Researching Young People on the Margins of Education and Training
Submitting InstitutionUniversity of Huddersfield
Unit of AssessmentEducation
Summary Impact TypeSocietal
Research Subject Area(s)
Studies In Human Society: Policy and Administration, Sociology
Summary of the impact
The University of Huddersfield's School of Education and Professional
Development has produced an extensive body of research addressing the
experiences and needs of educationally marginalised young people. This
work has developed understanding of the experiences of young people not in
education, employment or training (NEET), learners in alternative
education and those on low-level vocational programmes. Responding to
stakeholder demands for a more nuanced insight into these problems and
their possible solutions, research has been disseminated to practitioners,
policymakers, voluntary organisations, local authorities and the wider
public through conference presentations, keynote addresses and the media,
benefiting user communities at local, regional and national levels.
Common conceptions about NEET young people are dominated by negative
stereotypes and assertions. Research carried out at the University of
Huddersfield has played a key role in addressing these assumptions by
uncovering the complex interplay of factors involved in young people's
attempts to negotiate a route into adult life. This has revolved around
analyses of the policy context and curriculum initiatives associated with
young people at risk of long-term exclusion, including care leavers,
teenage parents and young offenders.
In 2008 Robin Simmons (Senior Lecturer 2004-10; Reader 2010-13; Professor
2013-present) examined the proposal to extend compulsory participation in
education and training to the age of 18. Compared with previous attempts
to do this, which took place in significantly different socio-economic
contexts, the study argued that the needs of those most likely to be
affected by the proposal — young people who are NEET — were in danger of
being subordinated to the demands of an economy increasingly based on
low-skill, low-pay work relations (Ref. 1).
Examining training programmes which purport to enhance the
"employability" of young people deemed not yet ready for employment, an
apprenticeship or further education has been a significant feature of the
research. Commencing in late 2008, research in this area led Simmons and
other Education academics to engage with practitioners and policymakers
who identified the need for more sustained research in this field,
resulting in a number of studies.
Simmons' (2) initial research into Entry to Employment (E2E) programmes
warned that a focus on largely occupational socialisation and generic
skills could promote an impoverished form of "employability" and reinforce
class-based labour divisions. Subsequent research into E2E by Simmons, Dr
Ron Thompson (Head of Division, 2005-present) and Dr Lisa Russell (Senior
Research Fellow, 2008-present) showed how a marketised target-driven
system and funding constraints can compromise practitioners' ability to
best meet young people's needs (3). The team conducted a one-year
ethnographic study of young people attending E2E programmes in two local
authorities in the north of England, concluding that such schemes,
although potentially helping to find work, were unlikely to offer
participants a labour-market advantage in adverse economic conditions (4).
The success of the E2E research helped secure funding from The Leverhulme
Trust to carry out longitudinal research into the lived experience of NEET
young people between 2010-2013. The Joseph Rowntree Foundation then
awarded the same team a grant to examine the workplace experiences of
young people who have previously been NEET, a project which ran from
In 2011 Thompson carried out research that related the NEET category to
ideas of social exclusion. The study concluded that individualised
approaches based on the personal and cultural characteristics of NEET
young people are inadequate for understanding the category and as a basis
for policymaking (5). This research underscored many of the key findings
of the School of Education and Professional Development's research into
the lives of marginalised young people, including that although many of
those classified as NEET may lead chaotic lives, most have "mainstream"
attitudes and aspirations and that being NEET is not rooted in cultures of
dependency and "worklessness"(6).
References to the research
2) Simmons, R (2009): Entry to Employment: Discourses of Employability
and Inclusion in Work-Based Learning for Young People, Journal of
Education and Work, 22(2), 137-151. Cited 10 times in Scopus. Viewed
246 times on Taylor & Francis Online.
3) Russell, L, Simmons, R, and Thompson, R (2010): Playing the Numbers
Game: Connexions Personal Advisers Working with Learners on Entry to
Employment Programmes, Journal of Vocational Education and Training,
62(1), 1-12. Cited 6 times in Scopus. Viewed 104 times on Taylor &
4) Russell, L, Simmons, R, and Thompson, R (2011a): Ordinary Lives: An
Ethnographic Study of Young People Attending Entry to Employment
Programmes, Journal of Education and Work, 24(5), 477-499. Cited 3
times in Scopus. Viewed 567 times on Taylor & Francis Online.
A Longitudinal Study of the Experiences of NEET Young People, The
Leverhulme Trust, August 2010 to June 2013 - £124,750 (PI: Simmons)
Young People's Experiences of Working in the Private Sector: A
Case-Study Approach, Joseph Rowntree Foundation, November 2012 to
March 2013 - £9,935 (PI: Russell)
Details of the impact
Three related strands of impact come from the School of Education &
Professional Development's research on young people on the margins of
education and training: raising awareness of the complexity of the issues
involved; informing policy debate; and directly benefiting young people
participating in the research. A significant feature of ethnographic
research with marginalised young people is that engaging in the research
process can be a rewarding and supportive experience for participants, who
often lead isolated and restricted lives.
One of the most significant findings to emerge from these studies is that
much negative discourse about marginalised young people is based largely
on over-simplistic, individualised assertions. Two research monographs,
Russell's Understanding Pupil Resistance: Integrating Gender,
Ethnicity and Class and Simmons and Thompson's NEET Young People
and Training for Work: Learning on the Margins, both published in
2011, encourage practitioners, students, academics and policymakers to
challenge these claims.
The research team recognise the importance of communicating their
findings — and the need to challenge inaccurate stereotypes — to the
general public. Simmons was interviewed on BBC Radio Leeds in response to
national developments in NEET policy and changing patterns of unemployment
in June 2010, July 2011 and March 2012. He was also interviewed about
youth unemployment on BBC1's Spotlight news in July 2013. In July
2013, Simmons was interviewed on BBC1's Breakfast News and Radio
4's Woman's Hour on the implications for NEET young people of
raising the participation age (Refs. 1 and 2).
The policy implications of the team's research are acknowledged at the
local, national and international level. Simmons has presented findings at
a number of high-profile events targeted at policymakers and practitioners
working with NEET young people, including keynote addresses at the
Westminster Education and Employment Forum in October 2011 (3); the
National NEET Conference in Birmingham in February 2012 (4); and include
the Youth Conference in Belfast in October 2012 (5). These events
attracted policymakers from national and local government, representatives
from voluntary organisations, and employers and employers' associations.
Simmons has also been invited to give a keynote address at the European
Youth Unemployment Conference, NEET Ideas for the New ESF Programming
Period 2014-2020 in Belfast in November 2013 (9). This conference
will feature sessions run by government ministers from Germany, Greece,
Spain, the Netherlands, and the UK, and focused on using the European
Social Fund to tackle youth unemployment.
In October 2011 Russell, Simmons and Thompson presented an overview of
their research at a NEET Breakfast Summit, which brought together
practitioners and local authority policymakers from across Kirklees.
Russell and Thompson attend the Kirklees NEET Strategy Group and in 2012
and 2013 presented research findings as part of the local authority's
planning process. This included giving advice on identifying "at risk"
young people, the likely implications of replacing Education Maintenance
Allowance (EMA) with more targeted bursaries, and the causes of labour
market "churning" between various sites of education, employment and
non-participation. Russell (6) also presented research findings at the New
Local Government Network Seminar in Manchester in July 2012. Simmons is a
member of the Kirklees RPA Strategy Group and presented findings to
members in July 2013. These activities influence policy decisions at a
local level and feed into frontline practice with marginalised young
people, particularly in relation to advice and guidance.
In May and November 2011, Thompson presented papers on NEET policy and
work-based training for young people at meetings of the Consortium for
Post-Compulsory Education and Training, events which attracted teacher
educators from more than 20 further education colleges across the north of
England. In 2012, Simmons (7) presented research findings at two public
lectures in Oldham and Barnsley attended by local authority
representatives, students, teachers, youth workers, careers advisers and
others working with NEET young people. In 2013, Simmons was invited to
become policy advisor for Learning First, a voluntary organisation
providing education and advocacy services for marginalised learners. He
was also invited to write the foreword for a Universities and Colleges
Union (10) research report on NEET young people, published as part of its
Knowledge Economy project, and to present research findings to the UCU's
Education Committee in October 2013.
In 2013, Simmons and Thompson edited "Reclaiming the Disengaged: Critical
Perspectives on Young People Not in Education, Employment or Training", a
Special Issue of the journal Research in Post-Compulsory
Education. This publication engages with key international debates
on marginalised young people and features papers by leading researchers
from England, Scotland, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa and Eastern
Europe. In June 2013, Simmons organised the international symposium, Reclaiming
the Disengaged which was attended by 30 delegates including
representatives from the prison service, local authorities and the police
service and featured seminars by Profs Deuchar (West of Scotland), Neves
(Porto) and Simmons (Huddersfield).
Sources to corroborate the impact
1) BBC Radio — Simmons interviewed on BBC Radio Leeds in June 2010, July
2011 and March 2012 on national developments in NEET policy. Simmons
interviewed on BBC Radio 4, Woman's Hour, 25 July 2013 http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p01d8mdl
2) BBC TV — Simmons interviewed on BBC1 Breakfast News (July 17, 2013)
and BBC1 Spotlight (July 24, 2013) on the raising of the participation age
and its implications for NEET young people.
3) Simmons, R. (2011) Keynote Address: Re-engaging young people Not in
Employment, Education or Training, Westminster Education Forum and
Westminster Employment Forum, Westminster, 20 October.
4) Simmons, R. (2012a) Keynote Address: 'The lived experience of NEET
young people: Findings from an ethnographic study in the North of
England', Sixth National NEET Conference, Birmingham, 7 February.
5) Simmons, R. (2012b) Keynote Address: Researching the lives of NEET
young people — implications for policy and practice, Include Youth
Annual Conference, Belfast, 25 October (View, Independent Voice for
the Community and Voluntary Sectors, Issue 9, 2012, p. 25). Evidence
statement provided (contact 1).
6) Russell, L. (2012) Anticipating the risks of the next generation, New
Local Government Network Seminar, Piccadilly Place, Manchester, 26
7) Simmons, R. (2012c) Lost generation? Conceptualising young people not
in education, employment or training (NEET), Public lecture, University
Campus Oldham, 14 March and University Campus Barnsley, 5 April
8) Simmons invited to become Policy Advisor at Learning First, May 2013.
Evidence statement provided (contact 2)
9) Simmons, R. (2013) Keynote Address: The Youth Resolution, European
Youth Unemployment Conference: NEET ideas for the new ESF Programming
Period 2014-2020, Belfast, 21 November.
10) UCU (2013) NEETs Survey, London, UCU, Foreword by Simmons, R.