Over 100 young people helped by PCC’s pilot to tackle persistent absenteeism

Bedfordshire's Police and Crime Commissioner Festus Akinbusoye Image: Office of the Police and Crime Commissioner
Bedfordshire's Police and Crime Commissioner Festus Akinbusoye. Image: Office of the Police and Crime Commissioner

One of the Bedfordshire Police and Crime Commissioner’s flagship policies has helped more than 100 young people during its pilot project.

116 young people have engaged with the project led by PCC Festus Akinbusoye to help schools tackle persistent absenteeism in a bid to reduce the number of young people becoming vulnerable to exploitation by gangs and criminal activity.

In the seven months since the pilot was launched, specialist youth workers from Bedfordshire’s Violence and Exploitation Reduction Unit (VERU) have worked with the students who were referred to the scheme by school staff.

Every child referred into the programme has engaged with the specialist staff involved, in a bid to understand what is driving their absence from school or college and get them back into the classroom.

“Early findings from this pilot programme are very encouraging.” Mr Akinbusoye said.

“Having a 100 per cent engagement rate is great, but it is the feedback from the young people, their families, and schools that has been most impressive.

“We’re seeing young people that have not engaged in education for more than six months, now inspired and engaged, applying for college courses, and even aspiring to serve in the army.”

Mr Akinbusyoe said that there is evidence that “bad things happen” when a young person stays away from a learning environment for long enough.

“As Commissioner, early intervention and prevention are key priorities for me, and this is what our school absenteeism pilot is all about,” he said.

“I look forward to the full findings of the independent evaluation following the 12-month pilot.”

Seven education settings across the county have been involved in the pilot programme, which provides an early intervention approach to school children with a pattern of unauthorised school absence.

Each student receives tailored, one-to-one support to better understand the unique challenges that affect their attendance.

Young people can also receive mentoring support, helping them set goals and objectives for their future. Families are also engaged as part of the support provided to the young person.

The package of support does not replace the legal responsibilities of local authorities, but rather extends the level of services available while helping to also plug gaps in provision.

Bedfordshire VERU director, Kimberley Lamb, said it had been a fantastic start to the “landmark” project and that it was vital to continue to challenge the notion that young people are lazy or just “bunking off lessons”.

“The challenges our young people face are complex and at times debilitating,” said Ms Lamb.

“That is where our specialist team come in, working with young people and their parents and carers to understand these issues and nurture them back into experiencing the full benefits of being in education.

“We look forward to continuing on with this project in the future with further help and support from partnership agencies already working in this space.”

For more information about the VERU or to refer a young person at risk of violence or exploitation, visit bedsveru.org.

Guidance to help young people cope with anxiety about school is available via the Young Minds website here.