Pushed out learners


Maggie Kalnins, CEO of Inclusion Trust, and Stephen Carrick-Davies ask why is it that those who need most help are missing out on good quality careers education.

How do you make a topic interesting enough to galvanise peoples’ attention and motivate them to act and bring about change? Murray Davis, a sociologist writing back in 1971, argued that for something to register high on the Geiger-counter of ‘interestingness’, it had to:

  • Show that taken-for-granted assumptions can be challenged;
  • Show that what the reader feels personally is actually something that most people feel; and
  • Show that seemingly disparate things are actually part of the same thing.

Now that’s ‘interesting’, but does challenging assumptions and igniting passions inspire innovation and drive change to address an inequality?

Most analysts use the label NEET to describe the scandal that nearly one million under 24 year olds are currently Not in Education, Employment or Training. But in a world where the public’s attention and news disappears quicker than a Snap Chat message, it’s challenging to make the hard facts of modern life more than just interesting. Of course, commentators find it “interesting” that despite unemployment levels falling, the unemployment rate of this group remains largely unaffected. But why, despite the investment of billions in education, brilliant teachers, and grants that support business engagement, does a significant minority of young people still find themselves pushed-out of the classroom and confined to what some commentators call an under-class’, but what we call ‘Pushed–Out Learners.

Now before you text the person who forwarded this article a “TL:DR” (too long, didn’t read), let’s test Davis’s theory and challenge some general assumptions, ask whether we all feel something is wrong and, despite there being seemingly disparate challenges, try to identify principles that start to make real change for this group.


These young people are not trouble, but are often troubled, and when we as a society exhibit signs of a collective empathy-fatigue it is we who are in trouble. Many of those with whom we work are very fast learners. Thousands of children grow up mastering impressive skills and gaining the courage to cope without supportive adults in their lives. They acquire skills in managing to stay safe and protect themselves from harm, resilience when things go wrong yet again, patience in being a young carer, etc. The obsession of what counts as progress in schools, coupled with what is measured by exams and the league tables omits to recognise many passions, gifts and talents, and leaves these young people labelled as failures.

Despite gestures of empowerment and participation, many pushed-outs become so hard-wired to the negative battery terminal of life they struggle to see the positive, or accept praise for the skills, achievements and qualities they do have. Others often lack the trust and self-confidence to feel positive and accept praise for talents they do possess. They develop sophisticated ways to protect themselves from further failure.


It’s vital we find more creative ways to validate the passions, skills and capabilities that pushed-out learners already possess The Badge the UK initiative is certainly on the right track and we need both formal and informal ways of accrediting relational and emotional intelligence and the ability to communicate to different audiences.


But teachers are also driven by a wider moral purpose to create informed, confident and well-rounded adults who can be leaders and team players. These young people can empathise with others, be resilient and able to face challenges, and remain at ease with themselves. Great teachers inspire learners to have intellectual curiosity and a strong moral sense. So, why then do some teenagers repel these opportunities and find themselves pushed-out?


School works for around almost 60% of students (who get 5 A*-C grades). But how much better if we valued learning on mastering crafts and trades. The Livery Companies built up a culture of esteeming training in the practice and theory of crafts and trades; they promoted innovation, specialist knowledge, functional skills and teamwork. Why have we lost this?


The world for young people today is very different from the one we experienced. If you step inside the skin of a young pushed-out teenager and view today’s world through their eyes, what would you see and how would it make you feel? These young people are about to be thrust out, or have already been ‘pushed-out’ of the safe world of school, their peer group, or their families and into the wider competitive world of work (or unemployment), austerity, and uncertainty. These teenagers are as capable as the rest of us of seeing what is wrong with the world today, yet we seem unable to capture their spirit and passion, nor do we seem able to motivate them to think about how they could make a better future for themselves.


Encouraging young people themselves to develop and co-author new careers education programmes is crucial if we are to reboot aspirations and stimulate innovation. We also need to develop trained super coaches to broker engagement between pushed-out learners and dedicated employers. The Think Forward initiative that develops this is certainly having a great impact. Finally, although there are some great new websites and online tools very few of them have been designed with pushed-out learners in mind.


Governments and commercial players are investing billions into education to make existing schools systems and learning models more effective and efficient. The emphasis appears to focus particularly on developing academic pedagogies that will raise standards. However, if you just add technology into the mix, does this really make the development innovative? How much is the iPad transforming learning for the pushed-out learners? How do they get a chance to even use one if they are not in the classroom?

When technological investment is added into the mix, there seems to be an assumption that this will automatically make the development innovative and, therefore, education will improve? Is the technology investment simply changing the Banda worksheet into a digital format, and creating a more efficient model to deliver even more content even faster? How more engaging will this be than traditional school methods that use a purely academic pedagogy?


Schools are great places for socialisation and collaboration. They also serve as a main conduit for pastoral support and other intervention services, including careers education and advice. But, what access do pushed-out learners have to these entitlements.

Who is really prepared to invest in the ‘pushed-out’ learners who present the greatest challenge? Who will engage and invest in creating a bespoke careers education and vocational pedagogy, that also harnesses digital technology to re-imagine how this learning could best happen?

The Social Impact Bonds offers promise in providing investment for the significant minority of pushed-out learners. It is already funding Think Forward, and we hope that this will motivate charities and social enterprises to develop and bring their successful methods and ideas together.


Yes, but how will this improve careers education for those outside of schools? It is surprising to see that the recently published DfE report,Careers guidance provision for young people in schools’, offers very little practical advice for helping the pushed-out learners. Are they really simply saying link the ‘pushed-out’ students back into schools? Enticing pushed-out learners back into schools might work if a different pedagogical approach was used – one that engages them in the first place.

Furthermore, Ofsted’s report, ‘Pupils missing out on education’, provides a stark reminder that many thousands of young people in England do not attend full-time education and many have become invisible to the local authority. How will the improvements to careers education inside schools reach those learners who remain on the outside?

We want to challenge you to particularly consider what proportion of these resources are targeted at developing models of learning for careers education. Why is there still so little emphasis on vocational pedagogies in relevant and purposeful settings? By this we don’t mean the type of activities that aim to domesticate resistant youth under banners such as ‘empowerment’ or ‘civic participation’. We are talking about a careers education that will also capture the richness of human behaviours and capabilities, and allow all learners to flourish, particularly pushed-out learners, who face the biggest barriers not least of which are poor functional, social and emotional skills.


If we apply our collective insight about pushed-out learners, combine this with new strategies that are co-designed with these learners and harness technology to enable new possibilities for the pushed-out leaners this will make a difference – it will have both social and economic value in helping them also build the career they want. High Tech High has applied school-to-work strategies to generate new ways of teaching and learning within their schools. Big Picture Schools have also transformed education – ‘one student at a time’. Both are great examples of preventing the pushed-out effect on learners.

We are convinced that interactive web technology can make a real difference to connect ‘pushed-out’ learners, but not if it’s simply digitising the content from inside schools for speedy delivery to these young people.


The Facework project, developed by Inclusion Trust, seeks to create a radical new approach to careers education especially for organisations working with pushed-out learners. We are starting not with the technology but with finding the right pedagogical approach for these learners. We’ve undertaken a comprehensive literature review, completed surveys with staff from PRUs, run focus groups with students. With funding from Nominet Trust, we are now working with these young people and staff in co-authoring new digital careers learning resources. We believe the answer lies in addressing the following:

  • If pushed-out learners have an insight and understanding of how skills relate to the actual work place, they will be motivated to engage and take responsibility for learning new skills.
  • If pushed-out learners are involved in co-designing Work Related Learning activities, the online community, and digital CVs, they will learn and develop new skills. Students will be able to create Digital CVs through which they will be better equipped to demonstrate their skills and talents to employers.
  • If pushed-out learners have access to an online network of peers, adults and resources, who can work with them at their pace they will have more successful transitions from school-to-work.

The findings and observations emerging during the development of our Facework project, has provided a significant insight into pushed-out young peoples’ relationships with learning and with employment.

When we talk to ‘pushed-out’ young people, they tell us that when they are immersed in an environment which has a purpose and relevance to their passions, gifts and talents, their lives are transformed. Many of you will tell a story about a young person who thrived when they finally ‘found their element’ as Sir Ken Robinson explains so well.

If work is a rite of passage to citizenship, then surely we should allow employers, who provide that passage, to take more responsibility in shaping the necessary learning. Employers know that it’s best to recruit for attitude and train for skills, but now they have an opportunity to help reboot young people’s attitudes towards work. The skills and attitudes which employers want are not the ones schools can provide in a relevant context; indeed, surveys show that the skills employers want can be broadly broken down into five key attitudes and skills which we have labelled STEPS.

  • S – Self-management and accepting responsibility.

  • T – Team-working and able to take initiative.

  • E – Enterprise and customer awareness.

  • P – Problem-solving and ability to be resilient and work under pressure.

  • S – Speaking and listening and good communication skills including ICT.


The RSA think piece Rebalancing the UK’s Education and Skills System by Louise Bamfield offers ‘A whole system framework for skills, knowledge and capabilities’ as a way of capturing a broad range of skills, knowledge and personal qualities that are vital for life and work in the 21st Century. This offers interesting food for thought: Functional and basic skills: including language comprehension & communication, numeracy & digital literacy. Specialist or advanced knowledge (knowing how and knowing that): encompassing practical, technical, craft-based and theoretical/conceptual. Craftmanship or Professionalism: a set of attitudes and dispositions towards ones work, especially the sense of pride in a job well done; the capacity to exercise informed, expert judgement drawing on a wealth of relevant experience. Relational and emotional intelligence: relating to and empathising with other people; knowing how to present and communicate to different audiences. Business and enterprise skills: understanding the economic and social sides of work, eg being able to spot and take advantage of market opportunities; managing time and resources effectively etc. Innovative and collaborative capacity: being inspired to collaborate and innovate, enquire and investigate, adapt and respond to changing circumstances.

We are seeking like-minded charitable, social enterprises and lone adventurers as dedicated and determined as

we are to address the inequality of careers education. We believe that by combining our ideas we can create a new and bespoke careers education, a better vocational pedagogy, and harness digital technology to re-imagine a careers education that will permit ‘pushed-out’ students to also pursue their passions, gifts and talents.


Back to Murray Davis formula for making things interesting. The one thing Davis didn’t say in his article back in 1971 is that to attract attention you need to keep things short and punchy (we’re clearly failed here). So, in an age where brevity is king here are 10 140 character Tweet messages about our work with pushedout learners on the Facework project. Who knows perhaps we could even get #NOTNEETTWEETS trending.

Now that would be interesting!


iconmonstr-twitter-icon-24  How do you identify your skills? Student replies “What makes you sparkle like a diamond?” Bad experiences help polish the diamond #neettweets

iconmonstr-twitter-icon-24  How do you answer ‘Have I ever been in trouble with the law?’ in an interview? Reply from student “Ask the interviewer” #mybad

iconmonstr-twitter-icon-24  Got a student who loves working on cars. He’s got dirty hands but a good heart. Need a garage willing to give him a trial? #needabreak

iconmonstr-twitter-icon-24  Student told me the guy interviewing him was more scared than he was, is that a good thing? #waitingforfeedback.

iconmonstr-twitter-icon-24  Student sums it up. “Passion is the root of everything. You don’t show passion, you aint got that job. #simple

iconmonstr-twitter-icon-24  Comment from student, “You got to learn from what you’ve done wrong. Swore at my boss, got fired, won’t do that again! #attitudeisking

iconmonstr-twitter-icon-24  Student “better if I had a video CV. When you are on camera you’re not so inhibited, I’d be able to show examples. #oldCVsrdead

iconmonstr-twitter-icon-24  Telling students it’s more important to be bighearted than big headed but will that get them a job? #neettweets

iconmonstr-twitter-icon-24  Student tells me he didn’t start to learn till he was 19. I did silly that was my problem. #readynow.





Download the article here Pushed Out Learners. Inclusion Trust Paper for 2014 Youth Employment Convention

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