‘Major barriers’ to participation in Education, Training and Employment for the most vulnerable children in the youth justice system

A joint inspection of hundreds of cases of children in youth justice services has found some have not participated in education, training or employment opportunities for two years or more.

HM Inspectorate of Probation, with Ofsted and the Welsh equivalent Estyn, conducted an inspection of education, training and employment services (ETE) in youth offending services in England and Wales between November 2021 and January 2022.

Chief Inspector of Probation Justin Russell said: “Our findings lay bare a truth that many working in youth justice have come to recognise – but has seldom been given the attention it deserves – that getting children with complicated backgrounds into education, training and employment can be extremely challenging”.

“It’s worrying that those with the greatest need, and who are vulnerable, are the least likely to get the educational services they need. The support provided to the child to participate in ETE should be reviewed regularly and give every child under supervision the opportunity to improve their prospects and succeed.

“Children on youth justice caseloads have lives that are filled with disruption, trauma, adverse experiences, poor mental health and specialised needs. The services we spoke to were aware of this, and are striving to put ETE opportunities in place, but it remains the case that there are major barriers to children getting the education or training they so desperately need, if they are to stay away from crime. Services must strive to overcome these hurdles.”

Of the 181 cases inspected, two-thirds (65 per cent) of children (aged 10-17 years) had been excluded from school and almost half (47 per cent) had been permanently excluded. This resulted in some children not participating in any ETE services for two years or more. To make matters worse, where there was participation, the quality of ETE provision was poorer for those who had been excluded from school or released under investigation by the police, and for children of mixed ethnic heritage.

In what the inspection report calls its most ‘disturbing’ finding, the worst access to ETE was for children requiring additional support via education and healthcare plans (EHCPs) (Individual Development Plans in Wales). In more than 40 per cent of cases with these additional plans, the needs of the child were not fully considered. The report acknowledged that the Covid-19 pandemic has increased the challenges in children accessing ETE.

The report calls on the Department of Education (and Welsh equivalent, SHELL) to address how the unidentified and unmet needs of children in youth offending services can be prevented by earlier specialist assessment and better intervention and support of vulnerable children.

This joint inspection did identify areas of practice which exceeded expectations. Those youth offending services that delivered high-quality ETE work were characterised by a broad range of support and access to a range of facilities to support ETE delivery. There was a consistent and productive enthusiasm for innovation. Specialists also provided support and guidance to case management staff in working with children who had neurological conditions or communication needs.

Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector for Osted, Amanda Spielman said: “We were pleased to contribute to this important research. It is concerning that children and young people known to the youth justice system aren’t always receiving the good quality education they deserve.

“For too many, education remains variable and inconsistent. Poor, unchallenged attendance, high rates of formal and informal exclusions and the prevalence of long-term, part-time timetables all contribute to the fragmented experience of education these pupils receive.”

Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector for Education and Training in Wales, Owen Evans: “We were pleased to contribute to this research. It is disappointing that many of the shortcomings we identified in our 2018 report on education and training for young people engaged with youth offending services still remain.

“Although case workers have a good understanding of young people’s characteristics and circumstances, there is too much variability in how well they work with education and training providers or employers to provide opportunities and maximise young people’s chances of success within placements. Young people don’t make enough progress in developing the literacy and numeracy skills they will need for the future. Education and training just aren’t given enough priority by youth offending services and they don’t analyse data well enough to track the destinations of young people and understand their impact.”

This joint thematic inspection report made seven recommendations:

The Department for Education/ Welsh Government Skills Higher Education and Lifelong Learning (SHELL) and Education directorates in conjunction with the Ministry of Justice Youth Justice Policy Unit should:

  1. address how the unidentified and unmet needs of YOT children can be prevented by earlier specialist assessment, intervention and support of vulnerable children (through the Alternative Provision and SAFE schools’ programmes in England and equivalent provision in Wales).

The Youth Justice Board should:

  1. revise their national indicator of ETE engagement to one that provides a more meaningful measure of performance. This should include the levels of educational attainment achieved by children working with the YOT at the end of the period of supervision and should cover out of court as well as court order cases.

YOT Management Boards should:

  1. ensure that all children have a comprehensive ETE assessment
  2. monitor, alongside the local authority, key aspects of ETE work for children working with the YOT.
  3. develop ambitious aims for ETE work in the YOT, including the achievement of Level 2 English and Maths by every child
  4. establish a greater range of occupational training opportunities for those children beyond compulsory school age
  5. monitor and evaluate the levels of educational engagement and attainment in disproportionately represented groups within the YOT caseload in order to develop improvement.



Notes to editor

  1. HM Inspectorate of Probation is the independent inspector of youth offending and probation services across England and Wales.
  2. The Inspectorate uses a four-point scale: ‘Outstanding’, ‘Good’, ‘Requires improvement’ and ‘Inadequate’. The Inspectorate rates specific aspects of each service and also gives an overall rating.
  3. For media enquiries, please contact Corporate Communications Manager Diane Bramall 07929 790 564 or media@hmiprobation.gov.uk (E-mail address)