The difficulties facing youth offending teams (Yots) in terms of
getting young people back into education are not new. But the
additional pressure of ambitious Youth Justice Board targets on
numbers in full-time education has reinforced the need to keep the
issue high on the agenda.
Recent research at Peterborough Youth Offending Service shows
the struggle that Yots have with the targets: of the 73 young
people studied, almost three-quarters of them had already been
excluded from school.
“The difficulty in maintaining a school place for many young
offenders can be exacerbated by their criminal behaviour,” says
research author Zoe Ashmore, a consultant forensic psychologist.
“Most incidents of exclusion occurred in year nine and were for
abuse, disruptive behaviour, affronts to authority and physical
violence to peers.”
Once a young person has been excluded for several weeks, it can
be harder to make up lost time and easier to increase the risk of
disengagement, Ashmore adds.
Yet, despite these odds, the YJB expects Yots to have 90% of
offenders in full-time educational places in 2005. When you
consider that less than a quarter of the 155 youth offending teams
in England and Wales reported they had met the 80% target of March
2003, the size of the task ahead is only too obvious.
One of the main challenges is engaging young offenders, many of
whom have become alienated from the system for a variety of
“The young people we are working with are normally the most
disaffected ones who often have an ingrained negative attitude
towards education by the time they come to us,” explains Justin
Davies, education officer at Stockport youth offending team.
Providing alternatives to mainstream education is often seen as
a way to support the complex needs of such young people. In 2002,
Stockport Council’s education services and the local Yot set up the
Alternative Curriculum Experience to provide education for local
young people whose behaviour made them unsuitable for conventional
provision. It offers one-to-one learning support for young people
in an environment that is tailored to need and is not delivered
within a school setting.
However, as Davies points out, with only five places available
at any one time, the service although excellent cannot accommodate
all the young people who require it. To make any real impact, there
needs to be more resources and funding to offer a number of such
placements to young offenders, he adds.
In Lancashire, the youth offending team is developing extensive
links between education providers and other agencies to overcome
the barriers to education for young people who have become
Linking with schools, the team has recently secured funding to
enable the implementation of a wide range of restorative approaches
within three of them. Education officer Jennifer Martinez says:
“These approaches will include mediation, restorative conferencing,
circle time and mentoring, which will run alongside and support
existing initiatives and are designed to address inappropriate
behaviour and conflicts within schools.”
Other systems that Lancashire Yot has in place include
preventive measures such as the Group Intervention Panel, an early
intervention initiative for children and young people at risk of
becoming involved in crime or antisocial behaviour. It aims to
divert young people away from developing patterns of persistent
offending by ensuring that they have access to mainstream services,
and one-to-one support from panel staff.
Time for Youth, a programme set up by East Potential, a provider
of accommodation, training and employment opportunities for young
people in Essex and east London, takes another approach to
preventive work. It aims to address the problems which occur when
young people are caught in a cycle of homelessness and reoffending
by offering a range of support and interventions, including
accommodating 335 young people.
But despite all these successful initiatives at a local level, a
much more concerted effort by agencies across England and Wales is
needed to deal with the challenges around keeping young offenders
Ashmore believes research in this area would help youth
offending services to achieve the challenging targets set by the
“Delivery will require effective partnership work,” she adds.
“Success, while difficult to achieve, is likely to have a
significant impact on reducing offending and help us to better
understand how policy and practice must change.”
Coping with a mainstream educational place is very challenging
for a young person if they have spent some time out of school, and
a high level of support should be available for them. Peter Walker
is head teacher at Abbey School in Faversham, Kent. The school
doesn’t have a traditional pastoral system but instead has
non-teachers who are specifically employed to offer emotional and
behavioural support to pupils. It also has a counsellor on-site
three days a week. “School staff need to recognise that a young
offender being integrated into the school may have a lot of issues
to be dealt with and may be at a point where academic learning is
difficult,” Walker says. “Support to build self-esteem and
confidence is necessary to enable them into a position where
education is possible.”
If successful, preventive programmes targeting groups of
children and young people at risk of offending reduce the chances
of problems at later stages.
Planning for Success is a programme specifically targeting year
10 children at risk of offending that has been developed by Radhika
Bynon, extended school manager at Tom Hood Schol in Leytonstone,
Bynon says the focused group structure addresses the attitudes,
aspirations and accountability of the pupils who attend.
Though the programme is in its pilot stages, immediate
evaluation has shown encouraging results and a girls group is now
being organised too.
“We’re not in a position where we can say this has worked.” says
Bynon. “But we’ve had very positive feedback from the young