Key findings

  • Justice-involved children are more likely to be detached from education, training and employment (ETE), have poor educational attainment levels, and greater educational needs when compared to children in the general population.
  • Tackling low motivation is key to successful ETE work. Effective encouragement and praise are important, and use of incentives should be considered. A low tutor to learner ratio can be important to ensure that learners are engaged, while a vocational orientation can be popular with many justice-involved children.
  • Promising results have been found in relation to reading improvement interventions which are based upon validated motivational techniques, after-school programmes, mentoring, and interventions to prevent school exclusion and suspension.


Children supervised by youth offending teams (YOTs) are more likely to have, or have experienced, problems with educational engagement, attendance and attainment; of those children sentenced in the year ending March 2020 with a completed AssetPlus assessment, there were concerns in relation to learning and ETE in about two-thirds (68 per cent) of the cases. These problems can harm later involvement with the world of work, whether through further education, training or employment.

Many justice-involved children have low numeracy and literacy levels, speech, language and communication needs, and/or cognitive disabilities. They are more likely to have suffered trauma and adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) which impact upon their ability to engage with ETE. They are also more likely to live in deprived neighbourhoods with fewer ETE opportunities.

Summary of the evidence

ETE needs of justice-involved children

Children in the youth justice system are often detached, or formally excluded, from formal ETE, they tend to have lower reading ages than their true age, and experience poor educational outcomes. The causality of the link between ETE engagement and offending is complex and can flow both ways.

The following educational factors have been identified in the literature as relevant to children coming into conflict with the law:

  • attendance at school/levels of truancy
  • level of educational attainment
  • attitude to school
  • attitude to/relationships with teachers
  • school discipline involving suspension/exclusion
  • presence/accessibility of school/educational supports
  • opportunities for children to have their voice heard in school.

It is important to recognise that children supervised by YOTs undertaking ETE interventions can have multiple and complex needs, such as:

  • low self-esteem
  • behavioural or emotional difficulties, including violence and anger
  • mental health problems, including self-harm and suicidal ideation
  • poor social skills
  • dysfunctional families
  • deprived neighbourhoods.

Engaging justice-involved children

Tackling low motivation has been identified as key to engaging justice-involved children with ETE. Inclusive, supportive school environments, positive relationships with tutors and coaches, and using praise and encouragement, can be critical to success. Use of incentives and tangible rewards can also help to build and maintain motivation.

Intensive education, in small groups, in mainstream colleges with 16 to 18-year-olds (who are subject to YOT supervision) has been found to be effective in improving educational attainment and supporting desistance. There is also some evidence that a vocational orientation, assisting with entry to the labour market, can be popular. The Skill Mill, which involves paid employment in environmental works for 16 to 18-year-olds, has supported desistance and educational attainment through motivating acquirement of vocational skills and civic engagement.

Promising ETE interventions

Reading interventions for justice-involved children appear promising, achieving impressive results for completers, but they can suffer from large drop-out rates. Completers of the TextNow intervention made, on average, almost six months’ progress for each month of the course (which lasted 10 weeks). Key success factors for TextNow included:

  • motivation through concentrating the intervention around the skills of choosing books and the enjoyment reading brings, rather than the mechanics of how to read
  • a relationship between the volunteer coach and learner based upon praise, encouragement, and appropriate help with vocabulary
  • an incentive scheme for attendance, completion and returning books.

The Youth Endowment Fund note the following promising interventions:

  • after school programmes have been found to reduce general crime by 8 per cent on average, and externalising behaviours by 14 per cent. However, programmes vary in effectiveness due to poor design and implementation in some instances. Programmes including academic work and skills building were found to be more effective than recreational programmes, while targeting children aged 11-14 was also found to be more effective
  • mentoring has been found to reduce crime, on average, by 26 per cent. There is also strong evidence that mentoring can reduce behavioural difficulties, substance misuse and improve self-regulation – which are important predictors of violence. Programmes with some male mentors may be more effective, and some programmes have found that enabling mentees to choose their mentor led to a stronger relationship
  • preventing school exclusions and suspensions have been found to have a moderate impact on violence crime. Exclusion prevention programmes which include training in emotional self-regulation, mental health support, mentoring and tutoring seem more successful.

In the video below, Trafford Council’s Violence Reduction Coordinator explains her role, and the importance of preventing and reducing school exclusions.

Disclaimer: an external platform has been used to host this video. Recommendations for further viewing may appear at the end of the video and are beyond our control.

Analysis of the relationship between school exclusion and youth crime has also highlighted the importance of a holistic understanding of children’s lives, encompassing educational experiences, relationships and activities, and then responding with contextual approaches.

Find out more about the social-ecological framework

Inspection data

In the 2022 joint inspection of education, training and employment services, almost two in three (65 per cent) of the children in the case sample were, or had been, excluded from school and, of those, just under half (47 per cent) had been permanently excluded. Where children were receiving schooling, far too often they were on long-term part-time timetables and some children were currently receiving no schooling at all. It was not unusual for our inspectors to see cases where a child had not been engaged in ETE for two years or more.

Although the quality of assessment, planning and delivery in relation to ETE was generally sufficient, we found a lower quality of educational support for children who had been excluded from school or released under investigation by the police, and for children of mixed ethnic heritage. It was worst of all for children with education and health care plans (England) and Individual Development Plans (Wales), whose needs are likely to be greatest. In more than two in five of the cases with these additional plans, the needs of the child were not fully considered, and provision was insufficient in nearly half of cases.

We found that when the YOT partnership functioned well, there were close and active working relationships between the management board and local authority, health, police and probation colleagues. However, when the flow of information between YOTs and education providers was inconsistent, this had a direct impact upon the quality of ETE services provided to individual children.

In the accompanying effective practice guide, it is highlighted that our expectations were met in relation to ETE when the following were in place:

Key references

Arnez, J. and Condry, R. (2021). ‘Criminological perspectives on school exclusion and youth offending’, Emotional and Behavioural Difficulties, 26(1), pp. 87-100.

Department for Education (2021). Evidence summary: COVID-19-children, young people and education settings. London.

Kilkelly, U., Forde, L., Hurley, E., Lambert, S., Swirak, K., Kelleher, D. and Buckley, S. (2022). Ensuring the collaborative reform of youth justice in Ireland in line with international research and evidence-based approaches. University College Cork.

Youth Endowment Fund (2021). YEF Toolkit: An overview of existing research on approaches to preventing serious youth violence. London: Youth Endowment Fund.

Youth Justice Board (2006). Barriers to engagement in education, training and employment. London.

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Last updated: 10 March 2023