How secondary schools can effectively tackle NEETs


How can secondary schools keep pupils who are at risk of becoming NEET engaged and on track to progress? We look at a range of approaches and techniques that new research has shown to be effective.

With around one million young people not in education, employment or training (NEET), the NFER Research Programme has highlighted practical advice for secondary schools in helping to prevent young people falling into this category.

Secondary schools are naturally on the front-line, whether they have post-16 pupils or not. Many decisions, conscious or unconscious, for young people about their future are heavily influenced by schooling. So, there is no doubting their important impact on pupils when it comes to career choices and the steps needed to get there. 

More and more evidence is being produced about ways of addressing the issues around young people who are NEET and this gives some valuable pointers as to the strategies and tactics school headteachers can best deploy in order to help.

A recent suite of publications in the NFER Research Programme’s From Education to Employment theme presents four substantial reviews that establish what recent research says about ways to help those students at risk of becoming NEET. Here are some of the key messages for secondary schools from the NFER reviews.


Parents need to be effective partners in ensuring their children’s progression into further education or employment. Increase your support for this by ensuring they are positively involved in choices and decisions, and they understand their own roles in any interventions. School-home support workers can help a great deal here.

Careers education

Begin appropriate, good-quality careers education and information, advice and guidance (IAG) as early as you can in the secondary phase, from the start of year 9 at least – with careers education from year 7. This helps shape young people’s goals (and their grasp of the routes to those). All careers education and IAG should be impartial, and involve outside agencies and employers where possible. Implement coherent careers education strategies across the key stages by developing close internal partnership working between your subject departments and their individual staff – and simultaneously between them and those who deliver your specific careers support.


Identify and encourage a positive relationship between each of your pupils and at least one trusted adult role-model somewhere in the school. This need not be solely with teachers. Even a single such connection can help those most “at risk”. Staff members in co-ordinating and supporting roles for this across the school can be very helpful.


Encourage more innovative experiments with teaching and learning that mean learners are given greater responsibility and control – find new and different settings in the workplace, community and colleges. There is good evidence that more learning which differs from traditional schooling – both in style and location – is vital for creating pupil enthusiasm and commitment, especially in at-risk categories. 


Involve local employers in your curriculum planning, for advice on content, materials they can supply and the work-related opportunities they can offer, such as visits, shadowing or placements. That can strengthen and extend learners’ employability and life-skills. 

Avoid stereotyping

Avoid replicating social and other divides when matching your pupils with work-related opportunities of all kinds, within the school and beyond it – look to challenge their and other’s stereotypes and expectations. This can be even more important with those learners who can be disruptive in school: they will often shine, in response.

Early action

Look to intervene early, wherever that is practical. Examples of the aspects to concentrate on include: spotting early misbehaviour and absence patterns, reducing barriers to learning in the home environment, addressing literacy and numeracy deficits, and even boosting confidence and inter-personal skills.

Empowering students

Engage more learners, more often, in designing and monitoring their own learning, through co-constructing their own individual learning plan. This can boost motivation, commitment, attendance, behaviour, and the learning itself.

Help your students manage their independent learning workload more effectively, to feel that they are not falling behind – especially when there has been significant absence. Catch-up sessions outside normal class hours can be very helpful.

Understanding diversity

One feature underpinning all the NFER reviews is a new segmentation showing the diversity of this group. NFER research identified three sub-categories within the NEET population likely to benefit from different forms of intervention: 

  • Open to learning NEETs: young people with relatively high attainment and positive attitudes to education, and thus more likely to re-engage.

  • Sustained NEETs: who have multiple disadvantages and more negative attitudes to education and low attainment, and therefore are more like to remain NEET.

  • Undecided NEETs: a sub-group dissatisfied with the educational and training options available, and/or their ability to access them – even if their experience and attainment means they are similar in attainment and attitude to the “open to learning” sub-category.

The four NFER Research Programme reviews concentrate particularly on the “open to learning” and “undecided” sub-groups and cover the following areas: Effective general approaches to supporting young people at risk of becoming NEET or to re-integrating them into education and training; the best use of careers professionals within schools; relevant curriculum and qualifications strategies; and ways to make best use of employer involvement.

Practical guides for heads

For each of these areas free materials are available to download from the NFER website, including a detailed research review paper, a summary of the key findings that have emerged from the review, and a practical guide for headteachers that offers advice based on the evidence from the review. The last of these, the practical guides for headteachers, are cross-referenced wherever possible to the new Ofsted inspection framework. They show the potential connections from the tips and ideas offered to the main grading aspects – achievement, quality of teaching, behaviour and leadership.

Key questions

So, what are the key questions for secondary schools that emerge from these NFER investigations:

  • What helpful distinctions are there in the segmentation of young people who are NEET – and thus in the characteristics and long-term experiences of school students at risk of becoming NEET – and what can that tell us? 

  • What support, during the years of compulsory schooling, can help keep different groups “on track”, and thus to progress constructively into further education, training or work? 

  • How can heads focus their resources to provide a positive impact on reducing NEET figures? 

  • And how – in a period of growing independence married to increasing external scrutiny – can schools ensure their work in preventing pupils at risk from disengaging is recognised as effective? 

The issues around young people who are NEET are long-standing and complex, and this needs long-term and multi-faceted solutions throughout the education system. Headteachers of all kinds should take a range of strategic approaches and practical steps both within their schools and alongside their stakeholders and communities.

Further information



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