Barriers to education stop young people from achieving

3rd February 2013

The latest research on the attitudes of young people who are not in education, employment or training (NEET) shows that rather than a lack of enthusiasm for learning and work, almost half of those interviewed have aspirations to progress in life through learning.

These aspirations are often not realised because of the barriers they face, often due to blockages in the system, their perception of the relevance of what is on offer and a lack of self-confidence. This is the headline finding of research – published by the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills – co-ordinated by NIACE, which involved over 800 in-depth interviews with 18 – 24 year olds who are, or have recent experience of being, NEET.

The research, which identified five different categories of young people in these circumstances – those with recent experience of being NEET; those who have applied for a course; those looking for learning opportunities; those who want to learn in future; and those with no plans to learn – found that:

  • Some young people struggled with a lack of motivation to engage in learning, either resulting from a lack of direction or confidence, poor previous learning experiences, or associated with their wider circumstances, such as unemployment.
  • Around one in ten young people found it difficult to obtain information about courses; inaccurate information resulted in provision not meeting their expectations and they subsequently dropped out.
  • For one in six young people the format or content of previous learning had resulted in them dropping out of their course or discouraged them from taking up learning in the future. Other barriers included problems with the application process, the location of the course or college, relationships with teachers, courses being cancelled and a lack of provision relevant to their career aims.
  • Financial support can be crucial to participation in learning. One in six young people faced barriers including course fees, being able to afford to live while learning, losing entitlements to benefits and transport costs.
  • One in six young people interviewed, had been asked to leave courses due to behavioural problems or low attendance. For others a negative attitude towards learning or towards themselves acted as a further barrier.
  • 6% of young people interviewed said that health or disability issues had acted as a barrier to engaging in education and training. In particular, many found mental health problems as being particularly challenging, although references were also made to long-term physical health conditions and to sensory impairments.
  • Support from a partner, family members or peers was important among those who had ‘applied for a course’. However, one in five cited a lack of support from family members and peers as a barrier to learning. Women were more likely than men to make reference to this barrier because they believe that parenthood holds them back.
  • Gaining qualifications was one of the main motivations to engage in education and training. Those interviewed saw it as both a gateway to employment and a measure of personal development.
  • One-fifth of young people with ‘recent experience of being NEET’ had been motivated to engage in learning in order to get out of the house and gain structure for their day. They felt learning was a productive use of their time and a way of keeping out of trouble.

David Hughes, Chief Executive of NIACE, said:

“More than anything else this research shows that these young people face a wide range of different barriers and we need to stop seeing them, and talking about them, as one group. We should not regard them as a problem but give them the support and interventions they need to achieve their aspirations. Because many do have aspirations in life but they often don’t know how they can go about achieving them.”

Dr. Fiona Aldridge, Head of Learning for Work at NIACE, said:

 “To help these young people overcome the barriers they talked about in this research we need to ensure they have support in three main areas. Firstly, good quality, independent information, advice and guidance (IAG) is essential to help challenge their perceptions of what learning is and how it will benefit their lives. Secondly they need to see how learning will be different now to when they were at school – where so many of them had bad experiences. We need to illustrate how others, with similar experiences, have used learning to transform their lives.

“And thirdly, although breaking down these barriers is not easy for providers, we believe this research should help them understand how they can tap into, and meet the needs of, this often complex and challenging group of young people. We need more ideas like Traineeships, which is just one example of what needs to happen in order to remove barriers and help these young people achieve their aspirations.”