Young peoples disengagement from learning

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"If we think and label young people not in employment, education or training as a single category, using the shorthand NEET to define an individual like the word geek, we miss the complexity of the true picture and the individuals young people face in life", Education Minister Leighton Andrews warning of the danger of the phrase NEET becoming a noun and therefore labeling young people.

He also said "There is no one solution which will encourage young people to engage with education, or to help those out of work to get back into the labour market. One thing we do know is that labeling them and categorising them without consideration for their individual needs is not going to help them have a prosperous future".

I have chosen to research the background into the growing number of young people who are NEET's (Not in Education, Employment or Training as this is an issue which is directly relating to my workplace, Wrexham ITeC. Research has shown that the each year the number of NEET's is growing and that they could cost the economy approximately £97,000 over a lifetime [1] . These figures from 2001 have no doubt increased significantly in the past 10 years. The Welsh Assembly Government (WAG) are aware of the problems and through my research of the subject I was able to see that many studies have been undertaken to look at why such a problem exists and what is being done to tackle the problem.

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Barriers to learning

There are many barriers that young people face that will affect their engagement in employment or education. Particularly for the students I teach, it is often the case that 'education is largely an alternative to unemployment' (Armitage et. al. 1999, p 53 & 54)'. I have learnt how important it is to understand a student's motivation in order to overcome barriers to learning, especially self-imposed barriers.

One issue that may be affecting the growing numbers of NEET's discovered by the research report 'Barriers to participation in education and training is that "almost half of the group found the decision about what to do after Year 11 difficult, mainly because they could not decide what to do". This fundamental problem has arisen because they felt the routes were too broad or that they felt they did not have enough advice or guidance on what would be best suited to their needs.

Another barrier to entering training or education is often financial implications including transport issues. 34% of young people who did not go on to education or training after Year 11 said they would have if they had received more money to cover the cost of transport. Many young people identified the cost of transport rather than the availability of transport as barrier. Funding is available to help towards this cost through Work based learning and FE colleges often provide transport to their centres, however it is evident that not all young people are aware of this.

Another interesting statistic from the 'Barriers to participation' report, is that young people who are NEET in particular, placed "a lot of importance on financial considerations when deciding what to do post-16 and were significantly more likely to experience finance as a barrier or constraint". Again through funding the Education Maintenance Allowance (EMA) and SB (Skill Build) learning grant allowances money is available when in training or education however it is likely that they feel it is "not sufficient to engage them in education or training". The report suggests that from its findings that there is a need for financial support for those that are at risk of becoming NEET and that work-based routes would benefit many young people therefore being given the opportunity to combine learning with paid employment.

One of the solutions to this problem is the Skill Build programme and its conception was to tackle this problem. WAG currently funds an all-age preparatory and National Vocational Qualification (NVQ) skills training programme for both younger people (16-18) and adults, entitled Skill Build. The programme is aimed at learners who are vocationally unfocused and who may lack confidence, have poor motivation and/or poor Basic Skills. The programme aims to provide learners with the key personal and employability skills and qualifications to enable them to effectively enter the labour market and retain sustainable employment.

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The Skill Build programme offers those not in employment (unemployed, or inactive) work related skills including pre-NVQ learning, vocationally focused NVQ at levels 1, 2 and 3, Literacy and Numeracy, Basic Skills, and key employability skills, in simulated work settings or with real employers, offering work placements as part of improving the participant's job skills and prospects.

I consider the most important development this year within Skill Build is the acknowledgement that the learners in this sector are increasingly lacking in motivation and displaying challenging behaviour. I have carried out research through wider reading and attended training

Challenging Behaviour was summarised as 'Challenging behaviour is any form of behaviour that interferes with learning or normal development, is harmful to the child, other children or adults, or puts a child at risk of later social problems or educational underachievement', (The Elton Report 'Discipline in Schools' 1989). We also discussed how this statement is relevant for both youth and adult Skill Build students as either can display challenging behaviour. Types of behaviour were described as low or high level with low level examples such as poor time-keeping, not listening, excessive talking, preventing others from working and not getting on with work. Whilst high level examples were shouting (at pupils & staff), physical assault, fire setting and throwing items. We also looked at strategies to cope with this and discussed the Behaviour for Learning Model (Davies & Garner 2007) which encourages making the learning fun and stimulating, making lessons relevant to the student, making learning inclusive for all learners and getting to know your students i.e. their interests, issues, learning style. We should also be aware that behaviour (good or bad) breeds behaviour therefore by adopting a positive role model we can instil positive behaviour within our learners.

herefore they key is motivating this group with the same good practice discussed previously in the Behaviour for Learning model (Davies & Garner) and again being aware of behaviour breeding behaviour. Another interesting strategy we discussed was The Cycle of Change whereby change occurs in a cyclical pattern. These are: -

pre-contemplative - not interested in change

contemplative - thinking about change

determination - getting ready for change

action - making changes

maintaining change

lapse or relapse

It is important I feel to consider that my students are often not aware that change cannot happen without going through the initial steps first.

It is possible to argue that to teach people without looking at their needs can be partially successful. On occasions I may be lucky and provide a course that students react well to, or as has been the case often in the past, a certain proportion of students will find my teaching beneficial while another proportion won't. By assessing learners' needs the element of chance is lessened and a certain acceptance of responsibility is levied at me, providing a more balanced relationship between student and tutor. As Petty explains 'If the needs of our learners are discovered and met, the chances of success are greatly increased' (2004, p496).

Another consideration in the consideration of both learning styles and teaching strategies is the motivation and/or 'baggage' that many learners, particularly on Skill Build programme may have. Each of us is motivated by needs. Our most basic needs are inborn, having evolved over tens of thousands of years. Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs helps to explain how these needs motivate us all. He states that we must satisfy each need in turn, starting with the first, which deals with the most obvious needs for survival itself. Only when the lower order needs of physical and emotional well-being are satisfied are we concerned with the higher order needs of influence and personal development. Conversely, if the things that satisfy our lower order needs are swept away, we are no longer concerned about the maintenance of our higher order needs.

According to Kolb (1984, p38) 'Learning is the process whereby knowledge is created through the transformation of experience'. The theory presents a way of structuring and sequencing the curriculum and indicates, in particular how a session, or a whole course, may be taught to improve student learning. It suggests that learning is cyclical, involving four stages, sometimes referred to as sensing/feeling, watching/reflecting, thinking, and doing. An important feature of the theory is that the different stages are associated with distinct learning styles. Individuals differ in their preferred learning styles and recognizing this is the first stage in raising students' awareness of the alternative approaches possible and helping them to become more.

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By the use of a variety of different teaching techniques it becomes possible to engage the majority of students. The problem with the teaching of IT subjects is that I am restricted to only a few types of techniques. Of the three domains of learning, I generally only use Cognitive and Psychomotor learning techniques. I believe that a cognitive approach is relevant as the student would show behaviour which includes knowing and recalling, comprehending information, applying knowledge, solving problems and choosing among alternatives. Sessions also show evidence of psychomotor learning as the student must use, handle, operate and perform skills and tasks.

Armitage et al., 1999, Teaching and Training in Post-Compulsory Education, Cambridge: Open University Press

KOLB, D. A., (1984) Experiential Learning: experience as the source of learning and development. New Jersey: Prentice-Hall

LLUK (2008), New Overarching Professional Standards for Teachers, Tutors and Trainers in the Lifelong Learning Sector in Wales, London: LLUK.

Petty, G., (2004) Teaching Today: a practical guide 3rd Edition. Cheltenham: Nelson Thornes