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Bedfordshire’s PCC has called for better welfare provision in the county’s schools after successful pilot project

Bedfordshire’s PCC has called for better welfare provision in the county’s schools after successful pilot project

Bedfordshire’s PCC has called for better welfare provision in the county’s schools after a successful pilot project saw specialist youth workers engage with almost 200 young people

The unique pilot initiated by Police and Crime Commissioner (PCC) Festus Akinbusoye saw 180 students from seven schools across Bedfordshire engage with specialist youth workers as part of a coordinated project to get them back in the classroom.

Launched in June 2022, the flagship project aimed to reduce absenteeism by identifying key drivers of persistent unauthorised school absence, while providing participating schools with additional resources to tackle the issue.

The first of its kind in Bedfordshire, the pilot was delivered in partnership with the county’s Violence and Exploitation Reduction Unit (VERU), whose team of Youth Intervention Specialists (YIS) provided one-to-one mentoring support to those referred to the scheme.

All 180 young people involved in the project engaged with youth workers from the VERU and its delivery partners, with the report highlighting positive feedback for the scheme from students, their families, and the schools themselves. Among the highlighted outcomes is a young person who was persistently absent from school but is now enrolled to become a landscape gardener, while another was identified as being at risk of child exploitation and referred to appropriate services.

The report also sheds a light on the complex factors that might drive a young person away from school, such as their domestic situation, feeling unsafe in or on way to school, or undiagnosed learning difficulties.

“Though we need more research into this subject area, it seems quite clear that, when a young person is absent from school or an education setting for a long enough period of time, bad things happen,” said Mr Akinbusoye.

“As Bedfordshire’s Police and Crime Commissioner, tackling the cause of crime and offending is one of my key priorities for our area.

“This piece of research shows that a lot of work is needed urgently to tackle unauthorised persistent school absenteeism, fund local services, and minimise the role of the police in this space.”

The report found there was currently a “lottery system” for these existing services in Bedfordshire, with schools in one part of the county being charged more than £40,000 for the support of education welfare officers while another received a similar service free of charge. A key recommendation of the report is for a centrally funded provision to all schools, given the government’s focus on safeguarding young people and improving education outcomes.

“We believe appropriate and professional interventions work, while punitive measures work less well,” the report found.

“From this small pilot programme in Bedfordshire, we found that supplementing the role of local authorities and the police with experienced youth intervention officers from the Violence and Exploitation Reduction Unit helped to significantly improve engagement levels and positive outcomes.

“This might be a joined-up model between Department of Education, Home Office and Ministry of Justice that is worth replicating nationwide.”

Youth Endowment Fund Executive Director Jon Yates said: “There is a clear correlation between our children persistently missing school and becoming involved in violence. With absence rates 60% up since the pandemic, we must do all we can to follow the evidence on how to get our children back into school.

“It’s great to see Bedfordshire’s PCC and the VERU taking a lead.”

The report now calls for work to see how this provision can be made more readily available to all schools in Bedfordshire, possibly as a co-commissioned work between the Office of the Police and Crime Commissioner and local authorities in the county.

Director of Bedfordshire’s Violence and Exploitation Reduction Unit, Kimberley Lamb, said: “I very much welcome the findings of the report following our joint project with the Office of the Police and Crime Commissioner. The pilot scheme has been an excellent opportunity to further our efforts into tackling the root causes of violence and exploitation and I’m pleased to work alongside the office in doing so.

“This project was never just about absenteeism, but rather we aimed to work alongside education provisions to re-engage young people with education, while empowering their parents and carers to provide support that transcends the pilot.

“Though the pilot in its official capacity has come to an end, our commitment to these young people and others struggling with school attendance very much continues.”

For more information about the VERU or to refer a young person at risk of violence or exploitation, visit bedsveru.org.

 

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