people disconnected from their parental generation. Many have experienced early failure at school and have been disengaged from education for a long time. Many claim to have experienced education as oppressive. There are patterns of long term unemployment and family dislocation, an absence of positive adult role models and poor life skills. Behind the bravado of Charver culture is an unwillingness to travel beyond their own locality or to cross cultural boundaries. Many fear to take up education or training opportunities lest they expose basic skill weaknesses. Life skills are poor. They possess no sense of responsibility for the wider community, though this is not surprising since they are often treated with fear and suspicion and experience the areas in which they live as bereft of things for them to do. There is no work ethic among many of those at the margins, a consequence of long-term unemployment and limited job opportunities. Homelessness among young people is an intractable and serious problem in the Blyth Valley area, in Berwick and in Tynedale. Those who are found accommodation often fail to maintain it because they lack the skills and support to do so.


Colleagues discussed these themes in ways that related them to wider contextual issues. Some of these issues are cultural and part of the lifestyles of coalfield communities that have lost their economic rationale and community solidarity. Features of the social and political structure of Northumberland society also emerged as being important in denying young people the opportunities they deserved. Colleagues expressed concern that some of the prevailing ‘county’ attitudes in Northumberland (which become important in such areas as planning decisions) were important in maintaining the image of the area as traditionally rural and that this did not encourage new kinds of inward investment or new forms of employment. These attitudes also reinforced the fragmented social character of the county maintaining high symbolic boundaries around different communities with different life styles. The persistence of political attitudes rooted in the mentalities of the former mining communities was also something that inhibited economic change. People still expected industrial employment and there was a low rate of business start-up in the county. Young people lived with the consequences of this compounded conservatism. It shaped their aspirations – keeping them low – and their opportunities, limiting both their education and job prospects. The changes taking place at the macro-level of planning in Northumberland have to be viewed from the perspective of young people who are the focus of this report. As explained, they are perceived as a problem group. Much of their behaviour is viewed as being dysfunctional, both for themselves and their communities. They live at the edges of acceptable behaviour norms and continually test the tolerance of the adult world. It is crucial, however, to arrive at an understanding of their lives and of how they see the world. Much more needs to be done to do this than we have been able to do. We have built up a picture of their world that we believe is accurate. It is a fast-changing world in which they live and, of course, they are growing up. Those who seek to help them need to keep up to date with the changes that are taking place in their lifeworlds.


10. Contexts In the course of our work we have been able to talk to professionals throughout Northumberland and to explore the differences that exists among the different localities of this large and complex county. We talked with staff from the Hexham Youth Initiative about the town itself and the kinds of opportunities it offered to young people. The paradox at the heart of Hexham is that it is perceived by outsiders as a pretty market town, a desirable place to visit located in an affluent part of the Tyne Valley. In realty it is a socially-divided place, with ‘haves’ and ‘have-nots’ that does not attract the funding it needs to deal with the problems such inequality generates. There was an opportunity to explore with the Assistant Head Teacher at Hirst School in Ashington, in the east of the county, the setting in which the school works. It is at the heart of a very disadvantaged community. Mrs Woodman noted that the culture of the area is one in which there is a “massive issue of low self esteem”. One consequence of this that can be difficult to manage within school is that a little ‘fall out’ among pupils can result in youngsters feeling very miserable about themselves. This impacts on the mental health of the area. Mrs Woodman has been to funerals of young people who are victims of overdoses. In Berwick, in the north, we talked about the problems of young people at risk of drugs or crime. John Bell from the Berwick Youth Project (BYP) took the view that these problems in Berwick were “similar to but no worse than in towns of the same size elsewhere. A few years ago,” he recalled, “there was a problem with heroin, compounded by a denial that such problems could exist in Berwick.” There was real need for a needle exchange and for support for users and while BYP ran the scheme they were in regular contact with 170 users. Today, the number who use heroin is declining and they were, as a group, getting older. They constitute a group of between 40 and 50 ‘familiar faces’. The biggest problem is alcohol. There is “a major problem of binge drinking in Berwick across all age groups.” There is a culture of heavy drinking leading to a loss of tenancy, family breakdown, of young people struggling to borrow money and of employers dismissing people. John explained that the town had a history of heavy drinking. It was a former garrison town, well supplied with pubs and a fishing port where fishermen traditionally enjoyed their drink. The residues of this drinking culture support an already existing youth culture that centres on drink. There is also the effect of the strongly negative role models of the heroin users. To avoid their fate, young people stick with alcohol! John believes there is a cycle of disorder within the youth culture of Berwick. Drink leads to offending behaviour, theft and also to sexual assaults as inhibitions are weakened. The town has a low incidence of teenage pregnancies but this does not necessarily mean that the young practice contraception skilfully. John believes there is a high rate of use of the


morning after pill and that the rate of sexually transmitted diseases will be similar to elsewhere in the county. BYP runs the C-card scheme that enables young people to receive condoms, which is a well-used service - although there are some very young people who use it. The problem that BYP staff work with most closely is that of homelessness. There is a real problem in the town and young people have ‘transient’ housing careers. They stay with relatives and friends. They sleep with each other. Many have no place to call home. “They just find somewhere to stay.” At the root of all this are problems with relationships. John was clear about this: “Relationships relate to everything, e.g. housing, solvent abuse etc.” Substance abuse takes away the pain. It helps them cope with family and mental health problems. Such issues and concerns are replicated across the region, differing for the most part only in their relative emphasis. Escape is a registered charity offering support throughout Northumberland for substance misusers and their families and during 2003-2004 dealt with almost 780 clients, 42% of whom engaged for more than one session. New clients represented 58% of the total with males and females being almost equally represented (51% and 49%, respectively). Most clients were self referred (60%), with the next largest group being formed from those referred via the courts (Fig. 1). Blyth Valley and Wansbeck generated the greatest proportion of referrals (Fig. 2) . The overall profile of clients (as judged from those disclosing their age) is weighted towards those under thirty Fig. 3), with the largest single reported misuse involving alcohol (Fig. 4).

Fig. 1 Escape : Referrals (Northumberland)


Lynette Elliott is the manager of the Blyth branch of Escape and, together with Pam Orange (senior support worker), arranged for us to meet a group of the local ‘drop in’ clients and talk to them about how they came to be there. The group ranged from those aged over 30 to those still under 20 and included those who had misused or were currently misusing a range of substances from alcohol to crack and heroin. Most were adamant that they wanted to change their lives but gave reasons why this had been impossible for them, despite their best efforts: they were forced into breaking the law in order to gain access to the levels of support they needed, because effective support was not made available (largely because of its cost); they were denied housing and had within the recent past had to sleep in cars and doorways; they felt trapped within an environment so steeped in substance misuse that they could not escape it; and they had little opportunity available to them to develop any alternative lifestyle. Life was so awful that “you’re forced to take drugs to shut the shit out”. They felt that they lived in the ‘misuser’s trap’ of being unemployable because of their stigma. The drop-in provision at Escape was helpful but bedevilled by “shitty petty rules” such as not being allowed to smoke or use the phone. They felt this despite knowing why these rules were in place and recognising their necessity (the ‘no smoking’ rule is for health and safety as well as fire regulations; and the ‘no phones’ rule is to prevent ‘dealing’ from the premises). The group were disdainful of many of those who sought to help them, because such individuals had no idea what their lives were like and they were scornful of the pious “I know what you’re going through” often advanced by “do-gooders” unless they were exaddicts themselves. Whilst appreciative of the warm place to sit for a morning afforded by the drop-in facility of Escape, they felt that those referred by the courts were treated more favourably because “they bring big money in,

Fig. 2 Referrals to Escape


but we bring nothing”, so even within Escape they argued the case for being treated as second-class. They could see no future for themselves which did not involve substance misuse – “I’ll always smoke dope – I can’t ever see me being straight”, as one put it. They were fatalistic about even the most modest of targets and resisted the invitation to speculate about where they might wish be in one or two year’s time – “You’ve got to get through today before you can get through tomorrow”. This group was composed of many quite personable and likeable individuals but epitomised many of the problems faced by those seeking to support individuals who offend or misuse substances. Many in this group have developed a world-view which is considerably at odds with the reality surrounding them. They will admit this,

Fig. 3 Age profile of Escape clients (Note: 301 clients did not disclose their age - mainly helpline calls or family members.)

individually, although only if pushed. Unless forced to confront reality as a result of a court order to attend provision offered by agencies like Escape, they remain likely to maintain hold of their somewhat distorted view of the world for the simple reasons that it is easy and it is comfortable – Lynnette confirmed that this is not unusual within this client group generally. Despite a common view to the contrary, many of these individuals do not actually have very demanding or problematic lives – at least, not from their point of view. Some of them are financially and physically comfortable, for the most part, and


do not see themselves as having a ‘problem’ with their substance misuse – it is simply one feature of their normal life.

Fig. 4 Substances used by Escape clients who sought support during 2003-04 The reason Escape runs a drop-in facility is to maintain contact with such individuals, who are offered an extensive menu of one-to-one support, counselling, information, advice and a wide range of medical, traditional and complementary therapies as well as diversionary ‘life-style’ enhancing programmes, home visits and respite breaks. These are key features of good practice identified in research done by the Youth Justice Board (Hammersley, et al, 2004). Staff at Escape and at similar places of provision, know that individuals within this client group will only change once they have decided to do so: the provision is pressure-free ‘bait’ to maintain a varied and permanent invitation to make that step. There are many disappointments and setbacks and, despite the creativity shown by staff in continually developing different ways to entice clients to make a commitment to change, for some there will be no success. The characteristics of successful intervention seem to be that once the initial idea to change has taken hold, clients need to be kept very busy in building a new way to live. It is important to schedule and plan every moment so that their lives are full – it is essential to replace the role of drugs in their lives with something else. This is akin to replacing the bricks of a house one at a time, until a different building results. The key is to change the pre-existing pattern and culture of the individual’s


life, but to do so in a highly structured way so that new routines and different habits are formed. This is skilled work which requires high levels of motivation from staff and even higher tolerances of failure and frustration, which underlines the need for good interprofessional relationships between relevant staff working with young people generally (ibid.). Relationships between staff within given services or provision is generally good in Northumberland and there are examples of very effective inter-professional dialogue and collaboration, but the development of an extended community of practice within which such relationships could be extended to good effect is not yet a well established feature of practice in Northumberland. Work done for the Youth Justice Board does not, however, give cause for unreserved optimism. Research has shown that 75% of offenders referred to or treated by alcohol and drug services re-offend and there is no evidence that substance misuse treatments reduces re-offending, although the control group available to explore this relationship was not strong. Research has concluded that reconviction may in itself be too blunt an indicator of offending behaviour to detect improvements such as declining drug use or re-engagement with education, training or employment (Hammersley et al, 2004). This research is confirmed by our findings that this client group most value relevant advice, confidentiality and the opportunity to talk to someone who really listens to them. These tend to produce the greatest changes in the behaviour and patterns of substance misuse of young people involved. .


11. The voices of young people ‘There’s nowt to do. Blyth’s full of smackheads!” we were told by a young man in Blyth whom we met during another arranged visit, this time to the youth project, The Point. His comments were accompanied by laughs of approval all around and his intervention set a tone for the discussion that the young people felt comfortable with. When the world is a joke, a ‘laugh’ and nothing is to be taken seriously, then everyone’s defences are secure. The reality of their lives can be held at bay and be free from any inspection that would call their behaviour into question or force them to think about themselves. Their perceptions are, however, evidently shared by most young people in the area (Blyth Valley Local Strategic Partnership, 2004). In the conversation that followed, with each adding his bit or commenting on what others had said, a picture began to emerge. They experience Blyth as a place that is boring. They believe there is nothing to do and that leads them to get into trouble. They perceive a labour market that offers them no jobs and they feel they have no money. Their existence as described in this way appears quite purposeless and despite their professed problems with authority, the lack of regulation and support in their lives is clearly not a comfortable experience. They expressed no strong sense of control over what may happen to them in the future - or even in many ways in the present – and there was a fatalism about them, which suggested that they felt they had been marked and judged and that was an end to the matter. Characteristically, they tended to describe their world in terms of problems, not possibilities. In a discussion of who helped them and what worked it became clear that the question was to them almost unanswerable – the list was too long and so little had worked. In schools teachers shouted at people. The police – ‘the bizzies’ – harassed and persecuted them. Youth clubs barred them – at Silks, for example, “they smell yer breath” for drink. But here there was also a thoughtful awareness of their own situation, which illustrated that these were not unintelligent young people. Training placements has been “a laugh” or “boring” with expectations about starting times and about what kind of work had to be done that were just unreasonable. One young man explained the difficulties he had in getting out of bed. Another showed real resentment about the likelihood that work might take up some of his time after 5.0 p.m. After 5.0pm was his time. They are aware of some forms of help available to them. They mentioned Connexions as a service that would put them in touch with schemes and allowances. They disliked social workers “because they want to knaa aal aboot yi” and then “they grass yi up”. They cannot understand teachers because “teachers just shout at yi”. The ‘bizzies’ are a


constant threat. A theme running through it all was mistrust and avoidance of officialdom. These are the perceptions of an enclosed mental universe, a world with very high boundary walls whose frustrations, hopelessness and chaos are eased with drink. Some evidence suggests that around 200 young people in the area may have serious accommodation needs and that 10% of all young people between the ages of 16 and 24 in this area alone are not engaged in caring for children or a home, work, training or education of any kind. Most young people are happy with the area in which they live, although there seems to be a strong feeling that drugs and drug dealing drag down the area and the way others perceive it. Older young people feel that they are consulted less, that local services are unhelpful to them and trust seems to be hard to gain – most young people feel that those in authority of any kind are quick to make promises but that these are not carried out and acted upon (ibid.). Jackie Telford of the Economic Development Unit in County Hall noted that she was now working with young people whose parents had been on her schemes 20 years ago. She detects a cultural problem in the area, especially in ‘the needy areas’. There is a wider culture among the families in these areas that has taken its particular shape through generations of unemployment or insecure jobs and redundancies. A bleak view of the future emerges and is passed on to the children. Even though unemployment has decreased, they do not see opportunities available to them – or they choose not to see them. This is true for both men and women and Jackie worries that women seem to accept their lot at a much younger age. Their reference groups are limited. Too many have found a way of life they find acceptable and do not see any need to change to improve their chances of better jobs or training. More worryingly, for 11-15 year olds in some areas (e.g. the Blyth Valley) quite a lot of their leisure time (around 20%) appears to revolve around going out drinking or to the pub – an activity that seems to have replaced meeting friends on the streets or playing sports and one which many young people think adults make far too much fuss about. Almost a quarter of 11-15 year olds are regular drinkers – for 16-24 year olds this figure rises to almost 60%. Over 10% of these groups indulge in ‘binge’ drinking (ibid.).


12. Lifestyles on the street In this and the next section we describe the world on the streets for young people. The description they gave us is one that demands that professional understanding needs constantly to be renewed.

A key task in all of this is to match up what young people say with how they behave. It is to see how their self perception and understanding translates into behaviour, into their lifestyles. We spoke with colleagues in Tynedale, in Hexham, working in the Links project. Links works with young people who are at the edges of the society. Jacqui noted that there is ‘a huge problem with alcohol and drugs’ which she attributes in part to an overwhelming sense among some young people of being bored with their lives. They ‘drink themselves to oblivion but won’t recognise a problem’. Jacqui believes this problem is compounded by a failure among many people in Hexham to recognise that it exists. Young people do take ecstasy and alcohol and heroin is available in the town but this is ‘not seen so it doesn’t exist’. Girls, Jacqui believes, as are bad as the boys. There is a teenage pregnancy problem in the town and a culture among the vulnerable groups that seeks out thrills and excitement. This takes the form of riding motor bikes across fields, watching videos, playing with play stations and, of course, drinking with their mates on the Tyne Green. It is clear that these young people are looking for some escape from street life. They acknowledge it leads trouble. They do understand they have drink problems to overcome and told us that sometimes they say to themselves “Let’s not drink today”. But they usually fail. This was told with some regret but there were younger ones there for whom drink – at least when they talk about in the company of their peers - is still an unproblematic pleasure. When asked why it was that they thought they failed in such attempts the answer was that they felt driven back to drink by the pressure of boredom in their lives. We formed a strong impression that for the girls, interesting life began outside the home, away from school and in the context of the youth music and party scene. ‘We go to parties’ one girl in Blyth, who was part of a group discussion arranged for us by staff at The Point, explained. But there was quick acknowledgement that this was not a trouble free activity. It was possible to go to clubs in Whitley Bay that provide discos for the under 18s in the early part of the evening. Some of them are ‘foam parties’. In general, Whitley Bay is too far away from Blyth and in any case, it is for the girls a somewhat dangerous place. By the time they have to come home there are already many groups of


drunks who can harass them and in general ‘give you the creeps’. They do not feel safe in that environment. The world beyond home and school and away from the safe environments such as The Point or the activities of their own immediate friendship group, appeared in their descriptions of it as a dangerous place. Street life in Blyth is something to be very watchful about. One member of the group explained how a young relative was receiving tests for HIV (’AIDS tests’) because she had cut herself playing on a used hypodermic needle that had been used by drug users. Another explained the care needed to avoid fights and aggro. The ‘Charvers’ hate the ‘Goths’ and when they meet there’s trouble. Both boys and girls have easy access to drugs and alcohol. To be safe, the girls have to be aware of the dangers of the street. One girl explained that a relative of hers aged 17yrs had died of a heroin overdose. Another girl (14yrs) explained that she had been to a party where her drink, her glass of wine, had been spiked. Above all, the girls have to be careful to avoid others who are out of their minds with drugs. They can recognise them instantly. They know them and as one explained ‘they’re quite scary, not on this planet’. This knowledge is not just second hand; some members of the group had themselves been drug users and have first hand experience of what it is like to be ‘not on this planet’. One member hinted at a period in her life as a drug user when she had become involved in a relationship with an older boy who had been violent. She escaped the horror of it all through the help, she believed, of another member of the group. They discussed such dangers in a matter-of-fact way and then went on to explain to us the inadequacy of the support open to them to change and their anger that Blyth is the town that it is. It became very clear that the girls shared an insightful interpretation and understanding of their world. They discussed the youth service, the police, education and work. The talked about what they saw around them and highlighted for us that the street scene in Blyth is a rapidly changing one. The oldest of the group was 16 and commented that the next generation below them were beginning their drug and alcohol and smoking careers at a much younger age than they had done. Why? How does this happen? we asked. Because, they explained, they are copying older children. They want to be like the older ones they see; they model themselves on the older ones. There is evidence that similar trends may be surfacing with regard to other substance misuse. Whilst the use of Class A drugs in the recent years among 16- to 24-year-olds has not changed significantly since 1994, the use of amphetamines, LSD, magic mushrooms, methadone and glue has decreased significantly since 1998. However, cocaine and ecstasy use increased significantly and cannabis has the youngest mean age of first use at 15½ years and cocaine had the oldest at just over 18 years. Ease of access to drugs is closely tied to patterns of use. Of all 16- to 24-year-olds, cannabis was reported to be the


easiest of drugs to obtain followed by ecstasy, amphetamines then cocaine (Aust, R., Sharp, C. and Goulden, C., 2002). The girls we spoke to were quite censorious of these inappropriate role models. They see them at school, wasting teachers’ time, disrupting classes and showing off. They see them on the streets and feel unsafe among them. One member explained that she did not think such young people should be allowed into school. They only go there ‘for fun’ but ‘it’s not supposed to be a fun place!’ She was clear it was a place for work and could not understand why schools bother at all with the time wasters. This disapproval of the street scene and the behaviour associated with it was strong and well informed. It extended to the behaviour of some adults who are prepared to buy alcohol and cigarettes in shops for under-age drinkers. It extended to those who deal in drugs. They know the dealers in Blyth but as one cautioned the group – not for our benefit, but their own, as if to remind them of the safety rules – ‘but don’t tell anyone who they are!’



Life Chances

In this and the next five sections we report further aspects of the needs, interests and lifestyles of young people in different parts of Northumberland. The analysis flows from the observations both of young people and professionals. It highlights the practical need to coordinate policies in ways that achieve both cultural change and socio-economic regeneration. Parent education has a crucial role to play in this.

The opportunities that young people have to become successful citizens of their society have a social shape to them and are influenced in complex ways by the patterns of culture, employment, education and family support that prevail in different localities. We explored the options and opportunities available to young people throughout Northumberland. Our focus, of course, was on those at risk of substance misuse and offending. Hexham Youth Initiative colleagues were extremely helpful. Karren Spowart explained that of the 70 regular, daily users of the centre the ‘most at risk’ group is small. Nevertheless, drugs are widespread and accessible in Hexham. There is a special problem, Karren feels, with alcohol, especially among girls. There is kudos attached to bragging about ‘how mortal’ they have been at weekends. In Karrens’ view, this is a form of escape and of showing off, a vehicle for self- expression that enables to blame the consequences on drink and not on their own approach to their own lives. The problems associated with drink – especially of groups of young people drinking illegally in public areas like the Sele Park – is that they are compounded by the way in which Hexham streets are policed and its leisure services are managed. Firstly, there is not a great deal for young people to do. There is one cinema, cadets and boy scouts, some church groups, a play park (‘That’s where they get drunk on weekends’) and not much else outside of the pubs. Pubs in Hexham run a strict pub watch scheme so that young people, especially those thought to be difficult, are excluded from them. Time and cost limit people in their access to the leisure facilities of Newcastle and the Metro centre (‘where they doss around’). The police have a low tolerance of ‘bad behaviour’. The outcome is that the ‘Haves’ in Hexham are able to protect the place in ways that exclude many of the ‘Have-nots’. It is vital to them that the respectable ambience of the place is not threatened. Because it is a small town, those young people with a bad reputation are well known and visible. Their families are well known to local services so that young people can feel, as


Jacqui, from the Links project, put it, ‘tattooed with their names’ i.e. stigmatised. The only option for some of them is to leave the area.


14. Family Life and Parents Karren drew a picture of the town as a place with pockets of high unemployment (especially in the east end) that have complex drug and alcohol-related problems. Her perception is of some families and communities where ‘children bring up themselves’, where family life is insecure and where life is hard. Homelessness among young people is as Karren explained, ‘ a shocking problem’ in Tynedale. It is a consequence of family break-ups and disagreements. From home visits and support work she has formed an impression of the family life of some young people as stressful and difficult. She has noticed ‘the way they are spoken to at home – shouted at. They hear everything. They hear themselves described as useless’. Karren’s view was that some young people were in fact ‘being robbed of a childhood’. Many are caught in a poverty trap. Their outlook is bleak. They are angry. There is not much hope in their lives. They avoid officialdom. In many ways they actively exclude themselves from help and support. For this reason a key theme of the project is to help them to integrate back into civil society. Through her work with the young people Jacqui, from Links, has come to some worrying conclusions about the kinds of problems some face in their family life. The young people at risk are given no time, no attention. They can often feel very isolated within their families. Some have no families. For many, Jacqui explained, ‘home is grief’. For those she works with on the Links E2E programme ‘the family does not exist; it is just not there’. In addition, we know that in homes in which parents or carers have problems with the misuse of substances there are also multiple and cumulative effects upon their children, including early substance misuse and offending behaviour of their own (Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs, 2003). The effects on children of problem drug users and offenders have, unfortunately, largely escaped the attention of researchers. Dorothy Robertson of Parenting Initiatives, (PI) a parent education service in Blyth, emphasised that parents often lack confidence. Three generations of unemployment in some families corrodes self-belief. To counteract the cultural force of such circumstances, PI colleagues try always ( with real success) to insist that parents do have skills and that they need not feel, as they often do – and this is sometimes encouraged by the professionals who work with them – that they are inadequate parents. Parents often say they are treated as tokens and that they feel devalued by people from the services that are meant to help them. PI seeks to provide a ‘safe environment’ in which parents can discuss parenting and in which to think in a more in-depth way about child rearing. In this environment with other parents, they can share ideas and problems, support one another and build up their confidence to deal with family problems in different ways. They can, for instance, begin to question traditional gender roles. It can, of course, be a risky business to do so. Chris


Metcalfe, a staff member of PI, believes that women sometimes leave their partners because the partner cannot adapt to the changed roles within the family. The challenge in parenting education, in Chris’s view, is to help parents come to value themselves more, firstly as people and then as parents. In practice the task becomes one of helping people to understand the boundaries of their roles, to improve their skills in negotiating the complexities of family relationships e.g. learning to listen more effectively and then helping them take responsibility for making changes.


Mary’s story By the age of 13 Mary had fallen out with her mother, who had alcohol problems, to the extent that she was almost out of control. She was staying out all night on a regular basis (ostensibly visiting friends) and was ‘in with a bad crowd’ of older young people. Looking back on it now, she sees that her relative immaturity and lack of experience allowed her to be drawn into a life of substance misuse (alcohol) that she now finds shocking. She spent most days drunk and often found herself waking up in unfamiliar places with no memory of where she had been or what had been happening to her. In her drunken states she would also often engage in ‘stupid’ activities and at these times her mother would regularly call the police to have her arrested. When she and her mother parted she had no home to go to. Returning to her mother was not a viable option. By this time she had working with her: Social services; Sorted!; Community support Team; InToWin; and a counsellor. Her view of this is that it is too much – too many different people involved. Mary’s opinion of social services and the support they provided her with is scathing – “completely useless”. They initially refused to engage with her. When they finally did, they suggested that she should go and live with a 22 year old young man of her acquaintance, even though he had severe alcohol problems of his own and she would be living alone with him. She had no personal contact or support, even from the allocated support worker. There was no continuity of contact. Staff were frequently unavailable - ‘on leave’ - or were changed so often that she always ended up speaking to someone different. She feels that social services made her problems worse. The staff from the Community Support team of social services were good, however, and met with her and her mum to do some team building work – this was painful at first but helped. Although she had heard about Sorted! by this time, she was not able to make use of their services until she was 16 and therefore had to wait two months. Sorted! were “brilliant”. She saw them twice a week and felt as though she “had a friend to talk to”. She could “just ring up” if she wanted to talk about anything and staff always rang back or came to see her. She was helped with advice about things which concerned her – for example about the weight she had put on as a result of her drinking. Staff helped her to be safe in her everyday life and gave her advice about drugs, etc. without being judgemental about her lifestyle. They listened. They also worked with her mum and helped her to see that her daughter was not a bad girl – they tried to get her mum to understand … and were successful to a large extent. Key things about the work of Sorted! that she felt made the difference were: • • • • • • •

1-to-1 input, unlike social services, where “you get chucked all over the place” listening to her and taking what she said seriously working with her agenda, not theirs treating her with respect – like a real person being a friend being non-judgemental wanting to really help

We spoke about what could be done to prevent other young women having to go through similar experiences to hers. She felt that the problems begin when people are very young. By around 11 or 12 young people – especially girls – are maturing and trying to find their way in the world … trying to sort out who they are and how they should be. Young girls around this age often attracted by the company of young people who are older than them – ‘boys of the same age are too immature’. They therefore can easily get in with people whose behaviour is more adult and who are experimenting with alcohol, other drugs and rebellious behaviour. Mary feels that the work schools do is often misdirected and does not work – it’s often ‘statistics’ about your chances of getting pregnant, or of getting cancer or liver damage. This approach is too remote. The TV advertisements featuring real people, especially when they are identified as parents of a younger person, are effective – she recalls vividly the one about a dad who spoke about wanting to be around for his children but who (the advert says) died shortly afterwards. It’s not too young to be starting this kind of work with ten year olds – this is often the age when things start to go wrong. Mary now has her own house and is studying for nursery nursing at college. She sees her future as positive and her prospects as good.


There was an opportunity to discuss these matters with a group of parents who met at the Healthy Living Centre on the Hirst Estate as members of a PI support group. Parents are clearly very worried about the dangers their children can sometimes face. There was agreement that it was best to try and keep young people in the house, especially at night. In that way they avoid danger and keep out of trouble. Too many youngsters have too much freedom. There is not much for them to do and drugs and alcohol are easy to get. Parents noted that the areas in which they now lived were not as safe as they once were. One noted that she knew of a paedophile housed nearby. There were obvious fears here for girls but parents pointed out that, as one put it, ‘its just as bad for the lads’. To reinforce the point being made one parent noted that her daughter walked home from school over a route where in the recent past there had been a child molesting, a stabbing and a road accident. Children seem immune to worries about such things. The parent explained: ‘You make them aware but they say, “It won’t happen to me!”’ One parent highlighted this point and said: ‘I don’t like mine out after dark. I’m on their mobiles telling them to come home.’ We ended with an all too brief discussion of what changes were need to improve the support they had as parents. Four key points emerged very quickly. The first was that parents should be allowed to have the responsibility of being parents. The second was that much more was needed for young people to help them overcome the problem of boredom – a conclusions supported by findings nationally, where local authorities were criticised for not providing sufficient diversionary activities for young people to help them build their confidence and combat anti-social behaviour. Most adults feel that sport is a good way of keeping young people out of trouble and many believe that more young people would get into education, employment and training if courses were linked to professional sports clubs (Prince’s Trust, 2004). Thirdly, parents needed more support and less blame. Finally, there had to be a way to let children be children. There was too much danger, too much pressure and few opportunities to be contentedly free.


15. Differentiation The social differences of the wider society enter into the worlds of young people where there are further complex differentiations. Young people at the Hexham Youth Initiative project identify three principal groupings among them. Most of the young people attending the project call themselves ‘charvers’, they wear ‘tracky bottoms’ and caps and hang around in big gangs (most people feel intimidated by this group). There are also the ‘skater-boys’, sometimes referred to as ‘the new hippies’ whose world centres on skating. They are a group that includes both working class and middle class youngsters. Fewer young people at the project are referred to as the ‘rich kids’ who are those who come from middle to upper class families, do well at school and are heading for university. The project aims to help them all integrate and understand each other. One important element of this concerns the special circumstances of young people in rural areas. It came up as a theme in a wider discussion about how young people are consulted about their needs and their hopes for the future. Julia Lyford of the Northumberland Community Development Network, feels that there is an ostensible commitment to the need to consult widely. Work carried out by community development workers in the Glendale/Wooler area highlighted the need to consult young people in different ways. Julia feels that the current mechanism that enable the planners and developers within the county to think about young people generate mainly stereotypical versions of their needs and interests. There is a huge emphasis on the needs of young people at risk and a lack of recognition of the complexities faced by particular groups of young people for

Mandy’s story Mandy first started attending Hexham Youth Initiative’s junior sessions when she was 11 years old. She came along to the group with her father who was unemployed and divorced from her mother and did not really know how to handle her. For the first year or so, Mandy was a very shy and unhappy girl - other than coming to the junior group, she would sit alone in her bedroom as she found it difficult mixing with others. As time went on and with a lot of encouragement, she started attending various residential visits and other sessions that the project offered. She began to feel more secure and confident at the groups and with the youth workers, and found that Hexham Youth Initiative was a place where she could express herself and had people to talk to. She could not speak to her parents about her personal problems. Besides attending the weekly group sessions, Mandy also began to get 1-to-1 support because she had started cutting herself. Her youth worker also encouraged her to speak to the school counsellor but she only went along to a couple of sessions because she did not feel comfortable with the experience. She continued getting 1-to-1 support, where she talked about feeling inadequate and a failure. She would talk about her fears, however big or small. One of these was reading out loud in class. Together she and her support worker would discuss how to overcome these fears, in this case by practicing reading out loud to herself for half an hour each week. Janet’s confidence began to grow as she learned that instead of worrying about things she could talk about them and take steps to deal with them. She has now stopped cutting herself; she is excelling at school and has a keen interest in participating on youth councils and committees. Her communication skills have improved enormously and she now finds it easy to mix with different types of people; most importantly she seems to be able to accept her world and is happy with it.


example, young people with learning disabilities. Schools deal with special educational needs in isolation from other domains of the experience of young people in the family and community and in the economy. This can result in some problems being unacknowledged. Julia noted, for example, that the idea of the extended school that is becoming important in County Council educational planning, is one that is unlikely to work in the rural parts of the county. Young people can travel within a radius of no more than five miles from schools on account of poor public transport. Based on research carried out by Julia in villages near Alnwick, it is clear that most of the journeys that young people make are in their parents’ cars and on their parents’ terms. Young people in the rural area feel themselves to be very much under the de facto control of their parents. This is not always a safe environment. Quite apart from the fact that some families face complex problems, there are features of the social life of villages that can be experienced by young people as threatening. If young people fall foul of or out of the groups of young people in the village they can feel very isolated and unsafe. The lack of infrastructure for young people in rural villages – the lack of social capital in communities whose life styles are set by a more conservative generation – is something that can only be tackled by appropriately resources community development initiatives.


16. Learning Young people have all learned to behave in the ways that they do. They learn from their parents, siblings, and peers and from their schools. They absorb the culture of their communities. The street is a potent educator. They learn both how to be successful and how to become disaffected. Either choice is embedded in a wider view of self and society that has to be understood.

Mrs Woodman, Assistant Head teacher at Hirst High School, Ashington. noted that the problems of disaffection for some pupils begin quite early in their school lives. There are children excluded from Middle Schools who find themselves ‘sucked in to community problems’ through their contact with young people who are themselves not in school or training but just hang around the place, never far from trouble. The vulnerable young people typically have not done well at school. There are special problems in Hexham and in Tynedale in providing adequate post-16 support for them. Young people regard Northumberland College (in Ashington) as too far away and Newcastle College is a long way away, too. Rural youngsters often feel threatened by what they see as the urban sophistication and street-wise attitudes of young people in Newcastle. ‘Newcastle’ Jacqui, from Links, explained was to many of them ‘a big scary place’. Newcastle College now has a Hexham campus providing courses in Art and IT and opportunities to enrol on courses in catering and care work. The Community Education Service provides courses but many e.g. courses on winemaking or on stained glass windows, will not meet the needs of these young people. They would like courses in the fields of car mechanics and on how to be a Disc Jockey. New opportunities are emerging through the Tyne Valley College that is linked into schools and offers courses at a distance through computers. There are virtual workshops and virtual kitchens accessible at centres in Haydon Bridge and Prudhoe but young people will not travel to these. Such provision in schools is not too helpful to the Links client group. School for many of them is remembered as an experience of failure. Jacqui was clear that many of the clients of Links are emotionally damaged young people. They were called ‘thick’ at school and found themselves in classes where no one wanted to learn. Many have undertaken no formal learning since they left school. We began by discussing the relationship between disaffection with school, social exclusion and drugs. Ron Taylor, Assistant Head Teacher at Blyth Community College, noted a high correlation among these factors. At the heart of this correlation was the selfawareness and emotional intelligence of young people. Young people who are unable to monitor themselves, manage relationships and relate well to the adults who want to help them are the ones most at risk of being mislead into disaffection from school and substance misuse. Ron was clear that these risk factors have deep roots in family life and


in the cultural attitudes within communities. It is for this reason that after the age of 13yrs, schools find it difficult to deal with disaffection. There is much in the society that reinforces it and since ‘schools are small fish in a big pond’ it is hard for education services to strike at the roots of disaffection. However, research does indicate that many schools could do more, especially regarding working more closely with agencies such as Connexions and in fostering a growing interest within them in vocational educational routes – awareness of work based educational routes tends to be low in most schools (Foskett, et. al., 2004). It is hard not see young people at risk as victims. They are targeted by pharmaceutical, clothing and drinks industries to cultivate their interests in and need for cosmetics, fashionable clothes and passive leisure experiences. The dealers in drugs target them, too. They live in a celebrity-saturated world that they actually feel bored with. What they told us revealed very clearly once again the importance of bringing about change in the kinds of communities in which these young people live. Employment policies and programmes, education and training programmes, community regeneration initiatives all need to come together to change the circumstances and opportunities and hopes in the lives of young people. There is an underlying cultural challenge, too. The background assumptions of the culture from which these young people come are no longer robust enough to help them cope with the world in which they are growing up.


17. Aspirations In our discussion with groups of young people in Blyth a different question was put: what should be done? If they could have their say, what would they say was needed to help them and people like them in Blyth ? The first thing they needed was more money. They were agreed on that and joked this would let them get more drink. They wanted more places to go to. They wanted the ‘bizzies’ to stop harassing them. They would like to go to raves and to have the chance to be disc jockeys. They wanted “theme parks”, more youth clubs, something to do over the summer holidays. They wanted jobs. What kind of jobs, we asked? The answer was clear: not boring jobs. Not jobs that expected you to work after 5 p.m. What kinds of jobs would fit the bill? Jobs in construction or mechanics. Either because it is not ‘cool’ to talk about work or because they have no realistic opportunities for jobs, members of the group were clearly reluctant to spend much time on this topic. It is difficult to escape the impression that their hopes and aspirations are completely unrealistic, pleasure-centred and devoid of any realism in respect of jobs and job opportunities. This is, of course, to some extent a feature of young people’s thinking generally (Blyth Valley Local Strategic Partnership, 2004) but for this group in particular it consumed pretty much all of their thinking on the topic. As we shall see, however, none of this is written in stone. Young people change quickly. With the right kind of help they can alter the trajectories of their lives. We have seen many examples of this and that has enabled us to formulate a model of good practice that can inform work with young people and which should be at the heart of all public policies directed towards helping them.


18. Current practice - Philosophy of approach In this and the next section we set out the model of good practice that emerges from the work of Northumberland professionals. The practical point to emerge is that these principles have to be acknowledged and built into programmes of training and development if the good work on which they are based is to be secured for the future. Colleagues need help to see the overall context for their work.

The arrangements in Northumberland to deal with youngsters at risk are complex, a web of partnerships and initiatives that are difficult to map comprehensively. Within this framework, statutory bodies work closely with the voluntary sector. It is a framework of provision fuelled by different John’s story streams of funding and with members of staff who live with We have known John since he was about 9 years old, when he the uncertainty of short-term started to attend our junior youth club. He has continued attending our various weekly sessions to this day. He has always been very contracts. It is experienced by its boisterous, lively and mischievous. During his last year of middle professionals as a framework of school, he was expelled as a result of his behaviour and spent targets and performance criteria many of his days at Hexham Youth Initiative where he did some school work, chatted with youth workers and did various activities that are not always relevant or, – model making, etc – until the end of the school term. indeed, achievable. Thinks were looking up for John when he started high school. He managed well for the first year and coped well with his own behaviour and his school work. At the beginning of his second year he started to get bullied – he was being humiliated in front of his friends and having money taken from him with the threat of physical violence. John stopped attending school and the youth sessions he enjoyed so much and would not leave his house. The staff at Hexham Youth Initiative were very concerned and sent a youth worker to visit him and his mother, who was told exactly what had been happening. The youth worker convinced John to meet her twice a week – during these meetings they went round Hexham, to the Metrocentre, etc. and he was encouraged to see old friends who he had lost touch with (many of them had been afraid to speak to him in case they started getting bullied too). The staff at the project also supported John’s mother and helped her with her appeal to get him in to a different school. She was so happy with the support from Hexham Youth Initiative (and so disillusioned by the lack of support from everyone else) that she wrote a letter to Northumberland County Council. John is now in his GCSE year at his new school, is no longer frightened of leaving his home and attends youth sessions regularly.


Nevertheless, the professionals involved have developed a sophisticated understanding of what works with these challenging young people. The two conferences that were part of this research enabled colleagues to articulate the principles of their practice. Follow-up interviews enabled us to explore these further. What emerges is a sophisticated behavioural model that has at its centre the need to value and respect young people. This is the starting point, the sine qua non of successful work with young people.

To outsiders it is clear that these professionals have a sound understanding of their work and the needs of their clients. They experience both as challenging and the work is fulfilling. It can also be noted, however, that the emphasis of their work is on the delivery of services. If their work does challenge the circumstances in the lives of young people that give rise to the behaviour that disadvantages them, it is as a by-product of what they do rather than their main aim. A key statement that captures the essence of their understanding that we constructed as a composite from many discrete statements is as follows: “Young people should be at the centre, not targets. There should be less paranoia about measurement. Policies need to be open-ended. Inter-agency working needs improvement. There should be more information sharing and resources. This will avoid professional jealousy and competition.’ A strong and widely shared view was that the existing support frameworks in the county did not promote good inter-professional, inter-agency working. There was insufficient attention to the needs of individuals and co-ordination among services was poor. These comments concern the framework of provision and of policy evaluation. Other comments probed deeply the kinds of experiences young people should have that will be of most help to them. ‘Learning’ one colleague noted ‘has to be real’. Another added that it must ‘involve the whole community’. Another stressed, with the support of colleagues, that ‘Education needs updating. Increase and broaden learning opportunities and curriculum and ensure it is practical and meaningful and accessible.’


19. From the tacit to the explicit We were able to derive from the work of the first conference and to check at the second of them the following emerging model of good practice with young people, especially those at risk. Good practice had to be: • • • • • • • •

Voluntary and welcoming Based on trust and mutual respect Relevant to the needs of the young person Non-judgemental Confidential and with many opportunities for listening Able to tackle the problem(s) not the person Built on wide community support Based on a framework of staff development and support

This analysis is quite close to that found by the Youth Justice Board’s own research into what made projects especially effective (Hammersley, et al, 2004). They found that projects need to continually develop and rethink their provision. Weaker projects were those that were designed too quickly and tended to lack features such as individual counselling, drugs education, liaison with other services and staff training. Clear protocols and guidelines for staff are also essential, especially if working in multidisciplinary teams. Much work in Northumberland could be well summarised by this list, including the work of Connexions, Sorted!, The Point, Escape and the Youth Offending Team, to name only a few). Key features of good projects identified in the Youth Justice Board’s research were as follows. Notes in parenthesis refer to the situation in Northumberland as referred to in this report and to the above conference summary: • • • • • • • • •

Competent steering groups able to engage all involved (issues of leadership) Allowing enough time to recruit experienced staff (some problems here) Clear line management (problematic in partnerships) Sufficient numbers of staff to manage diverse work Accommodation that feels confidential and comfortable for young people (exemplars include The Point) Clear protocols for confidentiality, referral and information sharing between different agencies (work has begun on this, but much remains to be tackled) Inter-agency working practices are adequate (this could be achieved through promoting communities of practice) Data that can be used to monitor progress is collected (Northumberland has good capacity here) Difficulties are recognised and changes implemented (there is a golden ‘window of opportunity’ for this in Northumberland)


• • • • •

Allowing verbal referrals, providing they are followed up with written information Basing project work at places convenient for young people (there is a good base to work from) Drivers picking up young people in rural areas and bringing them to the project Working with parents/carers of young substance misusers, allowing for the difficulties surrounding disclosure Providing drugs awareness training for professional groups (already in place through Sorted!)

Colleagues discussed their articulation of this model and cautioned that while the individual and combined elements of such models were important, there was much to prevent their application in practice. Some relevant issues were cultural. Young people were too often seen as a threat and there was low level of tolerance of them and aspects of their behaviour. It is difficult to change such attitudes but unless they can be changed, it will be difficult to develop these principles of good practice. They noted that these principles were difficult to enact in some settings, such as schools and colleges. Such settings often provide the peer group of disengaged young people with opportunities to reinforce negative behaviour. It is difficult for schools to neutralise the effect of peer pressures but it is essential that this should happen. Some initiatives have found ways around the problems and already embody key elements of these principles, of course, such as those supported by Sorted! Or the Youth Offending Team, for example (Coalition Against Crime, 2003). On a more positive note, it was pointed out that when parents and employers are engaged in work with young people, adult influences do come into pay. Even in schools, it was noted, practices like vertical tutor groups (where younger pupils are supported by older ones) help to engage youngsters with the values of the adult world. Colleagues emphasised that these principles of good practice can only apply when the front line staff feel themselves supported and acknowledged e.g. through appropriate rewards and professional development. Several noted that they were sometimes managed in ways that left them feeling de-professionalised. They need adequate, secure funding, support from colleagues and from families and communities and there has to be realisable progression goals for the young people they work with. Particularly important are Modern Apprenticeships, work experience opportunities and jobs. Too many young people who find solace in drugs or drink lack the key ingredient in their lives that would help them change: hope. This has to be nurtured, not only through education and training, but in society through appropriate health care –especially in the field of mental and sexual health, through supported accommodation and good leisure opportunities. The underlying issue, colleagues felt, was the way in which young people


were treated. They were often treated as problem clients. They should be valued as citizens with rights and with a voice to express their needs. This was seen as a matter for employers, too. ‘Real jobs’ were needed. Employers and training provides needed help themselves to understand better the complex needs of the young people. Colleagues told of employers who for very good reasons of their own were unwilling to work with young people who were at risk of offending – an issue highlighted also in our employer survey and interviews. Yet it was just this kind of experience that might lead them away from offending behaviour. The elements of this model of good practice were explored in follow-up interviews in which the experience of particular people, projects and places was considered. Keynotes to strike in the further consideration of the models include: i)


Relationships were at the centre of it: relationships between agencies, professionals and young people. The networks of these relationships presupposed activities that build trust, openness and honesty and clarified boundaries of responsibility. Communication was essential. So, too, was supportive supervision. The experience of personal development and of an enriched life experience had to be at the heart of it all. Young people valued real choices. They demand choices. They must experience a real sense of achievement to compensate for years of failure and to overcome fear. ii)

Community development

These are all necessary conditions for successful work in the experience of this group of practitioners. But they are not sufficient. Without social and cultural change that improves the living conditions and life chances of key groups in the disadvantaged communities of Northumberland, offending behaviour will still emerge as the most effective way for young people to acquire what everyone wants: respect among peers, a positive identity and a lot of fun that masks their fears and doubts. iii)


One of the most powerful impressions we had concerned the ability of young people themselves to take control of their own futures and to become mentors for one another. The girls in Blyth told us that they had helped each other stay clear of problems. They


could speak bluntly to one another. They cared about one another. It is a good platform on which to build. This level of caring for one another and of self-awareness was not revealed at all in the discussion we had with the boys. They seemed more concerned to outdo one another in bravado, flippancy and testing behaviour. A common theme in our discussions with professionals was the need to neutralise the sometimes-destructive influence of peer groups and to encourage young people to see themselves as part of a wider community in which they had responsibilities and obligations. It is particularly crucial not to stigmatise young people or they will reject the service being offered. This theme stood out strongly in discussions with colleagues at Berwick Youth Project (BYP). iv)

Engagement in civil society and avoiding stigma

A key element of their approach is to keep BYP positioned as part of a wider community. This guarantees support and acceptance. The Beehive Café is a valuable to the whole community and is intended to be a place where different generations in Berwick can meet one another and understand each other. It is hoped that older people will be less fearful of the young and be more sympathetic to the problems they cope with. For this reason as well, BYP resists focusing its services just on the damaged young people. They seek to be accessible to everyone. Were they to focus solely on those with drug problems or with sexuality the danger of being stigmatised would increase. A second key element is about accessibility. BYP seeks to be open; it is a reference point for young people, a place where young people can make contact without other demands being made of them. For those without family support, the project seeks to be an extended family. Once such relationships are established, young people can receive help and information. ‘We give them more than they actually looking for’, explained John Bell, the project manager. One result of this approach is that the services of the project do not need to be advertised. Young people in the town know about the project. It is a safe place for them to visit and in which to be seen. v)

Work on the margins

Further developments of the model became clearer as we consulted more widely. Successful work with homeless young people who are at risk of misusing substances and crime that we discussed with colleagues in Hexham in the Links project, has to have the following qualities: •

Permanency. Young people have to believe the support is there for them and that they will not be abandoned;


• • • • vi)

Responsiveness. Such work must be based on good listening and on staff who respond to them as people i.e. ‘people who are living in the same world’. ‘We are real to them’. A supportive environment for staff. Good youth work practice supported by appropriate training is essential; ‘We test staff. We create case studies for training’; Community awareness. Projects must be sensitive to the needs of the rest of the community so that the project does not become isolated and stigmatised; Fun. ‘We see kids that are desperate just to play’. Needs-related provision

Conversations in the Hexham Youth Initiative (HYI) project highlighted the importance of tying provision into the needs of young people. Colleagues in this project accept and know that attendance has to be voluntary (in contrast to school) and young people had to feel welcomed. It had to be based on mutual respect. It was important to ‘speak nicely to young people’ listen to them and to take time with them. Rules must be negotiated rather than imposed. Instruction and information giving has to be at a level they both need and understand and to be relevant to young people. Work with such youngsters has to be flexible and to value and acknowledge development and change. Above all, the ‘offer’ had to be appropriate to their needs. ‘We ask them what they want. We go and get funding for what they tell us they need. Trust was crucial. ‘They are not scared to be open. That’s because we don’t lecture them’; the result is that young people feel comfortable dealing with the most personal of matters such as sexual health and contraception – an approach that has also been found to be very successful at places such as The Point. Interestingly, the most effective work in the field also seems to be associated with an openness of approach with regard to function. As in the best art, form seems to follow function; as organisations work with young people, learn more about what is effective and refine their approaches, so they adjust their methodology. This is a key feature of ‘learning organisations’ and requires a particular kind of leadership (Senge, 1990) which we have found in many of the places we have met best practice. The Point has, for example, a model of function that is always under review, always evolving – it’s present incarnation (Fig.5) is therefore a snapshot of work in progress, not an obstacle to organisational growth or practice development.


Fig. 5 The Point vii)

Broad criteria for judging outcomes

We talked with colleagues about how the success of their work with young people should be judged. A very strong theme emerged: the importance of recognising that success is not always about ‘hard outcomes’. The fact that some of these young people remain engaged with the project and understand the importance of such things as not swearing or of keeping tidy is real evidence of success. Work with such young people that does not follow these guidelines will result in their disengagement. They have to feel safe and valued. Their fragile self-respect has to be guarded. It is all that they have.



Young people’s views

We were keen to hear the views of young people about what would help them. Not the police, they said. Young people hated coppers. Social workers? No. Doctors? No. One member of the group explained she needed and wanted counselling support but the doctor could not arrange it. School? Their relationship with school was ambiguous. One commented that school does not welcome people back once they have left. Another though it boring. Youth workers? They had been useful. Detached youth workers used to come and see them in the places where they ‘hang out’ but don’t do so now. Parents? Parents want to help, ‘they are always there for you’ but they nag all the time. What, then, is missing from the agencies and the people who are meant to help them? There was no coherent answer to this question except observations that it would be better if there was more for young people to do. They would like more ‘trips and things’, more activities. Above all, they wanted their confidentiality respected. They did not believe they could talk to adults in confidence without being reported to someone else. It was better to talk to strangers about some of their problems. We discussed whether work experience placements are useful. Nearly all in the group had had some experience of work – paper rounds, factory work – and had enjoyed them. Another was about to start a work placement with a newspaper. These comments were encouraging. Members of this group were in the main quite positive about the prospect of work and of employment. One was interested in being a hairdresser, another a care worker looking after old people, another fancied health and beauty. One was very clear she wanted to work with youngsters ‘to pass on my wisdom’ about the world. This was not said with irony or to impress or to amuse. Her comments were very serious and arose from an obviously deeply-help view that something has to be done to head the younger generation away from the street careers open to them. It was based, too, on some success she felt she had had in doing this already. What must be done? we asked. One member captured the mood of the meeting at that point. Speaking specifically of young people she said, ‘Give them a goal. Help them see their lives can be better’. Help them understand it.’ And, she added darkly and insistently, ‘Change things quick!’ This particular girl was very clear that when she was older she would leave Blyth, There was no way that she would stay. The others were less bothered by the future. Two of them said they would like to live abroad. They had had holidays in Cyprus and in Benidorm but it was clear this was not seriously meant. The future was still too far away from them to think about. What they told us revealed very clearly once again the importance of bringing about change in the kinds of communities in which these young people live.


Employment policies and programmes, education and training programmes, community regeneration initiatives all need to come together to change the circumstances and opportunities and hopes in the lives of young people. There is an underlying cultural challenge, too. The background assumptions of the culture from which these young people come are no longer robust enough to help them cope with the world in which they are growing up. Finally, one of the most powerful impressions we had concerned the ability of young people themselves to take control of their own futures and to become mentors for one another. The girls told us that they had helped each other stay clear of problems. They could speak bluntly to one another. They cared about one another. It is a good platform on which to build. This level of caring for one another and of self-awareness was not revealed at all in the discussion we had with the boys. They seemed more concerned to outdo one another in bravado, flippancy and testing behaviour. We are left with three questions. Firstly, would the development of peer-mentoring programmes be a powerful instrument of development and change in communities like those of Blyth? Secondly, do the agencies of our society that provide services and support for young people like these have a coherent, street-level understanding of the challenges that they face? Finally, do the structures of governance and of partnership working that we have available to us, provide the appropriate frameworks for decision-making and action that will bring about the kinds of changes that will benefit young people like these?


Hexam’s story? What we like • • • • • • • •

Hexham Youth Initiative – there’s a café and a pool table. We can have a laugh with our friends. Aldi – for cheap shopping. The pubs – we can meet friends there. The parks. Wentworth Leisure Centre but it’s expensive. The town is pretty central – everything is in the middle. The new skateboard ramp. The Sele – (the main park in Hexham)

What we don’t like • • • • • • • • • • • • • •

Hexham The boredom of living here – there’s nothing to do. The police getting on our cases all the time. It’s noisy at night in some places when the pubs and clubs start coming out. In my village, all music has to be turned right down at 10pm. We’re miles away from anywhere. If you go to Newcastle, the last train back to Hexham is at 10.15pm. If you live outside Hexham there’s no way back and the train fare is really expensive anyway. There’s no decent shops. Transport is a nightmare. The football pitches are crap. We feel totally isolated. My village is shit. There’s one pub full of farmers. The village post office is the only shop. It shuts at dinnertime and it doesn’t even sell cigarettes. In my village it costs £5 for 16 cigarettes ‘cos you have to get them out of a vending machine. The only other option is to cycle to Consett, which is 14 to 15 miles away. If you run out and the shop’s shut then you have to go without. Where I live, I get started on just walking up the street. There’s nothing to do at night. We tried to get a Youth Club going but we weren’t allowed to have one.

What we would like • • • • • • • • • • •

McDonalds or a Pizza Hut Less hassle off the police – the cameras spy on us. When you’re walking down the street you can see them move so they’re looking right at you. An entertainment complex with pool tables and a decent cinema. Better swimming pool. Make Hexham more modern. A youth hostel. A snooker or pool hall. Employers to give us a chance. Better transport from the villages. Cheaper driving lessons. We can’t afford them but need them because the transport is so bad. Change the benefit system for under 18s. If you’re under 18 and you’re living at home then you can’t get any money. If you leave home then they give you loads of hassle before you can get any benefits.


20.Adequacy of existing frameworks of services This and the following section assess the adequacy of existing methods of service delivery, especially in relation to the provision of work-based training opportunities. It shows that provision is more related to the needs and interests of providers – and sometimes of funding arrangements - than to those of young people. The practical conclusion to emerge is that consideration should be given to the provision of more flexible, individually-tailored training opportunities alongside those of E2E. These should also be fully evaluated. More work is needed to recruit employers who are willing to develop ‘learning–rich’ placements.

We discussed this topic with a number of individuals, including many young people, and also at the second conference. A senior manager from the Connexions Service, in an individual discussion we had, noted that some existing partnership models are exemplars of good practice, such as that between Connexions staff and those working in the Looked After Service and this element of Social Services works well. Another good example is that between Connexions and the Youth Offending Team, which creates time-bounded multidisciplinary teams to work with client groups and promotes the use of specialist professionals as lead practitioners. There is no formulaic, fixed model at work – other than that each client will have access to a personal adviser – and different approaches are adopted for different purposes. Whatever approach is adopted, the demands of sustaining a viable and effective partnership should not be underestimated in terms of the requirements for data access, validation, gaining approvals (i.e. from young people), dealing with the multiple needs of multiple partners and the client group itself and so on. The compulsory element of work related learning in secondary education (Learn2Work, from September 2005) will help to further develop partnership working and may even help to eradicate the notion that seems presently to be held by some partners that Connexions are supposed to deliver everything. The main drive in Northumberland to reduce the figures for NEET (Not in Education, Employment or Training), where there is still a lot of work to do. The Connexions database on young people is growing more powerful as each year goes by and Connexions staff believe it will provide information to help each school, college and training provider set its own targets for reducing NEET, which it can then also monitor. Schools, it was pointed out to us, have some scope to adjust their curriculum and make it more relevant to young people and to develops work related learning by devices such as common day timetables (between colleges and schools, for example) as now happens in


Ashington. Provision is becoming broader for pupils in Year 9 and 10 but not all schools are following the lead of those who are being innovative in this area. It is clear to us that there are a number of conflicting pressures in the system with regards to how providers can gain access to finance. The post-16 government funding regime has changed and this, together with the large amount of ‘funny money’ in the work related learning sector, has made things difficult generally and especially in Northumberland. Post-16 level 2 and 3 achievement rates are poor in Northumberland, as are levels of engagement up to this point. The LSC therefore tends to focus its attention on increasing attainment at levels 2 and 3. In this context, we were informed, E2E provision is intended to be available for those young people who are not yet able to benefit from an NVQ level 1, 2 or 3 course, but there are some young people accessing E2E who need to be ready (after some 22 weeks) to undertake the next level of training. This leaves a significant number of young people without access to mainstream-funded training suited to their needs. Provider contracts also specify requirements for countywide access, so providers in different regions of Northumberland have to address this, even if it means skewing their business plan. For such young people, gaining qualifications is not even on their agenda. They have behaviour problems and find relationships challenging. There is a need for a much more flexible approach, with activity growing from anything that will motivate and engage the young person, that is then supported by reliable funding. We have mentioned elsewhere in this Report that there is also a need for staff working with such young people to be given greater opportunity to further develop their own skills. It is clear to us that far too little of the exemplary work that is going on in some places to move such young people towards a point where they could begin to think about starting on an activity that might prepare them for the world of work is being recognised and supported at the moment. For many such young people, courses in basic skills are not the answer. More flexibility of approach is needed from providers – at the moment the focus is too narrow. This will require training and continuous professional development for provider staff – something that has so far been lacking. Generally, training provider capacity is weak in Northumberland and is unable to provide the kind of courses and activities that young people will be attracted to. This might be helped if there were further flexibility in funding and in timescales for achievement in E2E but this would not necessarily help solve the additional problem that for many young people there is little after E2E to move on to. This potential ‘dead end’ for the current programmes is something that will need addressing with employers (and others) at the level of county policy. This is especially relevant in Northumberland where young people in E2E (as a group) tend to have greater problems than those in other areas of the country because Northumberland’s figures for the ‘unknowns’ (those for whom no data on education,


employment or training is available) are low and getting lower. The figures for NEET are therefore tending to grow, as Northumberland reaches more of those who are hardest to reach. Participation in learning is generally quite high but what is now needed is provision to match the needs of this increasingly disparate group who are particularly hard to help. There is an implicit tension of course between the priorities of eradicating the NEET group and/or the group of ‘unknowns’. In Northumberland the unknowns could come down even more substantially if a determined effort was made, probably to as low as two or three per cent. This would, however, have the consequential effect of increasing pressure on the LSC, on training providers and schools and colleges. Connexions is well placed to quality assure such a drive, because of its strong and growing evidence trail for each young person in the county. It seems to us that there are also problems with some training providers who, as has been mentioned to us by a significant number of those we have interviewed, seem to have a vested interest in ‘empire building’ or seem to feel a need to control all aspects of the work. It was pointed out to us that an example of the latter can also be found in many schools. The solution to such difficulties may be to develop a map of relevant expertise and to build teams of professionals (sometimes known as ‘superteams’ in the jargon of management) around the needs of the client, using such a map. This requires highly developed skills in inter-professional working and the development of the role of ‘lead professional’ as is being promoted in the government’s Information Sharing and Assessment (ISA) programme (previously ‘Information Referral and Tracking’). Such teams would be issue-focussed and would rely on 1-to-1 working with young people, the deployment of an ‘advocate’ role for the professional who ‘minds the case’ for the young person. Difficulties in moving more towards such an approach include the problem, for the advocate, or sourcing relevant provision (e.g. for anger management) which is not always available. The development of a Service Directory would be useful here, as is being set up under ISA by each ‘trailblazer authority’ in some places, but which is also under development locally also (such as in Durham). Northumberland could usefully pursue the development of such a resource, and could build upon such things as the New Start Directory. FACT has huge potential here, but the regional politics surrounding (and perhaps to some degree distracting) it will need sorting out first. The impact on service providers county wide could be very great and this, together with recent government legislation will have an impact on how the Connexions Service moves forward. Flexibility will be the key, not one-size-fits-all, as will be providing a quality driven service for the 13-18 year olds – otherwise many young people will not engage. When discussing how provision appears from the perspective of young people, Connexions colleagues argued that what is most needed now is to change the way in which we currently do things. We need more opportunity for experiential learning and less of the pure ‘information giving’ … less ‘telling’ and more ‘doing’.


We also need to become much quicker at getting young people to be doing something – from the perspective of the average 16 year-old there is a lot of ‘hanging around’ waiting for things to get going. We also need to cut back on the amount of assessment that we do with young people, who are at risk of being endlessly assessed! More work is needed with employers, which will not be easy because personal contact is the key and this makes high demands on staffing – some of whom are naturally good at this kind of thing, but many of whom would require further training. We also need a better idea of what is actually available out there for young people – at the moment a lot of assumptions are being made – and we need more collaborative targets, not just collaborative working, which isn’t always the same thing. From the point of view of young people, what is badly needed is somewhere where they can go for a no-strings-attached placement where they can do things that interest them. This will require plenty of 1-to1 contact and appropriate educational material. They also want places to ‘chill out’ and The Point is a good model for combining such features, providing as it does for the needs of a wide age range. Many of the harder to reach also have accommodation problems, so they need places to congregate other than in the pubs, which is where they often head for at the moment. They want adult things, not youth clubs or ‘stuff for 13 and 14 year-olds’. Young people are in general pretty able to take care of themselves whilst growing up until they hit particular stages/ages and when they reach one of these points of maturity the provision is not always geared to address this and is too generic. Finally, experience within Connexions has illustrated that we need to stop discriminating against the young and especially against 16 and 17 year olds. Young people generally – but especially those experiencing problems - are hugely discriminated against in Northumberland (and more widely in our society, but that is no excuse). This is an uncomfortable fact that many adults shy away from. For example, until young people are 18 they cannot get benefit; they struggle to get housing (a sensitive issue in Northumberland, where the problems, though acute and long established, are still not being resolved); the New Deal pays more to a provider for an 18-year old; there are fewer activities for them (e.g. pubs, etc.); when they leave school they lose all support from that network; and Social Services have no resources to help them unless they are already attached. Colleagues at the second conference also addressed these issues. We asked colleagues to share ideas about the adequacy of existing services that support young people. Further analysis of what was said identified four main clusters of issues. They concerned: • • • •

The policy environment for planning Funding Schools and youth work Inter-agency working


i) The policy environment Three themes stood out in relation to the broader context of policy and planning in which colleagues worked. The first was that of uncertainty, The second focused on the problems of the initiative culture and the final one concerned the relationship between services and needs . • It is important for colleagues to feel confident that their work is developing in a coherent framework of policy so that they can keep longer term goals in mind and feel confident that the structures they are developing will be in place to meet client needs both now and in the future. The looming General Election adds some uncertainty to all future planning. •

More immediately, the creation of the Family and Children’s Trust (FACT) and the hopes attached to this i.e. that greater coherence in planning and service delivery will be possible, is another issue to worry about. One colleague noted that there is a danger that the process of setting up FACT will divert attention from solving some of the more immediate problems of helping at risk groups of youngsters. Another expressed concern that FACT will bring new complexity to an already complex network of partnerships and inter-agency working arrangements. Yet another underlined the danger that FACT might lack coherence and through that undermine some good ‘ground-up’ initiatives.

The ‘initiative culture’ came in for criticism. One colleague wrote tellingly on a postit: Initiative after Initiative after Initiative

Another said: Sometimes it feels that we are always trying to re-create the wheel. Surely there are already good models out there to build on and develop. Northumberland is a good place to work; we just need to work in partnership with good leadership at the service management level. Two other telling comments: If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it! and Too many initiatives. No time to implement anything properly.


There was real concern among colleagues that within the current policy environment the link between provision and need was not as tight as it should be. A strong view emerged that services were focused much more on the needs of the policy and planning system (focused on targets, outcomes, evaluation, etc.) than on the needs of young people. One colleague put it very strongly: Young people are being fobbed off by agencies. There was agreement that the current framework of provision lacked flexibility and did not respond to complex local needs in a country as diverse as Northumberland.

ii) Funding Funding services for young people at risk is a complex process. Colleagues highlighted that Northumberland’s structure as a shire county made this even more difficult. There were too many funding streams to co-ordinate and it was difficult to see the ways in which they were integrated into a coherent vision of how best to achieve change. There was criticism of the level of funding available for work for the most challenging young clients and about the lack of flexibility in funding arrangements. A particular concern, however, was that innovative alternative provision was the ‘Cinderella’ of the funding system yet the client groups concerned are both among the most deserving of support and certainly are those for whom the most imaginative projects are needed. One group of colleagues summarised their concern this way: Funding is a continuous battle. There is too much ‘funny money’ around so that services are often short-lived.


iii) Schools and Youth Work The link between schools and youth work in Northumberland is a strong one. Youth services are provided through schools. These arrangements were intensively discussed. There were some very strong comments about school-based education. School, it was noted, often alienates the most at-risk groups. The implicit contract between a school and its pupils is often broken with the most at-risk group. One colleague explained: Many of the schools are driving young people into education and achieving. To go where? Do they really have a future? Forcing those at the edges back to school has negative consequences for them both; they are often seen as a problem group and for the schools because they have limited resources to deal with them. Schools cannot neglect the majority for whom they still have relevance. The danger is that in their concern to be inclusive, schools create barriers that exclude some young people by damaging their self-esteem. One group of colleagues reported that in their view provision to keep young people in school might be better directed elsewhere, for school does not suit everyone. Discussion of education policies and practices opened up some rather big questions. Were schools the appropriate place in which to locate community and youth work? One group was insistent that Northumberland faced a new opportunity with the possible closure of its Middle Schools and its new school building programmes; new kinds of community school could be built. There were strong echoes here of Cambridgeshire’s community college ideals from the 1930s and 40s. Other expressed concern that schools are likely to consume the staffing resources that are provided for youth work and will perceive those resources as being for the benefit of the school and not the young people. There was a good prospect that schools could build on good inter-agency working to benefit young people at risk but also real concern that they may not. There clearly is an issue about the degree to which policies that are meant to improve schools in Northumberland articulate well with those that seek a better youth service in the county. It is clear, however, that schools are trying to make the changes needed. Mrs Woodman, Assistant Head Teacher, talked about Hirst High School. She described it as an Extended School with a determination to provide support to children and their families and the surrounding community. The school is undergoing a process of great change. The senior management team is relatively new and is engaged in a radical re-think of the curriculum with the aim of sharpening the focus of what the school does around the theme of personal learning. The new Deputy Head is very interested in the theme of citizenship education and is planning to build stronger links with the community and youth services of the area.


The staff team leading these changes is seeking cultural change to establish the new model of the extended school. This will be supported through staff development and training. The aim is to make the school more accessible and to encourage young people to return to learning and other activities that will take place on the site. Funding has been secured through the Neighbourhood Renewal Fund to develop the extended school. It has enabled the school to appoint a school nurse, an educational welfare officer and a social worker. Although school based, the team will do a great deal of outreach work in the community. The new team will work closely with feeder middle schools, especially to help children who even at this early stage in their education are at risk of disengaging from it. They will promote a system of learning mentors to help them, so that they are in a position to engage fully with their secondary education. In Blyth Community College, as Assistant Head Ron Taylor explained, there are opportunities to engage with a curriculum that is broader than the national curriculum. “One size does not fit all�, explained Ron. The school has an alternative curriculum unit (which deals with the 54 students who are on personalised learning programmes) that offers therapy and help from volunteers from outside the school as well as youth work support. Ron is very keen on the opportunity they have to offer youngsters solutionfocused therapy. The school also tries to provide for different learning styles. There are construction and engineering courses, courses in hospitality and hairdressing (on which 16 young people are enrolled). The school offers the Princes Trust’s XL C programme. From a year group of 336, 100 are following the alternative curriculum. We are not in a position to judge properly but it does seem that much innovative work is going on within schools that is relevant to our understanding of the needs of the client group. What is missing is stronger collaboration and sharing among them to disseminate good practice, learn from each other and sustain the changes that are needed. iv) Inter-Agency work This topic is very close to the day to day working concerns of colleagues. Work with young clients demands collaboration across agencies. Colleagues value such collaboration and are keen to do it. They acknowledge a number of problems within existing frameworks than need to be changed, however. They noted that different agencies only work together when some of the problems really get serious. The drug-related death of a child in Blyth was an important stimulus to the planning that eventually created The Point youth project. Furthermore, there is not always a free flow of information among agencies and this makes effective collaboration difficult. There were also different frameworks of assessment and of working together in multidisciplinary teams.


These problems are compounded by the fact that different agencies are managed in different ways and it difficult for a partnership that comes together to tackle a particular problem, such as substance misuse, to provide co-ordinated leadership across all the organisations involved. Indeed, it has been claimed that real partnership working only happens in particular localities among agencies where the staff work together; it just does not happen at the level of partnerships themselves. Of course there are meetings and policy statements and plans and priorities. The problem is, however, that some front-line workers perceive this activity as being far removed from the point of delivery where they are working intensively with young people. The underlying diagnosis that makes these comments comprehensible is that there are some important gaps in provision for the client groups concerned as well as a much wider failure on the part of the adult world properly to understand the lives of young people. These colleagues shared a view that there was a prevailing negative view of young people among the older generation that needs to be corrected. One noted: Young people are not demons. Perhaps some education in the community to address and challenge this would be helpful. Another commented that there were: Polarised attitudes. It is not just about the disaffected. All youngsters are seen as a threat. Colleagues commented that devaluing the achievements of young people was a popular thing to do. They shared a view that there was a general intolerance of young people and that it was necessary to educate people, including parents, to counteract this. The danger was that negative adult responses would ‘kill the aspirations’ of young people. The key point emerging was this: such negative attitudes influence services, opportunities (such as those in the field of work experience) and the attitudes of educators, who are not encouraged by their funding arrangements and performance targets to recognise and value a wider range of skills and abilities. v) Partnership working The perception among colleagues was that the complex framework of partnerships within which they worked had clear problems. It was not often clear what the roles and responsibilities of different agencies were. One colleague raised the question: Partnership working or hunting in packs?


There was a clear need to avoid overlaps in provision, to nurture better mechanism of joint working, to share skills and knowledge and not to hide behind the idea of client confidentiality. A fundamental problem that must be solved is that too often the results of different initiatives are not fully evaluated and consolidated before the next round of initiatives and bidding has to take place. There is insufficient follow-up of the longer term consequences of different kinds of support and intervention for the lives of young people. vi) The contradictions of Funding and Targets There was real agreement that tying funding to hard, measurable outcomes from programmes was much too restrictive. Much greater flexibility was needed in assessing successful outcomes for the most challenging groups of young people. Colleagues working with the new Educational Maintenance Allowances (EMAs) have identified a tendency for some young people to use the scheme only to get money and have little interest in learning. There is a danger here that college will be seen as just another condition to be met to receive benefits. Part of the problem here is that funders need to see measurable outcomes from their investment. Front-line workers see many of the conventional measures of success as being too restrictive. The young people who are at risk need better life skills. If they have been successful in maintaining their engagement with education or training, or in developing personal skills and confidence, then these things should be acknowledged. Given the circumstances of the lives of some young people such things represent real achievements. vii) The importance of housing and accommodation Colleagues saw homelessness and poor accommodation (including emergency accommodation) as a severe and – despite all their efforts – an insufficiently acknowledged problem. Without secure accommodation, young people cannot properly engage with other support services. This is particularly the case for those with mental health problems and this is a significant group among those who misuse drugs or find themselves excluded from mainstream institutions. Family conflict is the most commonly reported cause of homelessness for young people and this is usually associated with preconditions such as poor relations with parents, a high level of domestic violence, offending behaviour and substance misuse (both by the young person and by the adults in the home). Many young people who are homeless also have multiple support needs (Cavener, 2003).


viii) Deficiencies in Education and Training Provision There was agreement that school-based education does not meet the needs of all young people. There is no need to argue here what is becoming widely acknowledged about the need for reform in the national curriculum and the need in particular to promote vocational education. For the client group whose needs are being discussed, school is often seen as irrelevant. They can feel deeply alienated from school and schools struggle to find the right kind of support for them. In Northumberland these difficulties are compounded by the location of youth workers in schools. The budget for youth workers is not effectively utilised or controlled centrally and the service, as currently managed, is deficient and is failing to make best use of its staff or their skills. The main failing is that the service lacks an overall character and direction. Provision is patchy and inconsistent and has been so for several years (Northumberland County Council, 2004b) If young people are excluded from school they can often become excluded from appropriate youth provision, too. The collapse in Northumberland (as elsewhere in the region and, indeed, the country as a whole) of community education services, is thought to restrict even further the routes forward for young people (and their parents) for whom school was difficult. Colleagues discussed the need to have multiple progression routes for young people in both education and training. There were difficulties, however, in finding appropriate training places and providers. There are not enough Modern Apprenticeships available in Northumberland. One group highlighted the need for a database of ‘social employers’ who were prepared to take on young people at risk and offer them work experience. These problems can become even more intractable in the rural areas because of a poor transport infrastructure that makes it difficult for some youngsters to attend courses.


21. What is to be done? Colleagues who work with the most challenging young people were very keen to point out that they often find the work exhilarating though it is hard to tolerate abuse from both clients and the media and to live with the uncertainty of short-term contracts. Their working conditions can often be de-motivating and some clearly feel at risk of being accused of misdemeanours for which clients will claim compensation. Despite this they are extremely positive about what can be achieved. From their understanding of the client group, many suggestions emerged about what should be done to improve the situation. There were asked specifically to identify what the mainstream services should do. Their answers were practical and can be grouped under three headings as follows: i)

Turn Uncertainty into Opportunity.

The professionals we consulted were, as a group, particularly keen that the Family and Children’s Trust (FACT) should be seen as an exciting opportunity to make some significant changes to benefit young people in Northumberland. It provides a framework to sustain the cultural change that must happen if young people are to be seen – and are enabled to see themselves - in a different light. Colleagues were clear about the need to develop a ‘listening culture’. They look forward to young people being treated as citizens and not as clients. They highlighted a need for better systems of consultation and of ways of helping young people to take more real responsibility for themselves. One element worth considering was the development of better advocacy services for young people. A key recommendation was that FACT must be well led and built on the basis of better communication among agencies and a wider view of the circumstances of young people’s lives. It was particularly important to bring mental health and housing services into view. There were many practical suggestions about how this could be done. Inter-agency CPD would help through joint training, work shadowing and information sharing. Better links could be built with employers through the development of work placement support teams and the training and development of work-based mentors Perhaps the greatest opportunity for FACT to make a real difference is that of shifting learning provision, especially for the 14-19 age range, from the current national supply-driven model to one driven by learner demand, focussed on the needs of young people. The importance of this shift cannot be over emphasised. The inability of current provision to adjust to the individual needs of young people is recognised as its single most serious weakness and as the single greatest contributor to disaffection.


To make such a cultural change, FACT will need to do what it can to reform the existing fragmented and opaque funding mechanisms, to reduce provider competition, to increase co-operation and co-ordination and to minimise or eliminate the league-table culture which shackles too many schools. Greater employer engagement will also be essential. From such changes will come greater diversity of provision and greater flexibility of learning style and setting (Local Government Association, 2004). ii)

Support Change in Education

As with the development of FACT, colleagues saw great opportunities opening up in the expected school building programme in Northumberland. Here was a positive opportunity to develop education services in ways that meet a wider range of learning needs. Change in education is crucial if young people at risk are to be really helped. Colleagues were clear this was not simply a problem for the 14-19 yr. old group. They were detecting significant problems of disengagement and substance misuse at an earlier age. Many young people will also need support into their mid –20s. Colleagues looked forward to changes in curricula that would allow schools to work more flexibly and not be constrained by performance targets that were too narrowly drawn; there were other criteria for success that could be publicly acknowledged and other forms of engagement in learning that were valuable. These included volunteer activity, participation in sport or in doing real work both in business and the community. The most at risk groups often need alternatives to school. Extended schools were seen a very important. Schools needed to acknowledge that there are different learning styles. Peer mentoring was thought to be a powerful way to keep young people engaged. A structural problem unique to Northumberland took up much discussion: the link between the youth service and schools. The view was strongly expressed that there was a danger that the youth service was too ‘school-centric’. This was felt to be a problem, quite apart from those related to inadequate staffing and resources in the Northumberland Youth Service. Stronger connections were needed between community education services, youth services and schools to make the idea of the extended school a practical reality iii)

Work experience

Colleagues felt strongly that improved opportunities for work experience and for jobs were an important element in the wider equation of keeping young people engaged with learning. There is a direct link between a range of regeneration programmes and employment initiatives. These need to be explicit and well understood so that realistic


opportunities for job-based education and training can develop. It would need support for employers, to help them create ‘learning rich’ work placements. The vehicle for achieving this is the LSC sponsored E2E programme. E2E has emerged in the work of this project in three ways. Firstly, there is the question of the quality of work placements judged against the needs of particular individuals and those of the long-term development strategy for the county. Secondly, it remains a challenge to recruit employers to engage with this particular client group. Thirdly, successful work placements require a high degree of collaboration between employers, training agencies and other support services such as Connexions. The client group is a difficult one to work with. We have seen that they often have poor basic skills. They have not done well at school and their attitudes to work and to the adult world in general are perceived as being unhelpful. “None are ready for work”, said Gordon Simpson of the Northumberland Training Agency (NTA). All have barriers to overcome before they can engage with education and training and with jobs. Caroline Whitmore of the North East Chamber of Commerce (NECC) that runs an E2E programme in Tynedale, explained that E2E youngsters can “sometimes upset the apple cart”. They ‘blot their copy book’ and employers are then reluctant to countenance taking more in the future. We discussed the underlying principles of effective work with the client group. The first is to acknowledge that the young people are a challenging group for whom clear boundaries are needed. In Cramlington, for instance, there are drug problems. Some placements were terminated because the young people were high. Such cases are referred back to Connexions. They are not yet ready for E2E. Feedback from trainees is usually very supportive of E2E and highlights for Caroline another feature of successful work with such young people: a caring atmosphere. Young people have told her that they like E2E “Cos you care about us. Me man and dad don’t!” We discussed with colleagues from Buzz, a training provider, what works with this group. The need not to pre-judge them and to try and see the individual behind the problem was emphasised. If there is a basic skill problem, then meet it. The same goes for problems of confidence or anger management. At the core of successful practice is a good rapport with young people. There has to be fun. Buzz has taken young people on sailing trips where they act as crew, which builds up team and communication skills. A school-based E2E provider (Mrs Rosie Spencer) who works from the King Edward School in Morpeth confirmed this point. We discussed the needs and interests of the young people. Currently there are 8 boys and 2 girls. Mrs Spencer pointed out that they have a limited time span of concentration. They cannot keep focused. None of them have learning difficulties. She characterised them in several ways. “They are wide boys. They are all mouth and no trousers. On a 1-to-1 basis they are quite timid. They’ve not been shown respect throughout their home or school lives. If I show them respect I’ll get it back.”


The underlying approach that Mrs Spencer adopts and in which she believes results in a remarkable change in the behaviour of young people; it is based on treating them as individuals and as adults. “They come to me,” she explained “with a clean slate”. She sees their behaviour – the unfocused ‘laddishness’ as a way of coping with the circumstances of their lives. “Who knows why they are like that?” she commented. “It’s something to do with how they’ve been treated. It is the only way they can get through.” Most have been identified as problematic pupils – ‘the naughty bunch’. They have been labelled as being disruptive. Some of their parents are not bothered about what they do and one or two of them completely lack parental support. We talked about the curriculum of E2E. The young people are referred through Connexions, having been given a choice of attending college or of going to another training provider. Mrs Spencer believes they choose the school based E2E because it is within their comfort zone. Although they do not need to arrive until 10.00 a.m. most are there by 9.15 am. She tries to maintain a routine for them because they like routines. They need routines. They do not like change. At the centre in King Edward School they concentrate on basic skills. The young people work from worksheets but find it all a ‘bit of a bind’. They reject any suggestion that they are learning ‘subjects’. Their learning must be immediately relevant and they learn best in the context of doing something else, such as preparing a visit to the Metro centre or to the go-kart track or doing the fantasy league football calculations. Under these conditions they engage with the work. There is daily contact between the project and the college. “They know I’ll hear if they get into bother”, explained Mrs Spencer. They find the sheer size and scale and freedom of the college a bit daunting; they do not cope well with this freedom and they do get into ‘bother’. The majority of E2E placements have not lasted long. Ex-offenders are difficult to place and meet with a mixed reception among employers. If something happens to lead to a breakdown of the placement, such young people can be volatile. They also often need to stay on programmes longer than other young people and NECC tries to secure this with focused support in placements. The young people recruited to E2E are ‘a mixed bag’. Some are ready for work experience. Others are not. They need one-to-one support to help them engage. Unfortunately, NECC cannot supply that. Some of their problems are compounded by the poor transport infrastructure of a rural area. Young people are very reluctant to travel away from their immediate localities. NECC uses taxis but this is no substitute for good public transport.


iv) Employers’ needs and interests Employers in Northumberland are well represented in the decision-making structures of the county and have strategic representation on the Northumberland Strategic Partnership (and, of course, in One North East (ONE)) where regional economic adjectives are set. Despite this, there is no clear existing way to discover what the needs and interests of employers might be in relation to creating employment opportunities and offering work experience to young people in the county, especially those from a disadvantaged background. Employers sometimes work with these youngsters for highly instrumental reasons; the E2E scheme can be used as a labour recruitment device in shortage areas. Often, however, the reasons stem from a deep commitment to help young people and to contribute to the welfare of the community. In some instances, both reasons come together. A member of staff from Buzz, a training provider keen to work with the E2E client group, sought work placements originally by driving round the area, combing Yellow Pages and by using word of mouth. A number of employers contacted Buzz directly to offer work experience. Sometimes Buzz seeks out employers in response to trainee requests. Two examples of this were given in relation to work with animals (boarding kennels and riding for the disabled). They explain the rationale of E2E to employers and feel there has been a good, positive response from them. Buzz staff believe that employers are keen to be involved as a way of giving something back to the community. “A lot are really keen to help”, it was explained, “but they want keen learners”. Some have personal reasons: they themselves have been helped in the past or can see something of themselves when they were younger in the attitudes and values of the young people. A comment was made about one employer – a welder from Morpeth – who wanted to keep on a young man “to stop him slipping down a dark hole.” With great help from the North East Chamber of Commerce, we surveyed employer opinion about working with this client group. We devised a questionnaire for employers to complete, working closely with the Chamber of Commerce to ensure that its format, length and overall presentation would attract the highest likelihood of it being completed and returned. The Chamber of Commerce were also highly supportive in facilitating the distribution of the questionnaire electronically to the three hundred and eighty members in Northumberland who were registered on their systems as having indicated their willingness to be contacted for feedback on issues of interest to the Chamber. Following the initial distribution, which was accompanied by a message from the Chamber explaining to employers the importance of completing and returning it, there were very few responses. The Chamber therefore undertook to circulate a second exhortation to members to reply and, following this, we received a total of twelve responses. We did, however, gain responses from each of the districts: Alnwick, Berwick, Blyth Valley, Castle Morpeth, Tynedale and Wansbeck. Businesses responding varied from those


employing over 350 people to those employing only 2, and from across most sectors. The leisure, hotel and catering sector was the only one not represented in returns. Whilst we are given to understand by the Chamber of Commerce that the level of return (3.2%) is about normal, it is nonetheless low and highlights an important issue about the difficulty of securing a representative voice for employers in the region. This barrier to more effective communication will need an imaginative strategy and some hard work to overcome, for it is important that the voice of employers is found and accurately heard if future policy is to be of help to them and to the client group which is the focus of this study. To offset the potential under representation of important views from employers, we undertook a series of in depth interviews with several employers, both very large and small and the observations reported are therefore supported by this richer material. v) Personal characteristics sought in employees The employer survey discovered no respondents who had direct experience of working with young offenders or those who misuse substances. Several of those who replied did however express an opinion on what would prevent them from working with this client group; health and safety issues related to the nature of their business seemed to concern these respondents most, with some expressing anxiety about the likely effects on their staff. Only one took the position that they would choose not to work with such people. Specific other concerns raised included: the specialised nature of the business which requires highly specific qualifications; the company being too small to be able to offer a placement; and never having had an approach and so the issue had never arisen. None of the employers in the sample used Connexions or Social Services as an agency for supplying them with trainees. Most used no agency at all, with a few of the remainder using NECC, Trident, employment agencies or the local council. Of these, all but the council were rated as ‘good’ or ‘excellent’ sources of supply. Employers were clear in their views about the relative importance of the personal characteristics of potential employees. Willingness to work and learn, along with good timekeeping, reliability, trustworthiness and commitment to the job were all rated as very important by most employers. Candidates seeing the job as a stepping stone to their future and showing initiative were selected as very important by half or more of the employers. Although presentation of self was mentioned as very important by over a quarter of employers, this factor concerned employers less than other factors and was the item attracting the largest number of ‘some importance’ responses from employers and was


the only item to be selected by some as being of no importance at all. Employers would seem to be more impressed by personal characteristics than by smart clothes (Fig. 6). This was supported by the responses to the question about what qualifications employers sought from potential employees. All respondents required some formal level of qualification and in some cases combinations of several formal qualifications, ranging from GCSEs through to A levels. But most respondents also stressed the importance of

Fig. 6 What impresses employers most about potential employees? other factors which they listed under ‘other qualifications’. These other qualifications consisted of personal qualities very similar to those identified above. vi) Employers’ views of the client group The majority of employers felt that the client group were individuals in need of help and support and the overall response was supportive and sympathetic. Many of the employers from whom we heard felt that such young people needed good role models and guidance,


but also needed firm guidelines and clear boundaries for behaviour, to which they could be held accountable Some attributed the client group’s problems to poor upbringing, some to a lack of respect for themselves and others. Others felt that these young people had been let down by the system, including mainstream education which was singled out by several for particular criticism. Employers therefore seem to see a need to help young people in the client group and are generally not judgemental of them. They stress the need to show them a purpose in life, are aware of the high levels of support and help that such individuals need and are also aware that firmness and the need to foster self-accountability must also feature in such support. There was some concern expressed, however, that there seemed to be a vague but widespread assumption being made that, for this client group, employers are being looked at to ‘bail them out’. Training providers, on the other hand, with whom the Learning and Skills Council (LSC) contracts the E2E work have no real difficulty in recruiting employers. Caroline Whitmore of NECC explained they worked with a large number of very supportive employers in Northumberland across a range of programmes. We talked with Caroline about how the formula for good practice works with employers. Key points emerged. The first was that it was important to know the employers well. E2E staff talk to them and can build on previous work with, for example, Foundation Modern Apprenticeships. Business Links helps in keeping these contacts and conversations going. Careful selection for placements is crucial. This can be helped, too, by initial ‘testing the water’ visits before placements really begin. It is, however, hard to place people. Some companies work in high-risk environments where health and safety issues are crucial. These are too risky for these young people. The key to work with employers was summed up in two words: openness and trust. Without these, placements cannot be successful. Employers need to prepare carefully to be able to help these young people. It is vital to ensure that programmes will be sustainable and progressive. It is not good to be always chasing around after employers. Long term relationships are needed. Gordon Simpson of NTA commented that employers need help to see the benefits of E2E. It was a source of recruitment but also a way for employers to contribute something to the community and to benefit from doing so in lots of indirect ways. They need additional support in creating placements that are ‘learning rich’. He was aware of too many placements (especially in the social care sector) where induction, mentoring and even health and safety training were inadequate. But all of this takes time and has to be built up on the basis of good working relationships with employers. We discussed some of the principles of good practice with Debbie Wylie, of Little Angels nursery, a private business in childcare that has been willing to take E2E trainees. Little Angels has an induction procedure. Trainees are paired up with a ‘buddy’ and are


provided with a mentor. The mentor is always from a different section of the organisation and this makes it possible for trainees to ‘let off steam’ if they need to without prejudicing their immediate work arrangements. While trainees are not ‘academic’ and probably not good with paper work, they have many practical skills relevant to the work of childcare and enjoy being with children. It is particularly important that there is good contact with the trainee’s personal tutors. In this way any problems that arise, such as poor attendance or time keeping, can be dealt with quickly. The personal tutors can support the expectations of the work place that trainees attend appropriately dressed, on time and with a positive attitude. It is vital that they understand that the nursery is an environment in which no mistakes are possible. Great care is needed with hygiene, safety and in striking good relationships with the children. In addition, E2E carries a stigma among young people. NECC tries to overcome this by encouraging visits to their training sites and for young people to meet advisers. They try, too, to develop a programme of activities that appeals to young people. Once on the programme, Caroline feels, the young people receive very good support. They do have success stories of young people who have moved on into further training or to employment. The E2E passport helps young people build up and reflect upon their experience and achievements. There are regular reviews between NECC advisers and Connexions and the young people, although Connexions staff often find it difficult to attend such meetings. Young people receive certificates of achievement and bonuses (when they are earned) after two weeks and then again at six weeks. Young people are given help through a City and Guilds validated vocational course, Preparation for Employment. The experience of the NECC is repeated in other settings. These young people respond well to acknowledgement of their success for too often they have been labelled as failures. This point has important policy implications. Caroline Whitmore felt that both government and the LSC set out targets of achievement that were too specific and too tightly drawn. More flexibility was needed in the prevailing view of what success should mean. Many E2E clients were not yet ready for work. Something was need pre-E2E to meet their needs. For those who could engage, better progression routes were needed. Similar views were expressed by Cathy Jacob, who is the Guidance Manager at Northumberland Guidance Company (NGC). NGC have a team of mentors working from six offices across the county: Berwick, Alnwick, Ashington, Blyth, Hexam and Cramlington and grew out of the Careers Service, when central government regulations forced them away from the emerging Connexions service in April 2003. NGC seek projects and funding for their work with young people and adults and concentrates on helping those who face multiple barriers who are trying to get back to


work. Many of their clients have a history of problems with substance misuse (mainly illegal substances) or with health related issues (predominantly back or mental health problems). In their experience the clients who have problems with the abuse of alcohol also often have problems with mental health. We found this to be a common observation made by those we spoke to throughout our research. NGC find that clients who are coming out of their problems can be helped back to work by sufficiently skilled people (a key requirement for success), but there is little that can be done in this regard with those who are still either coming to terms with, or are in the middle of dealing with, such problems. This experience accords well with that of other professionals working in the field, such as those at Escape, or The Point. Cathy noted that one of the biggest problems in helping clients with substance misuse problems is the lack of sufficient treatment units in the county – there are long waiting lists even where provision exists. There is also a continuing shortage of trained youth workers – this ‘lost generation’ of skilled staff could have been used to support many programmes designed to help young people. New staff are slowly being trained, but will require time to acquire the kind of experience upon which their predecessors habitually drew so effectively. There is an unresolved issue here (mentioned elsewhere in our report) about the most effective use of this scarce resource of staff. We discussed the view that the geography of the region mitigates against effective collaborative professional networking. This issue is more complex that it at first seems – although the region does lack infrastructure and problems with road and rail travel are not imagined, it is not the case that professionals working on this field are unaware of a network of other colleagues. Staff working in a given location quickly make appropriate connections with colleagues in the area and it is rare to find them uninformed of work that may be going on around them. There are also many forums where professionals in the field meet regularly to talk to each other. Many workers have been involved in this field – through a variety of programmes – for some time and consequently often know each other because of this. Many workers have, however, moved around between projects on a very regular basis. This is largely due to problems with the income stream – many projects have short-term financing arrangements forced upon them and this, together with the lack of sustained funding and a sense of a ‘career’ for staff, makes a high level of inter-professional learning and continuing professional development very difficult to achieve. Funding arrangements are seen by many providers as problematic, with many existing on lottery and chartable contributions. The energy and time required to find funding is a significant drain on the resources of existing projects and a deterrent to emerging new ones getting on their feet. The problem of funding is highlighted a number of times in our report and is a key issue which requires resolution at both the macro and meso levels of policy and practice.


New developments are a regular feature of the landscape in this field of work. For example, the Youth Service, working with Connexions and funded by the Learning and Skills Council (LSC) is seeking to develop a ‘Pathways to Employment’ programme of work which will focus on pre-entry provision for the workplace on (a) those at risk of becoming disengaged and (b) those in the NEET group (Not in Education, Employment or Learning). Many other such projects come into existence regularly, although these are not always set up by such high profile bodies. Indeed, the overall picture of provision is complex and frequently changing (often as a result of funding streams coming and going) and one which the professionals in the field often struggle to keep up with. The present funding arrangements for many projects are driven by two co-funding organisations – the LSC and Job Centre+, who draw down funding from the European Social Fund (ESF) to support projects which they would like to see in place. The main focus of the co-funding organisations is, not unnaturally, set on the provision of learning (including skills) and access to jobs for the 18+ age-group, respectively. Whilst unsurprising, this arrangement has some drawbacks. For example, the LSC tends to focus on young people and skills, whilst Job Centre+ tends to be concerned to promote learning which is accredited, although this is not always with nationally recognised and therefore transferable accreditation. For many young people who have problems with substance misuse or a history of offending these agendas are unattractive – sometimes deeply so. The drawback of present funding arrangements is therefore that they tend to promote an increased degree of specification from the co-funders which is heavily influenced by their own agendas and problems. Some of the more innovative and imaginative projects which we have seen for the client group we are concerned about would find it extremely difficult to attract funding from the above structure and what is most needed to help them are arrangements which can support local flexibility of provision – some of which is not designed to provide accreditation or to lead to the acquisition of the kinds of ‘skills’ recognised by formal education. It could be of significant benefit, therefore, if the local council were able to become a co-funder in addition to the LSC and Job Centre+, so that this substantial gap in the funding structure could be closed. We are given to understand that this was mooted at some time in the past and it seems unfortunate that this did not come to fruition. There is the additional anxiety that many programmes of work could potentially be badly affected by the enlargement of the EC which is due to come into effect in 2006, when the ESF’s grants reconfigure to take into account the circumstances of Eastern European countries. It seems likely that this will result in a net loss to the UK of much of the present finance which is drawn upon by co-funders to sustain projects in Northumberland. Young people gravitate to provision which is local to them and so are generally unaware of – and therefore unconfused by – the complex picture of provision across the region. Notwithstanding this, the provision of a website, or other electronic


portal, where young people and others could access a directory of information about provision would be valuable, and would be of help to professionals also – but only if it could be ensured to be up to date at all times. Many of the young people in the present study see the future – or have been through a time when they saw the future – as a depressing place holding out little prospect for them. Many of the girls we have learned about feel, are or have felt in the past, that adult status is best conferred upon them through having children. This seems not to be a product of the dynamics of the labour market in the region, where female unemployment is low, but may have more to do with a culture of low aspiration. Whilst reflecting on the complex social and family circumstances which lead too many young people into substance misuse or offending behaviour, we discussed with Cathy the possible reasons why many mainland European countries appear to have less significant problems in these areas. Our conclusions were that the reasons for this may to a large degree be rooted in the prevailing models of childhood in Northumberland and the UK as opposed to those in some other parts of the European Community (EC). The notion of ‘childhood’ as a protected time in the life of a young person is expressed differently in different societies. In some countries childhood lasts until the late teens and is a time where young people are heavily supervised by adults, where behaviour is constrained by such supervision and where the biological problems of adolescence are less explicitly complicated by more adult agendas of sexual relations and alcohol. It seems likely that in the UK young people are exposed to greater freedom and independence than is the case in other parts of the EC and have correspondingly less supervision and constraint. Many would argue that this is not always a good thing – especially those who point towards national juvenile pregnancy, substance misuse and offending rates. Many young people – especially those in the present study – also have mixed feelings about their time at school. School tends to provide a highly regulated environment with relatively little scope for independence and freedom of action when it comes to behaviour. This can be restricting for some young people and can be seen by them as problematic, but it also provides an environment within which little effort is required to remain safe or to behave moderately. Strict teachers give no scope for misbehaviour and demand little thought from young people about what their behaviour should be (because they are told what it should be) – schools and teachers may therefore remove individual responsibility for behaviour from young people by high levels of prescription in this area. For some (perhaps most) of those who are excluded this legacy leaves them with few resources of their own to fall back on. They are perhaps therefore more exposed to unhelpful pressures from peers when not in school. In this respect employers with strict codes of conduct for employees and high expectations of them, especially those who intervene consistently and rapidly when these are not adhered to, may be more helpful for young people because they offer the security


of highly rule-driven environments. Rules can offer individuals protection from any lack of an ability to think for themselves. Dewhurst’s was given as an example of one such employer where, despite an apparently authoritarian regime, levels of employee unhappiness and turnover were relatively low. We also spoke to Jack Fairgrieve at the NGC, who was involved in running In2Win in Alnwick for the last six years but is now working with adults via Job Centre+. Whilst working on In2Win, Jack was involved with two main groups: those who were still in education but were failing; and those who had left school but were in an environment containing drugs and alcohol and had either come through the courts with some conditions applied on them in place of custody. He worked closely with the Youth Offending Team in Northumberland and therefore has substantial experience of helping the client group which is the focus of our research. Jack’s approach within In2Win was based on mentoring in the true spirit of it – that is, one-to-one contact which draws in all the needs of the client. This was accompanied by analysis and profiling to marry up each individual with an appropriate employer. Jack has a wide spread of contacts and considerable personal experience with north Northumberland employers and knows them all. Often in our research the importance of mentoring was paramount for those working with the client group. Key features of this model could usefully be adopted more widely throughout mainstream provision in agencies such as social services and schools and there is ample expertise upon which to build - see for example, the Odysseus Mentoring Project (Coalition Against Crime, 2004). From Jack’s extensive experience of north Northumberland and its employers, it is clear that employers’ concerns about potential recruits who are or have been young offenders or have misused substances fall into three main areas: • •

They need background information about the client in order to make an informed judgement about their suitability – this will take into account the kinds of barriers facing clients in the workplace as a result of their history They need to consider the possible effect taking on a particular client may have on their existing workforce. They worry about the kinds of conversation that might develop on the factory floor, for example, whilst clients were at work with other workers Some employers will be more anxious than others about accepting individuals from the two client groups concerned, largely because of the nature of their typical employee. For example, office and factory workers are in general very likely to have a different response to such clients than those in the building or engineering sectors – this is an issue about organisational culture and the degree to which it might be characterised as ‘sheltered’ or ‘robust’ in its perceptions of individuals from the client groups concerned.


These observations are corroborated by the results of our own research and employer surveys. When thinking about employers and the contexts in which they operate, Jack noted that there are also significant regional variations to take into account within Northumberland. Berwick, for example, is completely different to its north as opposed to its south. This pattern is repeated across the region - Berwick in general is completely different to Blyth and both are unlike Cramlington – and so on. The more industrialised south east of the county provides a different general context for employers than the rural aspects of north Northumberland and such factors result in employer reactions to the client groups under consideration being expressed differently. Even misuse is differentiated by geography, with ‘high octane’ substances being more concentrated in the south. The prevalence of heroin or crack misuse in north Northumberland is perceived to be much less than that found in areas such as Blyth, Cramlington or Ashington, or the south east in general, but the misuse of cannabis, speed and alcohol is seen to be much higher. These subtle and complex variations in employer and employee attitudes, in cultural context and in the nature of substance misuse are expressions of the micro-variation of culture within Northumberland and need to be taken carefully into account when developing policy designed to improve and sustain the engagement of young people from the client group with education, training or employment. Failure to do so is likely to result in much wasted time, money and effort and an increased sense of failure and frustration amongst employers, young people and those working to support them. There is another factor which affects the likelihood of an offer of education, training or employment being made to an individual from the client groups being considered here. Much of Northumberland is rural, or relatively so. Population densities are generally low by the standards of more industrialised areas in the UK. A particular effect can be seen in play, however, when employers sometimes are found to reject candidates proffered by professionals working with them because they ‘know the name’. It is extremely difficult to place an individual with an employer when the their ‘name’ is recognised as being associated with one of a number of particular families. This is especially so in the more rural regions, say in north Northumberland, but its wider effect across the region should not be underestimated. In Alnwick there are a number of families with such ‘names’ who are well known to the community and especially to most employers. These families – about five in number – are all closely related and, it is thought, owe their origins to travelling people. The families are widely perceived to be very heavily involved in criminal activity, especially the control and distribution of drugs, and the view (if not perhaps the reality) is widespread that the police have so far had limited success in dealing with them. It is believed that the families exercise tight control over the drugs market and that ‘outsiders’ attempting to move into it will be swiftly dealt with. It is clearly understood by many of the general population in the area that to have a problem with one individual from any of these families is to have a problem with them all and they are generally regarded as the


focus for organised crime. Employers are therefore understandably wary of becoming involved with anyone who has associations with such families. This scenario is considerably at odds with the common perception of Northumberland as a place epitomising some kind of ‘rural ideal’ and highlights a very real cultural problem. In general, Jack’s experience is that what employers most need when working with the client groups under consideration is a point of contact such as a mentor who visits the young person regularly – perhaps daily at first, then weekly, fortnightly or monthly if the placement proceeds successfully. Employers need the mentor to take on the responsibility for keeping in touch and to be proactive, rather than adopt a role of waiting until problems appear before taking action. This approach is also intrinsically valuable because it helps to develop and sustain networks between employers and the professionals working with young people. Employers are most impressed by an employee’s ability to do the job, attend regularly and avoid giving them any ‘hassle’. Jack’s experience is that those working with the young people first need to get to know them and also their parents – in this way they will be best prepared to help them. Flexibility is important when placing young people in working environments. Often young people will change their minds after experiencing a placement which they at first thought they would like. It is not unusual for some placements therefore to be quite short during this process - maybe three days a week for 2-3 weeks. Young people from the client groups concerned also often do not have prior experience of a working environment and are also sometimes not able to draw upon the experiences of their carers, parents or grandparents due to the family legacy of unemployment. In these circumstances flexibility is especially important to allow the young person to become acclimatised to the culture of work and its routines. Additionally, young people also need to make the transition from school performance cultures to the performance cultures found in the world of work. The culture of many schools is child-centred and contains many rules designed to remove initiative and choice from the individual. The culture of work tends to be more adult and expects – and may even demand – employees to show initiative and abilities of self-management and organisation with which some young people have had little prior experience in exercising. There is a issue here for the FACT to take on board when modelling the development of the culture of full-service schools over the next few years. Young offenders who have been in custody or been in Castington (a young offenders’ institution about 6-8 miles outside Alnwick) are particularly difficult to engage and to place with employers. They are perceived by employers as rogues, burglars and sex offenders and are characterised as a ‘bad lot’ all together. Experience with this group suggests that there is at present little that can be successfully done to re-engage them with the world of work.


If, however, the young person is known locally (but is not from a family with a ‘name’) and is perceived as someone who has simply ‘gone off the rails’ a little, Jack has found that he can sometimes convince the employer to take them on. If all goes well thereafter – and Jack would routinely check on this by telephone every day for at least a month – then there are even possibilities for offers of permanent jobs. The current preoccupation with ‘partnership’ as a means of facilitating more effective working with young people does not seem to be very useful. Like many others who are working in this field, Jack’s experience of partnerships is that only individuals who work closely together are able to give the concept any useful value. Committees, management structures and organisations more often tend to keep everything to themselves and at such levels ‘partnership’ working is at best tokenistic. vii) Learning rich environments The work of colleagues who work with employers and E2E trainees and of the employers who offer placements in Northumberland highlights many features of good practice for work with these young people. In relation to work experience, there are elements of their work that are consistent with a great deal of educational and management research into learning rich environments. Learning experiences must be matched with the needs, interests and learning styles of trainees and the work experience environment must be one that stimulates further learning and enables trainees to build up their skills and understanding in a progressive way. In addition to the need for work placements to be governed by good human resource management practices i.e. for there to be appropriate health and safety training, induction procedures, mentoring arrangements and clear expectations, colleagues in Northumberland have highlighted that : • • • • • • • • •

Educators and trainers must understand the social and cultural background and needs of trainees; Trainees must be respected and valued; There should be no pre-judgements about them; A caring, supportive atmosphere is crucial; Learning should privilege learner needs over curriculum requirements; Young people respond positively to good rapport with adults; There must be flexibility; Achievement has to be acknowledged continuously; Learning must be fun.


These are necessary conditions for successful placements. But they are not sufficient. In addition there is a need to understand in an explicit way the reasons why all work experiences can be formative and nurture learning and development. This can happen when managers understand the importance of learning in the workplace to the well being of their organisations and the need to make it happen and manage it. (Unwin and Fuller 2003) Unwin and Fuller’s work highlights that some workplaces are ‘expansive’ and others ‘restrictive’ in respect of the learning opportunities they offer to people. Expansive contexts provide people with access to learning. Learning is valued, acknowledged and rewarded. It is progressive and open-ended. Its contribution to the organisation and to individual development is evaluated. Restrictive environments offer nothing like this. The point is, however, that the job or the product or the sector in which the company works does not determine the environment. It is entirely a matter of the values and expectations and interests and understanding of managers and employees. ‘A key characteristic of an expansive learning environment’ write Unwin and Fuller, ‘is the belief (our emphasis) that people at all levels across the organisation possess valuable skills and knowledge and have the capacity to learn’ (2003a:19) In another publication these writers have drawn attention to how learners experience different work contexts and note that personal development takes place where three factors come together (Unwin and Fuller (2003b). These are: opportunities to reflect on practice; help to envisage how experience ties in to long term career objectives and the chance to do different things related to work. In their studies of Modern Apprenticeship in three different firms this last criterion involved opportunities to do things for the company outside the work place such as helping out at careers fairs or raise money through sponsored activities for local charities. The main point to draw from this is that learning rich work placements can be created. They have to be managed. Placements that in environments that could be characterised as restricted, are much more likely to fail. Expansive learning environments foster what one writer has called ‘investigative deep learning’ (Engestrom 1994) Such learning results in a growth of understanding and creates platforms for further growth and development. Such learning is not confined to those being trained. Those who write about learning organisations have come to understand that learning rich environments are those in which everyone learns – managers and trainees alike. Everyone becomes, in Guile and Young’s (2002) terms. ‘reflexive’ learners, who can come together as a community of practice to solve problems, share ideas and develop new approaches to work. We are not in a position to know whether the work placement environments available to young people on E2E programmes or, indeed, in the schools they have attended as youngsters, can adequately be described as expansive and learning rich.


There is a need, however, to explore this so that training agencies, employers and college-based staff can work together to create such environments.


22. Conclusions and Recommendations In this section we set out practical proposals to discover new solutions to the problem of increasing the numbers of at risk young people who are in education and training. The task is to build on existing good practice, to extend the reach of employment-related, learning-rich training opportunities and to help both young people and the professionals who support them to understand more of the complex frameworks of policy and social changes that are shaping their lives.

A key feature of the lives of young people is change. They are growing up. The world around them is changing profoundly. The experience of their parents in preparing for the future is not so relevant to them. Older models of careers and of family life do match up well with the changing frameworks of both in the modern world. The pace of intergenerational change in attitudes and values has quickened. In the micro environments of some of the poorer areas of this society such change is frighteningly fast. We were profoundly shocked by the comments of some young people we spoke to that they were worried that some of the little ones in their community were beginning to take drugs and drink at an age earlier than they themselves had. They were greatly worried by that. All change is reflexive. In a complex and inter-connected field of social policy, the actions of one agency have an effect on the work of another. Changes that benefit some people e.g. rising property values in Tynedale or Berwick, exacerbate problems of homelessness for some young people. The emphasis that is now placed on improving standards of achievement in school may not, in fact, be in the best interests of some young people who will amplify their ‘failure’ by rejecting a curriculum they feel is not relevant to them. The unintended consequences of social policies must be continuously assessed. It is very difficult to do this and to live with continuous change. We have been both profoundly moved and greatly impressed by what we have seen of the work being done in Northumberland to improve the life chances of young people in the county. This report has outlined what is being done and has identified the principles of good practice that informs much of this. Much has and is being done. Some communities and groups of young people, however, have not benefited from it all as much as others. It is as if the escalator of improvement runs at different speeds for different groups. i) Communities of practice and discovery How can the programmes and policies and activities that are being developed be sustained into the future? How can the diverse communities of practice in Northumberland become communities of discovery that can keep abreast of change and


continue to develop innovative solutions that meet the needs of those young people who will be exposed to the risk of drugs and offending behaviour? The strongest message that we believe comes through this report is the need to develop the services for young people that: •

place at the centre of all their work a commitment to human rights, social justice and a commitment to democratic citizenship and which engage young people in dialogue about all the decisions that affect their lives;

are built on an agreed analysis of the changes that are shaping their lives;

are built on a shared, critical understanding of both government and Northumberland County Council policies in this field;

rest on a firm and continually renewed shared understanding among different agencies and professions;

reflect a careful review, analysis and evaluation of best practice in both Northumberland and elsewhere;

value the practical experience of a wide range of professionals and people from voluntary sector organisations who work with the young people

well-led, effectively managed, appropriately resourced and evaluated

The challenge in meeting these criteria can only be met if ways are found to enable colleagues to work together as a community of practice in which they share their understanding with one another and engage young people in a responsible dialogue about their future. This is no easy task. Professional ‘busyness’, short term contracts, inconsistent streams of funding and differing performance targets all combine to limit the ways in which people can work with one another. It is a hallmark of poverty and deprivation that it leads to isolation and social exclusion so that the poor and the marginalized lack an effective voice in the conversations and decisions that shape their lives. Many young people as we have seen, feel deeply alienated from the world of adult authority and its institutions. It is also true, however, that many professionals feel alienated, too. They feel that they are not consulted well enough. Some feel very isolated and many feel that the complex networks of partnership within which they work do not yet function well enough to focus and to integrate the work of different organisations. It is not surprising, therefore, that some professionals, young people, their parents and perhaps, too, politicians do not feel they understand enough of the complex world in which they live and cope with this feeling by distancing themselves from it.


There is a need, therefore, for leadership to nurture the communities of practice that will bring people together and strengthen their ability to collaborate and understand one another. This needs a framework of devolved leadership at every level in the system so that everyone – professionals and young people – can feel they are working together towards ends that are understood and agreed. We have shown, however, that communities of practice may be a necessary condition for the policies in this field to succeed, but they are not sufficient. Since new knowledge and understanding is needed to keep abreast of the changes taking place, communities of discovery are needed. These are groups that can work together in a co-ordinated way to solve problems and develop and report new ideas. The underlying challenge is to develop ‘learning rich’ environments in all the service organisations that support young people. Communities of discovery are, of course, ideal constructs. They exist in the world of Science – in research teams and laboratories and professional associations of all kinds – and there are many examples where they have been specifically set up to solve certain problems. The space and nuclear weapons programmes of the Great Powers are good examples of this. But they exist, too, as we have seen informally in a range of settings – in communities, schools, youth projects, workplaces – where people strive daily to arrive at new solutions to the problems they work with. What we know about them is that they work best when they bring people together on the basis of the following: • • • • • •

a shared respect for the values of truthfulness, human rights and open communication; an interest in and commitment to searching for new ideas; expertise and willingness to learn and to help others to do so; a preparedness to change their views in the face of rational argument and evidencebased discourse; a capacity to communicate and to share information; a preparedness to take responsibility for the consequences of their ideas for others.

The rationale for these propositions has a long history and is actively discussed today among philosophers, social theorists and scientists. These discussions need not detain us here except that they highlight the central importance of open discussion, consultation, shared analysis and, to complete the cycle, action and development that results in the changes that are hoped for.


We picture this process as follows:

The diagram highlights the need for leadership within the complex arrangements of partnership and networks that govern the provision of public services in Northumberland. Secondly, it reminds us that leadership is needed at different levels: at the level of the County Council and the Northumberland Strategic Partnership and, in future, with FACT. This is the MACRO level. The task here is to ensure that all partners understand and share the strategic vision and know what their roles are in delivering it (Fullan, 2003). It is to ensure that appropriate systems are in place that help key managers to keep up to date, to evaluate what they are doing and to manage the changes needed in their services. At the MESO level i.e. at the level of particular organisations such as schools and colleges, employers and training providers, health trusts, services such as Connexions or the Youth Offending Team, leadership is needed that helps employees and clients to understand the context of their work and the strategies that govern what they do. Members of organisations need to become reflective about what they do and to learn from the experience of others and their clients. Leadership is needed that enables colleagues to reflect carefully on the daily experience of working with clients so that everyone can learn about what the key problems are and how they might be tackled. This is the MICRO level of practice and is a domain where a great deal of creative work is carried out. The challenge is to identify, acknowledge and build upon the achievements of colleagues at this level. This requires appropriate leadership and teamwork among colleagues that encourages them to take measured risks and to extend the reach of what they do. The two guiding principles to follow are these: firstly, people on the ground know what the problems are but they often do not fully appreciate the value of what they know. Secondly, it follows that the solutions to problems lies within the


understanding and experience of people who are at the front line of service delivery, either as practitioners or managers. If they can be brought together with other colleagues into communities of discovery they will find the ways forward to improve the delivery of services in Northumberland. ii) Priorities and Methods This analysis results we believe is some quite specific proposals. They derive from the proposition that in times of change those who lead organisations must ensure that the people they lead understand and support the strategies that are being followed. At the moment, it is not clear that this is the case. Too many people experience their work as a series of top down initiatives that seem unconnected. At the macro level in Northumberland County Council there is a need to ensure that all key managers of services understand the logic of what is being attempted by way of providing services and opportunities to young people most at risk of social exclusion. Beyond that they must be sure that there are teams of people in place who can carry forward the strategies and discover new methods of doing so in a coherent way and be given the responsibility to get on with the task. At the meso level, managers from different agencies need to come together to develop better mechanisms for information sharing, staff development and joint working to agreed objectives. They must make it possible for people at the micro level i.e. front line workers to come together to identify problems, share experience and articulate their understanding of problems can be solved. At each of these levels there is in principle any number of specific projects that could be worked on. We have come to believe, however, that there are five main areas that deserve priority treatment. We think that inter-agency groups need to be set up to become, in effect, action learning sets that will explore, at each level (the macro, meso and micro) and in particular places throughout the county (the North, Tynedale and South East Northumberland), the following questions. i) How can the employers of Northumberland i n s u f f i c i e n t n u m b e r s work in a collaborative way with public agencies to create a greater number of learning rich training environments for young people who are at risk? How can methods of recruiting employers, supporting them and acknowledging their skills and contribution be improved?


ii) How can the idea of the ‘extended school’ be developed so that the work of school-based educators can develop alongside that of the many informal educators in the community to contribute in a focused and planned way to community regeneration? iii) How can the services most directly concerned with post-16 provision for young people collaborate more effectively to promote engagement, opportunity and citizenship to strengthen the social capital of communities and change the perceptions of young people held by both members of the public and by young people themselves? How can good practice be captured, disseminated and valued? iv) How can the agencies that have a clear remit to support families and young people work together more effectively to enrich the quality of both childhood and parenthood? What financial and administrative support is needed to sustain innovative work with parents to improve skills and opportunities? v) What are the key principles of practice and of work with young people at risk that promise real changes in their behaviour, and how can we ensure that such principles are at the heart of every activity that is put in place to help them? Inter-agency CPD is the way to develop this.

These questions need to be explored by groups of people that have been given a specific remit to report back to the Northumberland Strategic Partnership and County Council. The principles that define how such groups can work are well enough known. In the literature of lifelong learning, professional development and management much has been written about informal learning, action learning, experiential learning and organisational learning. ( Jarvis, P., 2004; Garvey, B. and Williamson B., 2002; Garrick, J. 1998; Senge, P., 1990) Such principles are not difficult to follow and in Northumberland, as elsewhere in the North East, there is wide agreement about the need to cultivate learning organisations and learning communities. Here is an opportunity for the governance frameworks of public policy to set an example to all the members of the partnerships that now exist to regenerate the county. The challenge is not merely to consult people. It is to learn from them and with them. Each group should be led by a designated Champion who can co-ordinate meetings, call upon resources and liaise with the champions of the other groups. Each group should be tasked with job of making recommendations for improvements, development and change that meets identified needs and is sustainable. Each group should be expected to review and evaluate current practices, articulate new possibilities and identify programmes of agreed change. In this way professional colleagues and young people throughout the


county will feel that their experience and knowledge has been valued and taken into account. Having defined the changes that are needed they will feel, too, a responsibility to make them work. iii) Audit Tool The work of the action learning sets will involve new learning and if their recommendations are followed there will be further new learning for colleagues in a range of different agencies. In this way communities of practice metamorphose into communities of discovery. When the action sets first meet they might like to work through the elements of the following audit tool. It is not an evaluation checklist, a series of boxes to tick. It is a stimulus to help people engage in good conversations i.e. discussions that are knowledgeproductive. An audit tool for a ‘good conversation’ PROBLEM FIELD Dimension to Assess

State of knowledge of the Problem

Current strategies of change

Leadership: style and quality Degree of interagency collaboration Depth of shared understanding of problem Level of participation of colleagues Level of client involvement in projects and decisions Capacity for change in the area of practice


Current material resources

Personnel: numbers, skills, training

Each box in this grid represents a list of potential questions that might begin a conversation within an action learning set. The colleagues who meet and who have been brought together because of their special expertise might begin by checking how each understands the problem being discussed. For example, taking top left box as their cue they might ask: ‘How far do the leaders of these services have a clear knowledge of the problem being discussed?’ In the case of the first priority area set out above, for example, the question could be: ‘how much is known about the best ways in which to engage employers in working with marginalized young people?’ Or ‘What do we need to know in order to better understand the needs of the client group?’ It might be followed (using the second box) with another; ‘Are the current strategies for working with employers adequate?’ The whole grid is intended as a mechanism to prompt such questions. The good conversation that then ensues is one in which colleagues learn from one another and identify those areas in which new learning or information is required. The process of the conversation should follow the principles set out earlier that describe the learning rich environment. The hope is that colleagues will generate new ideas for practice that will transform the quality of the services that they offer to young people. It is inescapable that this process will result in change – both in the life chance of young clients and in the structures within which professionals work. It is likely, too, that these methods of working will prompt changes in policy and strategy in Northumberland. In this way new kinds of schools and communities and services to young people will be built that enable them to develop worthwhile careers and become productive members of a successful, democratic society. Feedback from colleagues on a draft of this final report highlighted that there was a danger it would not be read as being sufficiently practical. One colleague put it very strongly: Whenever I get together with colleagues at meetings there are two things I hear a lot of. One is that people feel they are forever having to attend ‘pointless’ meetings that take them away fro the ‘real’ work. The other is that we don’t work together enough and that communication is not good enough. We hope the steps outlined here will solve both problems. We hope that the signposting introduced into it helps highlight the main practical recommendations. Work is needed to help colleagues in Northumberland to continue to develop an agreed analysis of the problems they are working with. Those with responsibilities for policy in this field need to make sure their work builds on the work of practitioners and is understood by them. Those who manage services must take practical steps to promote effective inter-agency


working around both agreed interpretations of needs ands priorities and targets for change. The working groups we recommend must be coherently led and coordinated. It is only in this way that their conclusions will seem credible to colleagues and result in new solutions to the problems diagnosed. The alternative of seeing practicality as a matter of fine-tuning existing provision and practices is wholly misplaced. It devalues much of the very good work currently being done in Northumberland and seriously underestimates the kinds of changes that are needed to make it better.


References Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs (2003) Hidden Harm: Responding to the needs of children of problem drug users. Report of Inquiry by the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs. London: HMSO. Aust, R. and Condon, J. (2003) Geographical variations in Drug Use: Key Findings from the British Crime Survey England and Wales, London: Home Office Aust, R., Sharp, C. and Goulden, C. (2002) Prevalence of drug use: key findings from the 2001/2002 British Crime Survey, London: The Home Office Blyth Valley Local Strategic Partnership (2004) Young People’s Consultation 2004: Report. Hull and Blyth: Information by Design. Bohm, D. (1996) On Dialogue. Harmondsworth: Penguin. Cavener, J. (Ed.) (2003) ‘No place like home?’ The Housing and support requirements of homeless young people with multiple needs in Northumberland: a report to The Northumberland Housing Protocol Group. Northumberland: Barnardo’s Housing Project. Coalition Against Crime (2003) Retail Theft Initiative. Coalition Against Crime (2004) The Odysseus Mentoring Project. DfES (2004) Five Year Strategy for Children and Learners. Department for Education and Skills. London: Her Majesty’s Stationery Office. Engestrom, Y. (1994) Training for Change: New approach to instruction an learning in working life. Geneva: ILO. Foskett, N., Dyke, M. and Maringe, F. (2004) The Influence of the School in the Decision to Participate in Learning Post-16. Department for Education and Skills. Fullan, M. (2003) Too Busy To Learn?: An introduction to collaborative leadership learning. National College for School Leadership.


Fuller, A. and Unwin, L. (2003a) Expanding Learning in the Workplace: Making more of individual and organizational potential. Leicester: NIACE. Fuller, A. and Unwin, L. (2003b) Learning as Apprentices in Contemporary UK Workplace: creating and managing expansive and restrictive participation. Journal of Education and Work. 16(4), 407-426. Garrick, J. (1998) Informal Learning in the Workplace: Unmasking human resource development. London: Routledge. Garvey, B. and Williamson, B. (2002) Beyond Knowledge Management: dialogue, creativity and the corporate curriculum. London: Pearson Education Ltd. Guile, D. and Young, M. (2002) Beyond the institution of apprenticeship: towards a social theory of learning as the production of knowledge. In R. Harrison, F. Reeve, A. Hanson J. Clarke (Eds.) Supporting Lifelong Learning: vol 1. Buckingham: The Open University Press. Habermas. J. (1989) Theory of Communicative Action. Boston: Beacon Press. Hammersley, R., Reid, M., Oliver, A., Genova, A., Raynor, P., Minkes, J. and Morgan, M. (2004) The National Evaluation of the Youth Justice Board’s Drug and Alcohol Projects. Youth Justice Board Hanmer, P. (et al) (2002) Basic Skills Deficiencies in Northumberland Working Paper No 4. The Northumberland Information Network. Jarvis, P. (2004) Adult Education and Lifelong Learning: theory and Practice. London: Routledge Falmer. Lave, J. and Wenger, E. (1991) Situated Learning. Cambridge: CUP. Learning and Skills Council (2002) Northumberland Report. Prepared by BMG. Local Government Association (2004) Transforming Learning, building skills in education, in communities, at work. London: Local Government House. Martin, S. and Williamson, B. (2004) Behind the Baseball Cap. Crime Reduction Division, Learning and Engagement Project First Report, Northumberland County Council. Northumberland County Council (2004) The Big Picture for children and young people in Northumberland. Northumberland County Council (2004a) Youth Justice Plan Annual Update 2004-2005,


Northumberland Youth Offending Service. Northumberland County Council (2004b) Their Future is in Your Hands: Strategic Review of Youth Service, D.I.C.E. report Prince’s Trust (2004) No Ball Games?: Getting young people into education, employment and training. Reason, P. and Rowan J. (1981) Human Inquiry; a Source Book of New Paradigm Research. Chichester: Wiley. Senge, P. (1990) The Fifth Discipline: The Art and Practice of the Learning Organization. New York: Doubleday. Shotter, J. (1993) The Cultural Politics of Everyday Life. Buckingham: Open University Press. Social Issues Research Centre (2004) Smells Like Teen Spirit: Talking not taking in the teenage music tribe. Oxford. The Children and Young People Strategic Partnership (2002) The Big Picture for children and young people in Northumberland. Wenger, E. (1998) Communities of practice : learning, meaning and identity, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Youth Justice Board (2004) Youth Justice - Annual Statistics 2003/04. Youth Justice Board


Appendix 1 – Methodology of the project The methodology of this project has been explained in the full report. It is a version of the approach that Reason and Rowan (1981) called ‘joint inquiry’. It is based on the idea that people who are the focus of research have a great deal of knowledge about the problems being researched. On the other hand, they may not fully appreciate what they know or be able to reflect systematically on it or articulate their understanding so that it can be openly discussed and evaluated. The methods we have used in this report help to capture the understanding of the problem – in this case that of helping young people at risk to re-engage with society - that practitioners have but enable us to go beyond that and re-frame it to generate a new perspectives on it. We have worked with people in ways that enable us jointly to discover what the key issues are. We believe that the methods we have followed are among those that in the future will help a community of practitioners become a community of discovery. Its members will then be in a position to share experience, evaluate each other’s work, keep abreast of the complex changes shaping the lives of their client groups and develop new solutions to their problems. This becomes a continuous, open and openended process based firmly in dialogue among professionals and clients. Three key elements of the method need to be noted. The first is that of the knowledgeproductive conference. The second is that of interpretive interviewing or joint enquiry. The third is a process of triangulation in which information and data from different sources are used to cross check conclusions that are emerging from individual sources or types of information. Knowledge-Productive Conferences There have been two half-day conferences that were designed to enable practitioners to share their understanding of the needs of young people at risk in Northumberland. The first took pace Newbiggen on June 22nd 2004 and the second at Hepscott Park on Sept 15th 2004. Those who attended are listed in Appendix Two of this report. The list includes representatives from some of the key organisations involved in this area of work in Northumberland. Unfortunately, it is not exhaustive. The field is a complex one to map precisely. Every effort was made, however, to ensure that key players were there for it is they who are at the centre of service provision for the client group. Their experience and knowledge of the specific circumstances of their services in Northumberland is vital to our understanding of this field of practice. The conferences were organised to require participants to think about their work, to share experiences and to analyse what was being said and learned. Each conference began with a presentation that set out key themes from the project and which made observations about the policy environment and social context of this work in Northumberland. The


presentation was designed to put the project within its larger strategic frame and to remind participants of the strategic dimension of their work. Such overview presentations are useful and necessary. They provide for an initial reading or interpretation of the context in which participants work. It enables people to step back a little from the detail of their ordinary, daily operational concerns and to think about their work from a different perspective. It enables the presenters to check whether the picture of the needs of the client group that had been forming in their minds (and which is based on reading reports, interviews and conversations) was reasonably accurate. This is a process of ‘holding up the mirror’ to practitioners who have in-depth knowledge and understanding of their own working contexts to check whether the emerging conclusions about the strategic challenges for policies for young people in Northumberland have been accurately assessed. So far as the researcher-evaluators are concerned this is a vital stage in the process of joint enquiry. It builds a shared sense of what the key issues actually are. The second element of the conference methodology we call ‘active listening’. If members of a community of practice are to learn from each other they have to listen in an open, non-judgemental way to what other people are saying. They have to be willing to learn from one another to change their own views about the problem if necessary. They have to acknowledge that together they might learn something new. These conditions of active listening have a firm philosophical foundation in the social sciences in the work of Habermas (1989) Bohm (1996) and, among others, Shotter (1993) and focus on the nature of dialogue as a way to gain understanding of a problem. Without dialogue communication becomes distorted or the views of those with power come to prevail over all others, whether they are right or wrong. Without dialogue, it is very difficult for organisations to become knowledge-productive and to discover new ways of solving problems. (Garvey an Williamson 2002) In a short space of time it is difficult to meet all the conditions of successful dialogue. We began this process by asking people to talk about their clients and their work and in two sessions of doing so encouraged participants to place post-it notes on a sheet of paper. As they listened to one another talk, they wrote down impressions, thoughts, opinions and observations about what the speakers were saying. This resulted in several full sheets of notes and comment. We then asked groups of people to reflect on the points that had emerged, to group them, to analyse them and identify key themes. When this was done, we asked the groups to circulate around each other’s tables and to comment on what other groups had done. In this way we were able to capture the elements of many conversations and analyses. We asked groups to summarise their conclusions and we captured those summaries on a power point slide that everyone could see. This rather mechanical task is very important. It enables all participants to see in an open way the emerging conclusions of group discussions. The process itself prompts further comment, debate, qualifying argument and analysis. These comments were also captured.


When the conference was finished the post-it notes and summaries were analysed further and written up into a full report. This process of reviewing the post-it comments and group feedback comments involves grouping them, counting them and interpreting them. It generates new ideas, new questions. These that are then written up to be commented on again so that front line practitioners can comment on the veracity of the emerging conclusions. The first conference resulted in the report, Behind the Baseball Cap, which was circulated to all attendees for comment as well as to members of the SORTED Partnership. Colleagues were able to circulate the report throughout their own networks and to make suggestions for how the second planned conference should be focused. The same processes were involved in shaping the second conference at Hepscott Park. Once again, key personnel from Northumberland whose work focuses on the needs of the client group were invited. They are the experts on the ground. Using the same methods of presentation, group work, active listening and reporting back, we were able to probe much more deeply the conclusions emerging from the first conference and to look ahead to policy and programme development for the future. This conference resulted in the report, At the Top of the Pyramid, which was widely circulated so that people and agencies could comment on its conclusions. This reported was also presented to the steering Group for the project. Such reporting back is not merely formal. It is substantive. It is essential to the process of learning and discovery and of re-framing the experience of everyone. It is part of the process of holding up the mirror and promoting further dialogue and reflection. In this way a new understanding of both context and client emerges. People become clearer about the principles of good practice and new issues that need attention emerge. The final report of the project, which is, of course, based on a much wider range of materials and analysis, is nevertheless to be read in the same way. It is not the end of a project, but the beginning of a new cycle of analysis and reflection. Interviews Alongside the conferences we have engaged in a programme of interviews. We have met people leading particular youth projects. We have spoken to groups of young people. We have met policy-makers in County Hall. We have met employers and teachers. We have not followed a sampling procedure and would not claim the sample we have interviewed is a statistically representative one. No matter; everyone we have spoken to has direct experience of the problems being discussed.


We have tried, within the constraints of the time available to us to meet the following groups: • • • • • •

Parents Young People Teachers Front-line workers in the fields of criminal justice, substance misuse, housing support, youth work, guidance and advice Employers, including training providers. Policy-makers

Those consulted are listed in Appendix Two of this report. Each interview (some by telephone) followed the same, open-ended format. There was no questionnaire. We engaged in a conversation. Interviews were carefully noted, written up and copies of the report were sent to those interviewed. They could comment on the accuracy of the report and state whether they approved of its use in the final report of the project. This is crucial. It allows people to speak ‘off the record’ and therefore to avoid the problem of people covering what they really want to say by sticking to the official line on a problem. It was particularly challenging to speak with young people. We met with two separate groups in a youth project in Blyth. The young people agreed to meet us and were paid for their trouble in doing so. Too many young people are consulted and see no benefit from it. These were informative sessions, though quite difficult to conduct. It is hard to disengage young people from their peer group and to encourage them to speak without feeling the need to play to an audience. We believe we achieved this more with the group of girls than with the boys. In both cases we wrote a report of the meeting that was fed back to the young people via the youth project manager. We discussed the report with the manager and were able to feel confident that we had captured accurately something of how young people perceive the world around them. Conversations with officials and managers were much easier but were governed nevertheless by the same principles. We could present our findings, try out interpretations of discussions and listen to their views. In this way we believe we arrived at an in-depth view of the problems of policy and practice in this field. Each interview was written up and given back to the interviewee for comment. It is a time-consuming process but it adds significantly to the veracity of the interpretations we arrive at. It is a process built on principles of dialogue and joint enquiry. It gives people an opportunity to reflect on their work that their ordinary ‘busyness’ usually does not allow. Triangulation Northumberland County Council promotes open government. Its information network and web site is very accessible and provides anyone seeking it with information about all areas of public policy. We have collected much of this material. We have read many documents. We have considered the different needs of different parts of the county. We


have tried to understand the county’s economic strategy and its frameworks for planning and regeneration. We have looked at other research, including academic research about young people at risk. We have discussed all this material very thoroughly and have tried to assess how different kinds of data come together to sustain the general conclusions we have arrived at. This is a process of triangulation. It is not in the end a scientific process. We are not testing hypotheses in a controlled way. But it is a systematic process that makes it possible for people who have expertise to comment at each stage on the work in progress and to shape its conclusions. In this way the interpretations developed – if they are acceptable – gather the approval of people who understand the problems being discussed. Such understanding leads to new ideas. We have been able to identify ways of changing the provision for the client group. For example, it has become clear that better working relationships between employers, training providers and the Connexions service is needed. It became clear, too, that the complex framework of partnership and networking that provides services to you g people needs to be understood better. There is therefore a staff development problem to be solved. Such conclusions are developmental. They result in new kinds of actions and these, in their turn, will generate new challenges. Interpretation and writing Some social scientists refer to such outcomes as being reflexive. They mean that change brings new problems that were not anticipated. New ways of looking at a problem change the problem and its solutions. It is an open-ended process. There is therefore a permanent requirement for members of a community of practice to continue their dialogue and to seek to be a community of discovery exploring new options for practice. It is one that presupposes democratic openness so that a wide range of views may come into play. It is not a process of surveying opinion or of consultation. It is a method of working that goes beyond recording the views of focus groups. Because it is based on dialogue it is essentially an analytical process that changes how people perceive issues and it opens up new solutions to problems. We believe it is simultaneously a process of personal and professional development. Inter-agency methods of working are central to all the policy initiatives for work with children and young people. Such methods of work have to be discovered and sustained through continuous professional development (CPD). The methods described here make that possible. They engage people. They build on their knowledge and expertise. When people participate in such a process they feel they own its outcomes. The written word is central to the processes of investigation and discovery described here. We have tried at each stage to write up our conclusions and feed them back to interviewees and participants in conferences. When people can see things written down


they can think about them in fresh ways. They can assess ideas better when they are written down. Reading provokes criticism and new thinking. For this reason we do not see the final report as the definitive account of our work. Its conclusions are not set in stone. They are not ‘evidence-based’ in ways that make them true in ways that might apply in other parts of the country or at different periods of time. They represent an honest attempt to describe features of the position of and support available to young people at risk in Northumberland. On that basis they can be further discussed within the evolving community of practice whose members work on these issues. In this sense we hope he report is judged in terms of whether it is helpful as a way of developing policy and practice in this complex area of need and provision.


Appendix 2 – those consulted Organisation Staff at Liz Jan John Maurice Bill Kim Geoff John John Michelle Peter Steve Jeremy Glenda Judith Lynette

Arthur Barwick Bell Bransfield Brooks Brown Buckley Carlin Caverner Clark Clarke Cochrane Cripps Devlin Dunn Elliott

Buzz Learning Ltd Housing Support Manager, YMCA Youth Offending Service Berwick Youth Project Northumberland Youth Service Deputy Leader Northumberland County Council Sorted! Youth Offending Service Asst. Portfolio Holder Children's Services, Northumberland County Council Barnardos Sorted! The Outdoor Trust Sergeant, Northumbria Police Northumberland County Council Sorted! Community Parenting Initiative Manager, Escape

Bob Jack Rachel

Evans Fairgrieve Farnham

Human Resources Director, Dräger Safety UK Limited Northumberland Guidance Company Youth Offending Service






Leaving Care



Northumbria Coalition Against Crime

Richard Martin Linda Caroline Carol Debra Katherine Rob Chris Jennifer Arthur Sharon Carol Ron Pam Steve Chris Dorothy Jayne Gordon Lesley Rachel Rosie

Hayes Hewitt Keith Lithgo Long Lowes Lyford McMullen Metcalf Middlemiss Mitchell Nevin Nicholson Norman Orange Paddon Prior Roberston Saul Simpson Soper Spelling Spence

The Point Youth Offending Service Northumberland College Progress to Work Head of Crime Reduction Division, Northumberland County Council Northumberland Training Northumberland Community Development Network Area Manager Tees Valley, North East Chamber of Commerce Community Parenting Initiative Youth Offending Service The Prince's Trust WPC, Northumbria Police WPC, Northumbria Police Blyth Community College Senior Support Worker, Escape Northumberland Youth Service Fire and Rescue Service Community Parenting Initiative Barnabas Safe and Sound Northumberland Training Association Leaving Care worker, Social Services Youth Offending Service King Edward School


Karren Andrew Lindsey Stephanie Ron Jackie Serena Alan John Joy Alan

Spowart Sugden Taggart Tate Taylor Telford Thompson Thornton Tyers Wakemshaw Wann

Hexam Youth Initiative North East Chamber of Commerce Youth Offending Service Bedlington High School Assistant Head, Blyth Community College Northumberland County Council Sorted! Northumberland YMCA Choysez Youth Offending Service Northumberland County Council



Director, Connexions Services



North East Chamber of Commerce



Connexions - Northumberland

Gwen Debbie Rachel

Woodman Wylie Youll

Hirst High School Little Angels (Training Provider / Employer) Employment/Training Co-ordinator for Leaving Care

We also wish to thank parents and young people across the region, many of whom gave us substantial amounts of their time for individual interviews and discussions and contributed to work in focus groups


Appendix 3 – The Employer questionnaire

Northumberland Crime Reduction Division in partnership with North East Chamber of Commerce

Young offenders and young people who misuse substances, or are at risk of doing so We are doing this survey to improve the ways in which young people from high risk groups can stay in education and training or find work. We would be very grateful if you could spend a few minutes answering the questions below. Your important views will be used to improve the way that we work with young people. We want to know how to bring young people into the workplace and what barriers might be in your way. We would be very grateful if you could return your submission by 25th October. This will ensure that your views are included in the report to the Chamber of Commerce and Northumberland Crime Reduction Division. Please add anything you want to the questionnaire, on the back or at the end. 1. About your business a) Number of employees b) Location

Alnwick Berwick Blyth Valley

Castle Morpeth Tynedale Wansbeck

c) Sector

Business services ………………. Construction …………………… Leisure / hotel / catering ……….. Manufacturing …………………. Retail …………………………… Transport and Logistics ………...


Other (please say) ………………

d) Company name (optional) e) Contact details (optional)

2. Have you had experience of working with young offenders and young people who misuse substances? YES

Please now go to question 3


Please now go to question 5

3. Experience a) How much experience has your company had of working with such young people, to your knowledge? Quite A great Some a bit A lot deal

b) How many such young people have you worked with in the last two years?

Male ……. Female ….

c) Has your experience of this been ….

Very good

Good Not so Awful good

d) Why did you want to work with these young people? Staff recruitment needs …………………… I wanted to contribute to the community … Someone suggested it to me ……..….……. To help a young person in need ………..…. Other (please say) …


4. What support do you need to work with young offenders and young people who misuse substances? Not Of some Quite Very important importance important important Background information on client …………………………………………………… Clear expectations all round College-based or provider support …………………………………………………… Feedback on evaluation and progress Frequent contact with support worker ……………………………………………… Work based mentoring support Others (please say)

Please now go to question 6 and answer all the remaining questions. 5. What has prevented your business from working with young offenders and young people who misuse substances? I choose not to work with such young people ……. I have Health and Safety concerns about them …... I think my staff would be affected ……………….. Other (please say)

Please now carry on and answer all the remaining questions. 6. Agencies supplying trainees Please list the agencies that supply you with trainees, and rate how well supported you are by them. Poor Adequate Good Excellent a) Connexions ……………………………………………………………… b) Social Services ……………………………………………………………. Others (please list) c) ..………………………….………………………………………………. d) ..……………………………….………………………………………….. e) ……………………………………….……………………………………. f) ……………………………………………….……………………………….. g)…………………………………………………….………………………….


7. What needs to be in place from the young person, to make placements successful? Not important

Of some importance

Quite important

Very important

Shows commitment ………………………………………………………..….…. Has initiative Has responsible attitudes …………………………………………………………. Is prepared to work Is reliable and trustworthy ………………………………………………….…….. Is willing to learn Presentation of self ……………………………………………………………..… Sees work as stepping stone to future Timekeeping ability ………………………………………………………………… 8. What would you want young people to have before they could work with you? GCSEs

NVQ level 1

NVQ level 2

A levels

Other (please say) 9. What do you think of young people who misuse substances or who offend?

Thank you for your time in completing this questionnaire.


Not Always What They Seem  
Not Always What They Seem  

Research report