15. Positive Intervention and Enrichment Links (PIEL) - County Durham Partnership Scheme for Young People
This is one several projects run through the County Durham Partnership Scheme for Young People, which aim to improve the quality of life and prospects of young people in the area.
PIEL is a multi-stranded programme that includes work with primary, secondary and special schools. It aims to support young people who are disaffected or disillusioned with school, who are underachieving, and in some cases who are disrupting classes. Schools identify pupils who may be at risk, who are then taken from the classroom and given access to alternative, more supportive learning opportunities which may be more appropriate.
This activity is supported by a range of services which include counselling, assessment and advice for children, parents and teachers. A mentoring scheme, supported by private companies, runs alongside this, to provide role models, interview experience and personal careers advice to help develop more positive attitudes.
One appreciative mother said of her son's experience on a residential, "What a great time he has had! He is a different person, not been in a scrap of bother."
Background - Problems to be Tackled
- PIEL only works with pupils who have volunteered, and who are willing to make an effort. In a few cases schools have referred pupils to the scheme in desperation, and sometimes it has been able to help, but for the most part the key is to catch participants before their behaviour becomes too entrenched.
- The presence of named service contacts has been helpful, and the contribution of a peripatetic careers officer has helped to catch people before they slip through the net. However, there is some concern that the Department of Health has not shown enough commitment or time, particularly since mental health is such an important factor.
- As with Looked After Children, to which this project is closely linked, participants speak to the professional on first name terms. This can be important if a child is developing problems with the school as a symbol of authority.
- PIEL links up with links up with the Scheme's Young People's Council and family Mediation projects.
- PIEL tries to be proactive. For example, it intervenes at the stage when it appears that someone may be experimenting with substance abuse.
- The recruitment of a good team that is well supported by the core staff as well as by the local authority has been a key factor in the project's success and involving the young people in the recruitment process has done much to enhance the credibility of the team.
- The project has tried to promote joined up working as well as joined up thinking: co-ordinators are brought together for meetings to discuss individual successes and examples of good practice. The team sees this as invaluable. The bid development process is a further example of joined up working, in that separate, but complementary projects were successfully merged.
- Only a very few participants, who have tried hard and performed well, are included in the fun activity, so that they it is not seen as a reward for bad behaviour or poor results. Those who do take part are then used in an informal mentoring capacity.
County Durham's SRB Partnership identified a number of problems in the area:
The County Durham SRB Partnership believed that if this were allowed to continue, it would lead to some young people becoming permanently excluded, and therefore identified a need to prioritise support for young people.
- Employer surveys identified skills gaps, and particularly dissatisfaction with the skills and attitudes of school leavers.
- At the same time community appraisals and discussions with local politicians brought up issues of community safety and of disadvantage.
- This in turn highlighted a vicious circle in which conventional educational provision was failing some pupils so that they were not cared for or developed properly. This led to them becoming less and less interested in school, and in some cases dropping out.
- These issues were contributing to low attainment at school, and poor achievement on leaving school.
How the Project was Developed
PIEL is one of a number of projects that the County Durham SRB Partnership developed in response to the identified priorities identified. In the first instance, the range of projects was more ambitious and comprehensive, but the GO encouraged a focus on education in the most needy areas. This led to the selection of eight comprehensive and partner primary schools in the area (which had to be reduced to six to fit the funds awarded), and the extensive list of projects was narrowed down to ten.
As indicated above, PIEL calls on the six schools to identify pupils who are not reaching their full academic or social potential, and who were (or were at risk of becoming) disenchanted with school. Most of the subsequent provision can be divided into four distinct, complementary areas:
- Link courses
Pupils whom schools have identified are then given access to vocational link courses at local colleges, ranging from NVQ Construction to GNVQ Performing Arts. A teacher at school provides support for the pupil, and ensures that academic elements are not neglected.
This element of the project has proved popular with schools and pupils. An evaluation study of the project, undertaken by Segal Quince Wickstead, showed that most schools have been keen to nominate pupils for the provision, and have also been pleased that it has created or strengthened links with the colleges that the pupils attend. However, the value which some head teachers give to academic achievement over vocational has caused some problems. Similarly, the non-attendance at school of some pupils - either because they are at college, or because they are not able to cope with school full-time - has presented some difficulties. Pupils appreciate the practical nature of many of the courses, as well as the fact that it offers a vocational qualification; that they are treated as adults also make a difference.
The mentoring scheme is an opportunity for pupils to talk to a friendly adult about school, and to receive some encouragement. Again, this seeks to prevent young people at risk of becoming disillusioned with school from doing so. Pilot schemes began in December 1997, and were sufficiently successful and popular with pupils that they were extended for another year. The scheme has been expanded from its initial pilot coverage of two schools and includes the rest of the schools in the project. In addition it is working with some of its linked primary schools, looking at the transition stage from primary to secondary school.
The PIEL project's counselling support includes motivational interviewing, cognitive behavioural counselling and person centred support. The most commonly covered areas are drug and alcohol use, and anger management.
One school that chose to focus on anger management has found its effectiveness reduced by attempting to conduct sessions individually, which is very demanding on the limited staff time available. When participants' confidence and control have improved, the school hopes to move to group sessions, and anticipates that the impact will then be greater.
Similarly, another school which chose to concentrate on drugs counselling found that, with individual sessions, one day a week was not enough, and expected that the impact would be increased with a move to group sessions. Nevertheless, the school felt that the sessions had been very effective.
- External activities
The project also offers a range of activities at weekends and during the school holidays, in order that support is continuous rather than restricted to the conventional school timetable. This has included a course provided by the Army (a partner in the related project Looked After Children, examined here in Case Study 16), in which the activities involve teamwork, group decision making, strategic thinking, patience and courage, as well as being fun. The course has led to some pupils enrolling on vocational pre-uniformed services courses, and some were interested in the army as a possible career. Other school holiday activities have included a Lottery Grant funded, nine-day sailing trip; and a week-long construction project at a local country park and forest, in which participants learnt new skills while gaining experience that would contribute to the PIEL's construction link course.
Some individual examples:
In addition to these four sets of activity, PIEL has supported students taking part in exchange visits, and has worked closely with the community to maximise support and resources for the project. DBEE has helped secure links with business, while support from the careers service has enabled the project to cater more fully to individuals' needs while providing them with experience of work. There have also been efforts to incorporate advice on support on parenting skills to parents of 'problem children', and there is a crèche facility for teenage mothers.
- After a period of intensive counselling, one young person's attendance improved from 30% to 90% and he was able to re-engage academically as he felt more comfortable and confident in the school environment;
- Another young boy with a reading age eight years below his chronological age, had avoided mainstream school for some two years. PIEL intervened, negotiated a supported placement for him at college. Two years on this young person has achieved several qualifications, his college attendance is 100%, careers interviews have been completed and he has enrolled full time at college for post sixteen education;
- A young person in a PIEL mainstream school, displaying very challenging and aggressive behaviour has had access to seven sessions of PIEL support per week. He had very poor literacy and numeracy skills as well as undeveloped life and social skills. Recently he took part in a PIEL funded cross channel sailing expedition. The crew were so impressed with his attitude, behaviour and skills that they, with PIEL, are seeking additional funding for a place on a leg of the Tall Ships Race. This boy is now keen to join the Navy.
Outcomes and Achievements
- In November 1998, the PIEL project had 336 pupils receiving individualised support on its books, over its full range of activities: link course college provision, mentoring, counselling/anger management support, drug worker support, one-to-one school support, positive parenting, and out of school hours activities. This includes 158 boys and 73 girls participating in link courses, 61 pupils referred by schools and working with the project counsellor, 14 pupils involved in the initial mentoring scheme, and many participating in the activities outside school hours.
- Currently PIEL has 236 pupils accessing college courses: these are provided only on the understanding that the pupils regularly attend their usual schools.
- PIEL is also supporting 80 young people from special schools via link courses or out of school activities.
- One of the most popular and productive areas of activity is counselling in anger management. So far PIEL has counselled 102 pupils in six schools, with many reports of improved behaviour and attendance.
- Positive parenting groups provide a structure environment for both parents and their children to discuss and resolve problems. After two highly successful pilots, they are planning to launch these groups in all six SRB3 comprehensive schools. Many of the parents had themselves had poor experiences of formal education.
- It is perhaps the individual examples of achievement that provide the best testimony to successes of this programme. The college link course provision has, as discussed above, been popular - and is seen as a success - with schools and pupils alike: the project's newsletter cites one teacher saying that pupils who had been involved 'positively skipped about school now', and that their attendance had improved. A Year 8 participant in the mentoring scheme described it as 'class, brilliant, the best thing I've done in ages.'
- Both the newsletter and the Segal Quince Wickstead evaluation refer to pupils asking to be included in activities, while others who were involved said that their friends were jealous. And the newsletter quotes a call from an appreciative mother: 'what a great time he has had. He is a different person, not been in a scrap of bother.'
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