Outreach - 'We persevere and we don't take no for an answer'

22nd November 2013 at 00:00
Scheme for most disadvantaged youth succeeds against the odds

"Often their auntie doesn't work, their gran doesn't work and neither does their mum or dad. They don't see themselves as able to go to work; even an entry-level supermarket job is not for them," says teacher Esther McGrath, explaining the problems some young people in North Ayrshire face.

And the official figures back her up: North Ayrshire has the highest youth unemployment rate of any Scottish council, barring Clackmannanshire. More than one in 10 young people in the area was out of work in September and in some families no one has worked for three generations.

In 2006, a project was set up to help tackle the problem, aiming to get the "most disaffected, disadvantaged and demonised" teenagers in the authority back into education.

The Extended Outreach service began with two teachers and two classroom assistants and has today grown to 13 teachers, two classroom assistants and five project officers. They work with 107 young people from nine secondaries, and there is also input from educational psychology services.

The team aims to foster a can-do attitude and ensure that, by the time teenagers leave school, they have five qualifications at Scottish Credit and Qualifications Framework level 3 (equivalent to National 3) and above. They can also gain a range of alternative qualifications, from John Muir Awards to Dynamic Youth Awards.

The service tries to ensure that its students move from school into employment or further education. Six months before they leave, the young people are handed over to project officers, who work with them to set up email addresses and bank accounts, introduce them to entry-level jobs, help them to practise for interviews and get them work experience.

This year, 85 per cent of young people referred to Extended Outreach gained five or more qualifications. Meanwhile, 31 left school in the summer, and all but five went on to positive destinations.

Speaking at a recent raising attainment conference in Edinburgh, the principal teacher of Extended Outreach, Yvonne Munn, said: "We persevere and we don't take no for an answer.

"We've had initial meetings with the young person hiding under the duvet. Then the teacher will go back and gradually make progress. They might end up doing tutorials in the dining room or kitchen - wherever the young people feel safe."

The students are referred by schools as a last resort. Ms Munn said: "Historically, pupils have been in S3 and S4 and have social and emotional needs, but more recently we've seen increasing numbers of S1 and S2 pupils referred to us. A lot of these young people have mental health issues."

Extended Outreach works, Ms Munn said, because of the key-worker approach, which allows relationships to grow and blossom between adults and young people, and also because the curriculum is tailored to each child.

Every student has an individualised timetable consisting of group tutorials, home tutorials, outdoor activities, work experience and courses covering areas such as rural skills, uniform and emergency services, and construction.

It could be a "logistical nightmare", Ms Munn said, because many students refused to travel and had to be taken to lessons.

The North Ayrshire scheme is highlighted on the Education Scotland website as an example of good practice. The project demonstrates the benefits of working together, smooths the transition from school to employment, training or further education, and supports the most disadvantaged young people, whose outcomes remain "unacceptably poor", the organisation said.

Last week, education secretary Michael Russell described the gap in attainment between the lowest- and highest-achieving Scottish students as the "most stubborn and elusive problem of all". He made the comment as he launched the Robert Owen Centre for Educational Change at the University of Glasgow, which is set to focus on the problem.

In 2011-12, 89.7 per cent of North Ayrshire students were in education, employment or training approximately nine months after leaving school. The Scottish average is 89.9 per cent.

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