What does this project involve?
The Reach programme aims to prevent young people at risk of school suspension from future offending. It was developed and led by the Violence Reduction Network for Leicester, Leicestershire and Rutland (in collaboration with Leicestershire County Council and Leicester City Council). Reach uses trained youth workers to deliver mentoring sessions over six months to 11-16 year olds. Sessions focus on relationship building, social skills, confidence, wellbeing and resilience, in addition to providing recreational activities.
Why did YEF fund this project?
We are interested in the links between school suspension and exclusion and later violence and offending. Recent analysis by the Department for Education (DfE) and Ministry of Justice (MoJ) shows that, of children that commit a seriously violent offence, 85% were persistently absent and 15% were permanently excluded. Being away from school not only limits a child’s ability to succeed academically, but likely puts them at risk of criminal exploitation.
We also know that mentoring approaches, that match a young person with a mentor and encourages them to meet regularly, are associated with a moderate impact on reducing violent crime. Our Toolkit identifies that mentoring interventions are associated with a 21% reduction in violence and a 14% reduction in offending. They also tend to work better when they work with children and young people who have a higher risk of involvement in crime.
The Reach programme recognises both the risks associated with school suspension and the potential that mentoring approaches may have. The YEF and the Home Office funded a feasibility study of the Reach programme that aimed to ascertain whether key components of the programme were achievable. Specifically, it explored the level of need for the programme, the key issues facing schools regarding suspensions and crime, whether schools had capacity to implement the programme, youth work training, the matching, referral and implementation processes, and the extent to which the programme adhered to the originally intended model.
The evaluators also explored the dosage, quality and responsiveness of Reach, whether it’s different to current practice, the appropriateness of resources used, barriers to delivery and what might be required to progress to a pilot evaluation of the programme. To address these questions, the feasibility study used interviews with four school leads, six delivery leads, four youth workers and 12 young people. Evaluators also conducted observations of sessions, a survey with seven youth workers and monitoring data analysis. The feasibility study was delivered from December 2021 to September 2022.
|Within certain local areas of Leicestershire and Leicester with the highest rates of suspensions and serious violence, there was an identified need for the Reach programme. A gap in support was also identified for young people who are suspended from school. Further understanding is needed with regard to the issues that lead up to a young person’s suspension. Schools and families were on board with the implementation of the programme, with schools noting the gap that Reach filled.|
|The Reach team successfully recruited and retained a team of eight youth workers, who brought a range of experience and competence. The matching process with young people was generally perceived to be successful. The number of referrals from schools was largely as anticipated. And schools found the referral process straightforward and valued the support from the Reach team. School senior leaders were also invested in the programme. Implementation was facilitated when the youth worker was well integrated into the school and when there was one or two dedicated youth workers per school.|
|The delivery model, particularly the order and length of sessions, was intended to be flexible. This flexibility was key to the success of the delivery of the programme. In general, youth workers were able to meet fairly frequently with young people, and young people were perceived to engage very well in the programme. The programme was perceived to work best when delivered at ‘teachable moments’, and the evaluators observed generally high-quality delivery. Young people perceived their youth worker as non-judgemental and receptive listeners and spoke very positively about the mentoring.|
|School leads identified that Reach has benefits beyond usual practice in that it could work with young people while they were in the community and outside of term time, and youth workers were viewed as someone the young person could relate to outside of the school and home context. Youth workers found the resources to support delivery very valuable, while the diverse range of activities used appeared to support engagement.|
|Barriers to delivery included school staff time, the availability of adequate space to conduct sessions in school, the temporary nature of youth worker contracts, the time taken to build effective relationships between youth workers and schools in some cases, a lack of community provision in the county (not city), and in some instances a lack of family understanding of Reach during recruitment.|
What will YEF do next?
Following the successful completion of the feasibility study, the YEF and the Department for Culture Media and Sport are funding a pilot trial which began in Autumn 2022. The main focus of the pilot trial is the acceptability of individual level randomisation within schools, alongside an implementation and process evaluation which expands on the findings from the feasibility study.