Seeking a NEET solution


A new research project is investigating what interventions are effective when trying to prevent young people from becoming NEETs. Clare O’Beirne and Eleanor Stevens explain.

It has been well-documented that the number of young people who are not in education, employment or training (NEET) is considerable. According to the Office for National Statistics, between July and September 2013, 1.07 million young people aged 16 to 24 were NEET, and this age group has by far the highest rate of unemployment.

This is a complicated and heterogeneous group of young people with a whole range of characteristics, needs, attributes and ambitions. We know from the research that the majority of young people who are NEET do not face multiple or complex barriers to engagement (such as being a teenage mum or having social care involvement) and could be prevented from falling into this group if they were targeted with the right intervention early on. Yet re-engagement activities in many schools tend to focus on the students with more obvious “issues”.

One of the reasons for this could be the paucity of reliable information about which interventions are most effective at re-engaging young people who fall into the “in-between” category. So how do you engage these in-betweeners? 

Our study

Current research by NFER is examining the impact of school-based programmes that support this group of students to stay engaged in learning. This longitudinal project is looking at 10 support programmes (including alternative curriculum provision) where there is at least anecdotal evidence that they are successful in keeping young people on track in key stage 4, and helping them to make positive transitions afterwards. 

We are tracking young people involved in these programmes through to the end of year 11 using indicators of engagement and attainment from our specially devised checklist (see panel, Reading the signs) to monitor progress. Where possible, we are quantifying the impact of each support programme, identifying the features that would facilitate replication, and estimating the cost of implementation.

Last term, our research team carried out baseline visits to nine of the case study schools to gain an overview of the work they are doing in this area. We held in-depth interviews with teaching staff, senior leaders, careers staff and delivery partners, and interviewed groups of year 10 students involved in the interventions, who were asked to complete a short survey exploring their views about education, themselves, and their future plans.

Our first published report from this work describes the case-study schools’ support programmes, including details of how they are being run, the characteristics of participating students and how they are selected, and the perceived benefits and challenges of the support approaches. The report is freely downloadable (see further information).

Tailored support

Schools involved in our research are using a range of provision and approaches to encourage student engagement. These broadly fit into the categories illustrated in the graphic below.

Employer or business-focused support

  • Extended employer work experience – students spend two days a week on a work placement, two days in schools and one day off-site working towards various vocational qualifications.

  • Enterprise and business qualification – students set up and run a small business as part of the key stage 4 curriculum.

  • BT mentoring programme – students receive six one–to–one mentoring sessions from BT staff over the course of a year.

  • Social enterprise qualification – students set up and run a business (social enterprise) to generate funds to improve a local issue or need.

Pastoral and/or academic-focused support

  • City Year – one-to-one academic mentoring in class to improve selected students’ engagement in learning, achievement and aspirations.

  • Academic tutoring – academic English and maths tutoring to support Pupil Premium students who are underachieving.

  • “Do Something Different” – a four to six week programme to encourage students to develop new behaviours to cope.

Alternative curriculum or pedagogy

  • An NVQ Level 2 beauty course resulting in a vocational qualification. It is delivered in-school by an adult training college.

  • Project-based learning for all students in key stages 3 and 4. The school uses extended projects in key stage 3, and elements of project-based learning in key stage 4, along with other pedagogic approaches. 

Package of support

  • Raising the participation age project targeting careers guidance and work experience opportunities, academic mentoring, and a team enterprise activity at small groups of underachieving students.

Identifying the students

Schools have taken account of a range of factors in selecting students for intervention support. Concerns about academic progress are, unsurprisingly, prominent in these decisions: underachievement, poor attendance and poor behaviour in school are all important indicators. 

The involvement of pastoral staff in these decisions ensures that concerns about a young person’s social and emotional wellbeing can also be addressed by, for example, offering one-to-one mentoring or supported team activities to help students with poor social skills or who lack confidence.

Emerging analysis of the school support programmes suggests that, for at least some of the young people involved, exposure to more innovative approaches to teaching and learning, opportunities to engage with employers, different learning environments, or receiving mentoring, helps them to understand the relevance of education to their own lives and to identify possible future pathways.  

It seems clear, when talking to these young people, that while they are often quite able and interested in learning, they may not enjoy how or what they learn.

What’s next? 

In subsequent stages of the research we will monitor students’ progress and schools’ experiences of delivering their support programmes, and use our findings to devise “what works” messages for schools. The impact of each support programme will be quantified in terms of students’ engagement and progress at school, which will be measured using student tracking data gathered by participating schools. 

This will include data on attendance, attainment, effort and progress towards predicted GCSE grades. We are also asking students to complete the attitudes survey at two further points during the evaluation to monitor changes over time.

The research will help us to identify promising support strategies that will be considered for subsequent quantitative evaluation.

Become a project partner

Over the coming months we will be creating opportunities for our case study schools to share their experiences with other schools interested in learning about, or planning to introduce, similar support programmes.

Preparations are underway for an event this summer where partner schools will be able to learn from case study schools and make links to help facilitate the implementation of their own support programmes.   We have a number of partner schools on board already but are keen to hear from other interested schools. If you would like to find out more, get in touch at

  • Clare O’Beirne is a research manager and Eleanor Stevens a researcher in the Centre for Evaluations and Consultancy at the NFER.

Further information
The baseline report which outlines the support programmes being delivered by schools is available on the project page at
Further reading
You can download two relevant reports from the NFER research programme From Education to Employment:


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