Improving the engagement and opportunities of disadvantaged young people through sport and mentoring

Sport+ is a youth worker-led project from UK Youth combining an accredited, non-classroom based programme in sports leadership and employability skills alongside youth support and work-based learning.

The project was developed with the aim of improving engagement of disadvantaged young people who are underachieving in school, Not in Education, Employment, or Training (NEET), experiencing complex needs or at risk of becoming NEET.

Rolled out by three delivery partners across Northumberland, Wakefield and Liverpool, Sport+ reached young people experiencing challenges in their lives — those most in need of education and employment support — by helping them to develop vital emotional and social skills that will help them to succeed in education and employment.

The delivery partners recruited to lead Sport+ included NE YOUTH, Wakefield Youth Service Team and Anfield Sports Liverpool. During the first phase of the project, the Impact Framework was established, and SLAs and resources were developed for the delivery partners. The merger of the two national organisations, Ambition and UK Youth, resulted in a short delay in the recruitment and set up of the programme.

Delivery partners’ staff and volunteers underwent internal and external training of to build their knowledge and skills that would be needed to support young people on the programme.

During the recruitment phase, significant engagement and outreach work was undertaken to promote the support available to a range of community and statutory organisations. This resulted in 100 young people starting the programme, with 96 completing it between January and December 2018. 69% of young people who took part were aged between 14 and 16 years old, reaching a slightly higher rate than the national population of people from Black and Minority Ethnic backgrounds. The programme also exceeded its target of 60:40 male/female ratio, with 44% of young people reached being female.

Almost 45% of the young people involved came from alternative provision and with high behaviour issues, low attention spans and have been removed from multiple mainstream and PRU schools. The majority (63%) live in some of the most disadvantage areas, some experiencing many complex issues at home. 94% of participants were facing at least one personal barrier, the most being low educational attainment, low income family and young offending. Other barriers included:

  • English as a second language
  • Young carer
  • Behavioural, emotional or social difficulties
  • Rural isolation
  • LGBTQ+

The programme sought to achieve the following goals, and was successful in all areas:

  • 70% of participating young people will increase learning engagement
  • 70% of young people will increase their emotional capabilities relevant to employability
  • 65% of participants will gain accredited qualifications.
  • 80% of participants will benefit from one-to-one support from assigned mentors and youth workers.

All participants were matched with a mentor, meeting with and supported by them based on their need throughout the engagement on the programme. Mentors provided both individual and group support sessions depending on need. Some young people did not react well to strangers entering their complex lives, so the group dynamic was a positive experience and a manageable expectation.

In addition, all participants achieved at least two accredited qualifications, with one being a Sports Leaders qualification. They also followed the ASDAN employability framework, which included core employability skills, and career pathways.

Leadership, Social Action, Mental health, Inclusion, money management and first aid were also explored with groups as additional opportunities were identified to meet a need. This flexibility resulted in participants achieving a range of awards and certificates including:

  • 97 Sports Leaders Awards
  • 49 Emergency First Aid
  • 49 Money Management Certificate
  • 17 Mental Health First Aid
  • 27 ASDAN Sports Inclusion Certificate.

Two groups engaged further with participants to complete an ADSAN inclusion Sports Award and extend learning to a Level 2 sports award and building Sport+ participants into their workplace as volunteers and sports leaders.

50% of the young people also acquired a V10 Vinspired Volunteer Certificate as a result of additional social action projects they undertook in their community. These included a Beach Clean-up were 86kg of rubbish was removed and support to a local food bank re food collection.

Many participants, especially those out of the school environment, are taking ownership of their own pathways into employment.

The impact data collected showed that the young people’s self-reported attitudes towards school before and after taking the programme had improved across all areas, with the greatest improvement seen in “Doing well in school is important to me”. This suggests that Sport+ was effective in increasing young people’s engagement with their school environment and their motivation to achieve within education.

The biggest reported improvements in participants’ emotional and social capabilities were in communication, resilience, confidence and responsibility, but improvements were reported across all areas assessed, indicating that Sport+ provided young people with vital skills that can help them to succeed.

The participants also reported having more employment skills and opportunities as a result of their involvement with Sport+, with the greatest improvement in the belief that they “have the opportunities needed to get a job”. The data gathered suggests that the programme has opened up new doors for the young people and has equipped them with the necessary skills to search for and secure employment.

Overall, participants felt that Sport+ had been most valuable in helping them to achieve more, whether at school or college, or when trying to get their desired job.

Moving these young people through the programme is testament to the quality of the staff, youth workers and key staff that both ran the delivery each week but also supported and mentored these young people back in their community setting. Delivery partners met throughout the duration of the programme to share their thoughts, exchange good practice and discuss any issues or areas of concern, as well as review and monitor the collection of data.

In addition to the initial and ongoing training they received, delivery partners have reported that the Sport+ programme has opened conversations with schools, voluntary sector groups and organisations that were less likely to have engaged with them in the past, helping to build ongoing relationships. By supporting and covering costs of external staff training, Sport+ has helped build a legacy of key personal across the delivery partners with the skills and capacity to deliver a range of personal development and leadership training opportunities.

Photos courtesy of UK Youth