Young people from disadvantaged backgrounds are less likely to make a successful transition to adulthood and work; they are more likely
to not be in employment, education, or training and are less likely to progress to higher education, especially in the most selective universities as described above. In the UK, Special Educational Needs (SEN) impact around twenty per cent of the school population, a significant majority will go on to be disadvantaged in adult life if they do not get the educational support and opportunities they need. The kind of support required will need to address life-skills and work skills; these are not mutually exclusive.
Around 1.36 million young people aged between sixteen and twentyfour years are not engaging in any form of education, employment, or training; these are described as NEET. Despite a small fall in 2012, this still represents a quarter of all young people in the job market in England. There are significant increases in the number of young people becoming long-term NEET and disengaged among sixteen to twenty-four year olds, which has doubled from 110,000 in 2008 to around 260,000 in 2012 and often these are concentrated in communities where economic and social deprivation as well as limited opportunity is prevalent. Many NEET young people suffer from a lack of hope, which in turn manifests itself as inaction or poorly managed actions in the attempt to find employment. Such young people cite a number of barriers to engaging in learning and work, though very few indicate an unwillingness to do so. Amongst the top reasons cited are:
• Family members and peers can be a significant obstacle to engaging in learning. (This can be due to a number of reasons such as low family expectations and aspirations, a lack of value placed on education, the impact of young people's choices on family welfare benefits, alcohol and substance misuse, and instances of chaotic family life)
• Young people often find academic styles of learning to be repetitive and uninteresting, resulting in a lack of motivation and a cynical view of the value of learning.
• Financial barriers to learning, associated directly with the cost of the course and the wider costs of being in learning, including travel.
• Behavioural problems or low attendance at school or college resulted in them being asked to leave courses.
• A lack of information, advice, and guidance support, either when looking for opportunities, or when on-course, acted as a barrier to learning, including where advice and information received did not match the eventual experience of the course. • A lack of skills, particularly literacy and numeracy, or formal qualifications often acts as a barrier to engaging in education and training.8
Young people from lower income backgrounds are more likely to face the multiple barriers described above, although not exclusively so. The traditional response to such issues has been to provide new or reconstructed learning opportunities to engage them on their terms. Whilst this has some success it is not sufficient to increase social mobility. We must also build the personal capacity of young people to make the most of their opportunities by being able to deal with challenge and overcome barriers. It is tempting to treat the symptoms by restructuring the opportunities or the ways in which these opportunities are presented, but this misses the point. Of course more can be done to attract and engage young people in learning and work, but unless we help them to turn disadvantage into something positive by challenging perceptions and preconceptions we will not go far enough in equipping them with the skills to take control of their lives.