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More Choices, More Chances: A Strategy to Reduce the Proportion of Young People not in Education, Employment or Training in Scotland


Section 1: (i) Pre-16

The challenge

38. Tackling the NEET challenge does not start at sixteen. We know that poor attainment at school and socio-economic disadvantage are closely interrelated and are key determinants of being at risk of NEET at 16. We also know that over 35% of the workless population has no qualifications 35 and raising the attainment of young people will have a significant impact on reducing the risk of worklessness. Ministers see tackling these challenges as a key priority for our education system and wider infrastructure of services for children and young people.

39. We have a high performing education system - only three OECD countries significantly outperform Scotland in each of the key measures of maths, science and literacy. 36 By the time they are 15 our young people are among the best in the world. High investment in education since devolution is paying off. Universal access to early years education and targeted support for vulnerable families with young children are ensuring the best possible start in life while more teachers, better paid and motivated, and improved school buildings are pushing up overall attainment levels. More pupils are gaining 5 or more qualifications at standard grade at credit or equivalent - up 9% since 1999, and fewer pupils are leaving with no qualifications. However, the performance of the lowest attaining 20% of pupils has remained static over recent years and turning this around is the single biggest challenge facing our education system.

40. Tackling this requires an understanding the profile and challenges facing the group of young people in the lowest attaining 20%. We have looked at characteristics of the lowest attaining 20% of pupils through the analysis of tariff scores (derived from pupils' performance in Scottish Qualifications Authority ( SQA) courses). The table below illustrates the difference in attainment between the different groups of pupils, compared to the national average. Overall, looked after children are the lowest attaining sub-group, followed by pupils traditionally classified as having special educational needs ( i.e. having Individual Educational Programmes ( IEP) or Record of Needs ( RON) - replaced as of the Additional Support for Learning Act 2004 by Co-ordinated Support Plans and a wider definition of additional support needs), pupils who are entitled to free school meals and pupils who live in the most deprived areas of Scotland.

Average Tariff Scores of S4 pupils in 2003/04

Average Tariff Scores of S4 pupils in 2003/04

41. If we look at the proportions of S4 pupils who do not sit any exams, and the proportions of school leavers who have no qualifications, in all cases the proportion of the population with no qualifications is higher among those from the 15% most deprived areas than from the rest of Scotland. As the table shows, 5% of those pupils who left publicly funded secondary schools in Scotland in 2002/03 did so with no qualifications. For pupils from the 15% most deprived areas this figure was 11%. In 2003, 25% of 16 to 19 year olds living in the 15% most deprived areas were NEET compared to 11% of those living in the rest of Scotland. 37

Leavers with no qualifications - publicly funded secondary schools, 2004/0538

Percentage of all leavers

15% Most Deprived

Rest of Scotland














42. As illustrated above, there is a complex range of factors underlying poor attainment at school. Low parental qualifications and aspirations, lack of local employment, education and training opportunities, a culture of worklessness, poor health and inadequate housing can all mean that children from poorer households are less likely to achieve their potential. 40% of the lowest attaining pupils in Scotland live in the 10% most deprived communities. Breaking the cycle of deprivation and under-achievement is the key challenge, requiring concerted effort across a range of agencies to enable all children and young people to achieve their full potential at and beyond school. This involves starting early, for some children soon after birth, to support the strengths and address the difficulties at appropriate points of the individual child, family and wider community, and recognising the interplay between these factors in young people's lives, when taking action that will make a difference. 39

Responding to the challenge

43. Within the partnership context, schools clearly have a vital role to play in supporting young people to leave school for a positive outcome. In Ambitious, Excellent Schools40 we have an agenda for action to raise ambition and equip all young people with the knowledge, skills, confidence and self-esteem to enable them to achieve their full potential. Ambitious, Excellent Schools is delivering major planks of reform in the education system which will impact on the challenges associated with deprivation and underachievement to:

  • focus on outcomes
  • provide flexible, personalised learning opportunities with appropriate recognition
  • develop employability
  • support learners

A focus on outcomes

44. Transition from secondary to post-school is a critical time; in common with other transitions it is a point at which many young people are vulnerable. In addition to being a vulnerable time for young people, negotiating the boundaries between child and adult services can mean that this is a time when young people fall out of the system. We need to ensure that services are joined-up to achieve positive long term outcomes for young people - both in terms of meeting the range of needs across services and in managing the progression from child to adult services.

45. For Scotland's Children published in 2001 recognised the need for an integrated approach by a range of services to tackle complex barriers to improving life chances for children and young people. Since then much has been done already and work is ongoing to improve the framework for integrating children's services at local authority and neighbourhood level and to improve assessment and planning for individual children.

46. National guidance on planning and reporting for improvement across education and children's services, and emerging approaches to self-evaluation and inspection emphasise the need to focus on post-school outcomes. These developments are promoting shared ownership and responsibility for the outcomes of the whole population of young people at a community or neighbourhood level, whether they are in or outwith school. The framework is right but more needs to be done to develop the focus on post-school outcomes as a benchmark for success at a local level.

Emerging practice

In many areas across Scotland, local authorities and other partners are putting in place effective local mechanisms to ensure the strategic objectives of multi-agency integrated children's services plans are delivered. Often operating on a cluster basis, schools are coming together with pre-school and post-school providers, community learning and development, health and social work services, police, voluntary sector organisations, parents and community representatives to develop shared objectives and plan what is delivered respectively and together in order to meet the needs of children and young people. In some areas where ' NEETness' is a particular issue, we are seeing local partners prioritising and developing shared responsibility for post-school outcomes, using data to set targets and track progress, and pooling and targeting resources to address the issue together. 41

47. We are working with local authorities and HM Inspectorate of Education ( HMIE) to understand and deploy data on the lowest performing 20% more intelligently, to develop an understanding of the scale and nature of the problem, and to identify good practice. HMIE's recent report Missing Out 42 provided a useful starting point, highlighting the need for high expectations for all young people, strong leadership, early identification of risk, pupil tracking and monitoring, smaller class sizes and targeted out of school hours activities. We will continue this work to support more effective targeting of resources both at national and local level and development of good practice to tackle low attainment.

Flexible, personalised learning opportunities with appropriate recognition

48. We need to ensure all young people have access to learning opportunities which will re-engage them and provide appropriate skills and recognition of achievement. The ability to match a young person's needs with the right learning opportunity is compromised when there is a limited and/or uncoordinated local infrastructure. Notwithstanding considerable development of vocational options and partnership working to engage with young people who are disaffected both within and outwith schools (see below), the information we have suggests that we currently have a mixed model of patchy provision which limits the options that can be offered to young people. 43

Emerging practice

Many schools and authorities have developed fruitful partnerships with FE colleges and voluntary sector organisations to broaden the range of learning opportunities available to pupils, and to tailor these more specifically to meet their needs and motivations. Feedback on these sorts of tailored learning opportunities shows that programmes both within and outwith school can have a positive impact with groups at risk of NEET. 44

Almost all secondary schools now have a pupil support base, and these have been used creatively for focussed programmes of group or individual work with pupils, in particular those most likely to disengage from school.

Careers Scotland and organisations such as Right Track, Fairbridge and the Princes Trust, in partnership with schools, are now delivering a range of products aimed at pupils as young as S2. Although their scale is relatively modest, there is evidence to suggest that such early intervention programmes are succeeding, in particular with the 'intermediate' at risk of NEET group whose levels of engagement and confidence are low. Local authorities are also designing models better suited to the needs of young people and that these are producing encouraging results.

Glasgow's Enhanced Vocational Inclusion Programme ( EVIP)

Glasgow's EVIP offer 64 full-time places to young people aged 15+ who have experienced severe problems in their lives and who, as a result, do not access the opportunities typically available to their peers. The target group includes young people who are looked after or looked after and accommodated, and young people with social, emotional and behavioural difficulties. EVIP provides access to a range of vocational options in growth employment areas, a programme of core and life skills, integrated literacy and numeracy support, opportunities to undertake additional accredited qualifications; and, as such, acts as a springboard to further progression routes. A dedicated vocational coach supports a specific group of young people, co-working with college lecturers and providing feedback to parents, carers, referrers and schools. Currently, it is funded through Changing Children's' Services Fund, Community Regeneration Fund, City Vision and European Social Fund.

49. The Curriculum for Excellence45 represents a radical restatement of the purpose of education, with the young person at the centre of the curriculum. The work of the Curriculum Review Programme Board, encapsulated in a recent report, Progress and Proposals46 proposes a way of looking differently at the curriculum, suggesting that, at all stages from the early years to S6, the curriculum should include learning through the ethos and life of the school as a community, curriculum areas and subjects, interdisciplinary projects and studies, and opportunities for personal achievement. It recognises that all young people need experiences to equip them with firm foundations, including in literacy and numeracy, for the next stage of learning, and for life. Greater flexibility in the curriculum, for example through developing thinking on the proposals on choice in learning in S1-S3, and personalising learning through Assessment is for Learning47 will enable all young people to become successful learners, confident individuals, responsible citizens and effective contributors and achieve positive outcomes on leaving school.

50. The challenge will lie in ensuring that the curriculum is flexible and personalised enough to cover the full spectrum of needs and abilities of our young people in or out of school, so that no one is missing out. At times, provision outwith school may best meet a pupil's needs. We must ensure that learning opportunities, wherever they take place, are of the highest possible quality, considered an integrated part of mainstream education and effectively linked to schools, associated with appropriate support for pupils, and that learning and achievement is accredited or formally recognised. Interruptions to learning for vulnerable or disaffected pupils may lead to disengagement. Education authorities must ensure that they have provision available for pupils who need short-term support to continue learning while excluded from school, and that pupils removed from the register are placed promptly in a suitable school or other provision, to reduce the difficulties associated with reintegration and lost progress.

51. The ongoing work on the C urriculum for Excellence and Assessment is for Learning will focus on exploring alternative ways of recognising achievements. The Curriculum Review Programme Board has, for example, proposed an achievement framework which is coherent from 3-18, based on experiences and outcomes. The framework recognises that children and young people will progress at different rates; the framework shoguld be designed, amongst other aims, to support teachers in planning for progression, enhancing experiences within levels as well as providing for progression to the next level. Attainment and achievement are important as are high expectations for all young people. The proposed levels are not there as hurdles to get over as quickly as possible, but rather as staging posts on a journey which offers opportunities for challenge and depth. We will continue to engage with teachers, schools and others in exploring how these ideas can be developed ensuring that all of these programmes and initiatives focus on improving the quality of learning and teaching and professional practice in the classroom.

52. We are currently developing Skills for Work courses for pupils over 14 of all abilities (including school leavers and adult learners) in subject and occupational areas where assessing and certificating competence in practical and other employability skills is the key to progression. The new courses will be recognised in the Scottish Credit and Qualifications Framework ( SCQF) as full qualifications at the level studied. It is expected that successful pupils will progress on to further learning at school, further education or higher education or into employment. While the Skills for Work courses are not developed exclusively for young people at risk of becoming NEET, we believe that they will represent additional opportunities to suit pupils' interests and inclinations, and could contribute to improved outcomes for young people post 16 by providing a pathway from school to education, employment or training.

Developing employability

53. Low attainment is also often accompanied by a similar lack of generic skills for life and work - recent research found that 43% of employers felt school leavers they had recently recruited were poorly prepared for the world of work. 48 We need to ensure that learning opportunities support the development of both hard ( i.e. qualification based) and softer ( i.e. time keeping, team working) skills.

54. The need to prepare all our young people for the world of work, through equipping them with both hard and soft skills is at the heart of our Enterprise in Education strategy, Determined to Succeed. 49 Working with Local Authorities - who have the key role to play in determining local provision - Determined to Succeed is helping develop enterprise and employability skills for all young people.
It also recognises the need for robust partnerships between schools and employers to help contextualise the learning experience. Local authorities are therefore continuing to develop new partnerships between schools and local businesses and while the Executive's target of 2,000 such partnerships by 2006 has already been met, we need to continue to build such relationships. The Executive will therefore continue to lend strategic support to the school/business partnership agenda; and our relationship with The Smith Group will further strengthen the unique approach involving business and education leaders developed under Determined to Succeed. Determined to Succeed can also engender, encourage and reinforce enterprising approaches to learning and teaching that will be critical in supporting the move towards A Curriculum for Excellence.

Emerging practice:

Xlerate with XL - operated jointly by the Prince's Trust Scotland ( PTS) and Young Enterprise Scotland ( YES)

Funded by Determined to Succeed and The Hunter Fundation, Xlerate with XL is improving educational and employment outcomes for young people who are less motivated by the traditional formal curriculum.

Developed by the Prince's Trust for Scotland ( PTS), Young Enterprise Scotland ( YES) and the Prince's Scottish Youth Business Trust ( PSYBT), the in-school programme sees disaffected young people in S3 and S4 taking part over 2 years in a combined personal development, citizenship and enterprise course.

The course, which includes a 12 week enterprise module based around the YES franchise product, involves the young people in all aspects of business from product costing and business planning to manufacturing, sales plans, financial controls, training and customer satisfaction.

Involving the business community through enhanced work placements and business advice, Xlerate with XL is an options choice in S2 and is currently set to support some 2,100 young people across Scotland.

The programme has been independently monitored and evaluated 50 to assess its ability to be made available for many more of Scotland's educationally disengaged young people.

55. The current and - increasingly - future workplace demands that people not only have occupational knowledge but also the skills to plan and manage choices about personal development and future career opportunities. With the likelihood that a person will change careers, far less jobs, 5-7 times in their working life, it is essential that they are in control of these choices and options and have the necessary decision-making skills to maximise their potential in the workplace. Employability is therefore not just about getting entry to the first occupational area; it is also about having the skills and understanding to construct a career path and take appropriate decisions to aid progression and sustainability. Careers Scotland, through careers advisers, key workers, and other staff and services, plays a central role here: a role which must be fully exploited.

56. Moreover, Careers Scotland plays a key role in ensuring an integrated approach to supporting young people in order to maintain a focus on employability. Both Additional Support for Learning and forthcoming Getting It Right for Every Child legislation are strengthening existing partnership approaches, clarifying the co-ordination role of 'key workers'. Within this context, it will be important for Careers Scotland advisers and key workers to build stable and continuous relationships with young people.

57. We also need to work with local authorities and other partners to build skills and capacities around employability in the wider workforce. The new (post McCrone Teacher's Agreement) contractual commitment to continuing professional development for teachers and the development of leadership in schools offer significant opportunities for raising awareness of issues and approaches around low attainment, deprivation and NEET.

Support for learners

58. Every child and young person faces choices and experiences which can be challenging and require the friendly support of an adult, for example making transitions from nursery to primary, primary to secondary and beyond, making subject and career choices, coping with deadlines, tests and exams, and taking personal responsibility. Some young people will be faced with challenges that are much more troubling, for example -coping with bereavement, bullying, domestic abuse, drug misuse in the home or teenage pregnancy. These challenges, left unaddressed, would limit their capacity to learn and succeed later on in their life.

59. The standards for personal support in schools are set out in Happy, Safe and Achieving their Potential, 51 the report of the National Review of Guidance. This report emphasises the role of all teachers in promoting positive relationships and for specialist guidance staff in co-ordinating integrated approaches within the school and with external partners.

60. The Additional Support for Learning Act 2004 requires education authorities to identify the children and young people who, for whatever reason, have additional support needs and take specific action, where necessary with the support of appropriate agencies to help these young people to benefit from learning and make the transition from school to post-school life successfully. The Act also aims to ensure that the likely provider of post-school provision has access to relevant information about the support needs of that young person prior to the period of transition, thereby ensuring a smooth transition from school to post school life.

61. Within the group of young people at risk of low achievement and becoming NEET, looked after children and young people have been identified as particularly vulnerable. 24% of children looked after away from home and over 42% of children looked after at home leave school with no qualifications, compared to around 4% of all children in Scotland. 52 59% of young people leaving care, who had a known economic activity status, are in the NEET group. 53 We have set a target to ensure that by 2007 over 50% of all looked after young people leaving care have entered education, employment or training and the Minister for Education and Young People has established a short life working group to consider what more can be done at a national level to improve educational outcomes for looked after children. A report of the group's discussions is due shortly.

62. Within this framework much good practice is developing in creative approaches to supporting learners - see below. The key to preventing young people becoming NEET is to identify those at risk as early as possible and have sound structures and processes in place to intervene effectively and promptly. It is essential that there is good communication between the child or young person and parents and all supporting agencies and information is shared promptly and effectively.

Emerging practice:

Supporting the whole child in the early years

The early years are a period of rapid social and cognitive development, and can have a major influence on outcomes later in life. Surestart Scotland funds a range of projects which support vulnerable children and their families in the early years. It places a strong emphasis on co-ordinated approaches to bring together education, social work and health services to create a package which addresses the full range of barriers a family may face.

Early intervention

In the early primary years, the Executive is supporting a small number of education authorities working to develop nurturing approaches, with children whose home experience or slower development has led to a need for more intensive work on their social, emotional and behavioural skills. Studies of the approach elsewhere suggest that this early intervention has a sustained impact in later years and makes a vital difference to a child's ongoing inclusion in a mainstream school.

Supporting pupils and families

Restorative approaches are helping pupils to reintegrate into school following exclusion and Solution Oriented approaches are bringing an emphasis on problem-solving with pupils and families. Many education authorities have also been developing the role of family support worker or home school link worker to enable the relationship between home and school to be developed and for support to be provided when there are difficulties. In many areas this practice has been successful in tackling chronic non-attendance and negotiating reintegration into learning when relationships have broken down.

We recognise the vital role that parents play in their children's education and learning and the critical importance of involving parents from as early as possible. We are introducing a Parental Involvement Bill which will promote involvement of parents and encourage them to do what they can in their circumstances to support their own children. The Bill will place a duty on education authorities to draw up strategies for parental involvement in its widest sense, taking account of the specific needs of Looked After Children.

Tracing missing pupils

We must continue to ensure that interruptions to learning or gaps in school attendance are minimised. The mobility of some families with high support needs is of concern and we are working closely with schools and education authorities to improve practice on tracing children who appear to drop out of the education system. We are promoting early follow up and national co-ordination of tracing to ensure that families are re-engaged with services in their new location, and that children are re-registered with schools, as soon as possible, with efficient transfer of their records so that professionals can plan support and learning quickly.

Whole school approaches

There are strong correlations between non-attendance and low attainment. The Scottish Executive continues to work in partnership with education authorities to develop new approaches to promoting positive behaviour and attendance. It is vital to develop a school ethos where there is both high expectation and high support for pupils whose behaviour or attendance is causing concern. The development of a whole school approach to the curriculum extends beyond the classroom and core school time. Out of school hours activities can be effectively targeted to help re-engage and motivate young people at risk of becoming NEET.

Supporting transitions

In addition to the crucial secondary to post-school transition, earlier transitions are also vulnerable points for young people. We know that attainment levels of primary pupils drop on transfer to secondary school. Alongside increasing support for P7 and S1 to improve the transition between sectors, a number of initiatives are being piloted during 2004/06, promoting wider opportunities for teachers to teach across sectors. It is hoped such initiatives will keep pupils engaged and motivated at school.

Targeting looked after children and young people

We are piloting initiatives in 17 local authorities which aim to improve the educational outcomes for looked after children. We are also funding a Care Leavers Leadership Academy at Columba 1400 with the aim of equipping young people with the necessary life skills to assist them in making the successful transition from care to independent living. Both initiatives will be evaluated to help establish what works and why.


We are transforming the opportunities for and expectations of all pupils, including and especially those who are at risk of becoming NEET through a mix of action across mainstream education and specific targeted measures. Key actions include:

Providing flexible, personalised learning opportunities and developing employability:

(i) Implementing A Curriculum for Excellence to improve choice and flexibility and develop the wide range of capacities young people need to succeed in the modern world, and ensure they remain fully engaged throughout their school career.

(ii) Implementing Assessment is for Learning to ensure high quality learning and teaching tailored to the abilities, preferences and life circumstances of every child.

(iii) Recognising young people's wider achievements through giving credit to their different skills and abilities.

(iv) Simplifying the structure of qualifications to widen opportunities and improve progression for all our young people through reviewing Standard Grade and its links with other National Qualifications.

(v) Developing suitable models and expanding choice for work-related vocational learning, including Skills for Work courses, within schools, colleges and partner organisations in order that all young people can develop their vocational and employability skills.

Ensuring appropriate support for all learners regardless of abilities, needs and wider circumstances:

(vi) Additional Support for Learning to ensure that the support needs of all children are properly assessed and monitored and appropriate support is put in place.

(vii) Targeting additional action for those groups who currently do not benefit appropriately from school. Including implementing the forthcoming recommendations of the Ministerial working group on improving outcomes for looked after children, in order to improve the achievements and employability of looked after children and care leavers.

Transforming the learning environment:

(viii) Investing in the Schools of Ambition programme to bring about a step change in ambition and achievement to transform the educational outcomes for all children in those schools.

(ix) Highlighting and promoting excellence throughout the system through the adoption of the new excellence standard in school and education authority inspection and supporting that through extensive guidance and good practice resources.

(x) Establishing a broad programme of leadership development to foster talent and improving the training and development opportunities for teachers.

(xi) Investing further new resources for new teachers, including taking account of severe deprivation to allow local authorities to address the link between deprivation and low attainment.

Focus on outcomes:

(xii) Modernising the improvement framework to focus on securing better outcomes for children, requiring the adoption of more flexible performance indicators which track and monitor the achievement of individual children, support a culture of innovation in schools.

(xiii) Ensure better support for children across services through integrated planning, a single assessment framework, and the introduction of inspection of integrated children's services.

(xiv) Careers Scotland will review its current deployment of resources (generic careers advisers and specialist key workers) in order to improve school leaver destinations and pilot an enhanced careers resource for selected schools in selected NEET areas which have high negative school leaver destinations.