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Life chances should not be a postcode lottery: Andrew Russell

A young person, or in fact anyone’s, life chances should not be a postcode lottery. Where someone grew up, their family background or previous negative and damaging experiences should not define them.

However, the recent issues involving the exam results of young people in Scotland and the rest of the UK sadly show and reflect the inequality and attainment gaps that exist between people from wealthier and poorer areas. When systems designed and intended to be “fair and credible” result in in disproportionately affecting young people from areas of deprivation, society needs to stop and take note. Algorithms and AI systems will never get this right while young people from deprived areas continue to be left behind.

We know young people from poorer areas already have the odds stacked against them. Scottish government figures show last year, before COVID-19, only 43.5% of children from the most deprived areas got at least one Higher compared to 79.3% of children from the least deprived areas. Research also shows young people from poor families are also three times less likely to be in a job or course after leaving school. And less likely to keep a job.

Achieving good results at school despite the challenges of living in areas of multiple deprivation can be an important lifeline to having a better life. Young people should be judged on their individual performances and efforts and not the address of their school or family.

A fair and credible system would see individuals from poor areas enjoy a fair chance to earn the same grades as their better-off peers. Instead, this year’s U-turn on moderated results has made clear what we’ve always known – that young people’s chances depend too much on the levels of deprivation they grow up in.

This stark revelation of the role poverty plays in people’s chances should make us take a good hard look at the system that creates it. This is partly about investment in schools, but it is also about investment in communities and individuals. Growing up in poverty creates barriers for people that the better off do not have to face. Removing these barriers - poor mental health, loss of confidence, lack of role models – will support young people to succeed in education.

We also acknowledge school is not the perfect fit for every young person. For those who do struggle as a result of barriers and challenges such as chaotic and unstable environments, school might not be a lifeline. Other pathways need to be available for them.

At Venture Trust we specialise in working and supporting young people for whom school has been a struggle or have left school because they are dealing with issues like alcohol and drug misuse, poor family relationships, mental health issues, learning and housing issues.

The young people we work with first require significant investment to achieve greater stability – addressing chaotic or destructive behaviours to become ready for training and employment so that they can sustain a job.

Our personal development and learning support for young people helps them set out and achieve their goals, grow in confidence and stability. We help participants to work on skills such as establishing trust, personal boundaries, consequential thinking, problem-solving, dealing with challenging situations, and responsibility and accountability. These life skills need to be acquired before long-term unemployment and the issues this brings can be tackled.

We will sustain our support when restrictions are eased by restarting our innovative Change Cycle employability programme with our delivery partners The Bike Station and Bike for Good. [The programme has been paused during the pandemic.] Working around guidelines, the elements of the programme will include employability sessions, bike construction and maintenance including workshop experience and a short outdoor residential that has work-related tasks, and biking. In the meantime, our employability team continue supporting young people through digital workshops and physical distanced face-to face meetings to help them into jobs, training, study and volunteering.

We have released our independent evaluation that shows with the appropriate and sustained support young people from deprived areas can find a path that is right for them.

We're very proud of this report which shows the success of our Change Cycle programme - and especially we're very proud of our participants for achieving these results. In the current climate, we know that many young people will be looking for support in getting into work. Change Cycle will continue running to offer this support to as many people as we can reach.

Read the full evaluation report here: Evaluation of the Venture Trust’s CashBack Change Cycle 2017-2020

Andrew Russell is Venture Trust's Head of Programme Performance and Impact

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