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by Dr Chris Arnold

The European Union is concerned about the rise in youth unemployment across its member states and has allocated 100 million euros for projects to try to tackle the problem.

One project is based on the book I wrote with Tracey Baker, published last summer by Trentham Books and IOE Press.

Becoming NEET: Risks, rewards, and realities examines the concerns about youth disengagement and the dangers to society if youth unemployment continues to rise.

The book tells the stories of five young people affected by the experience of being NEET – not in education, employment or training. Our research revealed that young people who have unstable lives are especially vulnerable, but that the sources of instability can be found in the data held in the existing education records. And by developing local risk factor models it is possible to identify the most vulnerable young people as much as three years before they leave education. Our research shows how early identification can lead to effective interventions that cut drop-out rates by half.

‘Wayne’ is one of our case studies. He lived in a poor part of town; there’s unemployment in his family. At school he had displayed low skills and challenging behaviour. His mother recalled that he enjoyed his junior school but that things got difficult around the second year in high school as the work became demanding. He had support in learning but became increasingly disaffected. The school eventually arranged his education in a training centre which specialized in meeting the needs of children for whom classrooms are difficult places to learn in, but Wayne found this move destabilizing. When he became a father at the age of 16, he wanted to earn money to provide for his son. One stable element in his life was the careers officer (Connexions Personal Advisor) who kept in contact with him throughout his teenage years, and at that point enabled Wayne to find work.

The ideas developed and illustrated in the book – identifying local risk factors, developing screening tools, early identification of vulnerability, and appropriate intervention – have been incorporated in the European project through the Leonardo Foundation. This takes these methods to the Czech Republic, Hungary, Spain, and Eire, and they are all currently collecting data which will be analysed in the UK and used to develop locally focused screening tools.

Becoming NEET has been welcomed by international authorities and I am encouraged by the reception of the book in the participant countries.

Dr Christopher Arnold is a Senior Educational Psychologist working in Sandwell MBC. He has written extensively about the lives of marginalized young people and worked with the local Connexions Service to develop screening tools. His co-author, Tracey Baker, is a Personal Adviser working in Connexions Sandwell, and has developed approaches for working with the most vulnerable young people.

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