Transforming Education: the importance of inclusive and accessible education for all youth in honour of International Youth Day on 12th August.

Education is a means of social justice, a key to both belief in oneself and to future opportunities. Mainstream education, however, does not work for all children and young people and, all too often, it is children and young people who have experienced adverse childhood experiences for whom mainstream education is the least effective.

Our starting point at LPW is that all children and young people have strengths, abilities and talents. We support children and young people to re-engage in their education by providing support to stay in mainstream education and, through our Independent School, we also work with young people aged 14-16 who have been permanently excluded from school.

LPW Independent School is a full-time alternative education provider for young people for whom mainstream education has not worked. We focus on young people’s personal and social development and re-engage them with education, ensuring they gain qualifications and move forward in to further education, training or employment.

Our model is based on the idea of small scale learning communities which blend the rigour of academic and vocational learning with a sustained engagement with young people underpinned by a theoretical model based on attachment.

We need to ask the question why young people are rejecting the education offer that is available to them – why do they find it so hard to engage with learning in school?  Many of the young people who are referred to alternative education are vulnerable, defiant, angry, alienated, have a range of special educational and health care needs and find it difficult to manage the demands of the school system in which they find themselves.  A key element in LPW’s attachment based approach is that behaviour is a communication of need and that it is difficult for young people to trust themselves to engage with learning if these needs seem overwhelming. LPW’s approach is also informed by a sense of persistent care which works alongside a commitment to relevant academic and vocational programmes pursued with rigour. Understanding young people’s needs, addressing them and supporting young people to re-engage with learning, rebuilding their confidence and trust in the system, and supporting and addressing their academic gaps and learning needs is at the heart of what LPW offers. This approach means that education can be offered in an accessible way because our approaches take in to account the fact it is hard or indeed impossible for young people to learn without strong attachment and trauma-informed methods.

Our curriculum is bespoke to the wishes and needs of our young people. This is partly because we offer a wide range of courses, including GCSEs, and partly because we have access to off-site providers who offer bespoke packages of vocational support. Timetables can be part-time, full time, onsite or offsite taking in to account each young person’s situation.

Our children and youth services working alongside the school provide an additional level of support. Young people’s challenges clearly do not stop when the school day finishes and so access to engagement workers who can provide support around the school day and during holiday times is invaluable. Here is an example of this work:

Dan was referred to Learning Partnership West when he was 14 and it came to light that he had been out of the school system for almost 3 years. Dan had missed out on a crucial part of his secondary education, but he was also at risk from issues within his family home. As Dan had been out of school for so long he also had a very small network friends, most of which were from an online community. Whilst Dan was apprehensive about support from LPW at first, he was willing to get involved and since this time has engaged in over 120 hours of engagement support in the last five months.

This support began by Dan and his engagement worker coming up with an action plan for their time together. Through their work they sought to help Dan; gain some key life skills, improve his health and fitness, re-engage him with his community and prepare him for KS4 with LPW School in September.

Dan chose to do a variety of activities within his sessions including woodwork, cooking, football, trampolining, archery, frisbee and community projects. These activities supported Dan as he worked towards his goals. As he did them he also seemed to grow in confidence and develop greater self-esteem, as he got to know himself more and see himself succeeding and in the things he had never done before.

In order to prepare Dan for LPW School, Dan and his engagement worker also spent a number of hours per week covering Maths, English and Science to make sure that Dan had a good foundation of knowledge within these core subjects. At first, Dan struggled with many aspects of the work including reading and writing. However, he stuck with the process and was able to cover a number of gaps within his learning in a short space of time.

During his final term before September, Dan was also able to participate in the WHEELS project, a car maintenance project for young people in Bristol. This project was really beneficial for Dan as it gave him some more skills and a sense of what work could be like in the future. It also gave Dan the opportunity to develop positive relationships with other staff and young people.

Before the summer holidays it became apparent that Dan lacked some independence within his community as he was unable to get to places outside his immediate neighbourhood. Therefore, LPW worked together with a local bike project to get Dan his own bike, helmet, lock and lights. Dan was really pleased with his bike and his newfound ability to get out and about more within his community.

Dan will now start LPW School in September where he will have a tailor made program of education that will allow him to gain some core GCSEs and vocational qualifications within the next two years. He will also continue to receive engagement support throughout this time so that he can continue to work towards his goals.

In many ways Dan still has a difficult road ahead but he is now in a much better place to face the challenges before him with his increased confidence, skills, network of friends, professional support, and resilience that has increasingly developed through the interests and hobbies he has developed over the last five months.

This combination of support both in and out of school works because it develops the trusted relationship essential for young people to engage in learning. It also works because of the commitment of the staff team who never give up on any young person and it works because the young people we work with are incredibly determined and resilient.

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