─ By Alan Mackie, Research Associate, University of Edinburgh, UK

Wednesday 6th February saw us on the Edinburgh team conduct our second ‘youth panel’ as we fed back some of our findings to local young people, as well as seeking their own views on our research.

Picture 1 of Edinburgh Youth Panel
Picture 1

We travelled to the Canongate Youth Project armed with pizza in order to discuss some of our findings with 4 young people present on the day – Tyler, 17; Louise, 16; Kyle, 16; and Jordan, 17. We sought their feedback on one specific aspect of our findings – what are the factors that help (or would help) to maintain their engagement in education and employability programmes?  These are outlined in picture 1 below.

We split the four into two groups and asked them to place the factors on a ‘thermometer of importance’ – the ‘hotter’ (or more important), the further up it is placed. Our first group of Tyler and Louise thought that nearly all the factors were critical to engagement (picture 2), with only ‘affordable transport’ and ‘less focus on qualifications’ as not important to them (picture 3).

Picture 2                                                       Picture 3

For Kyle and Jordan, they felt six factors were of high importance to their continued engagement; 1) friendly practitioners; 2) small groups; 3) that they should have input into what activities they undertake; 4) more focus on qualifications; 5) less engagement hours; and 6) more support with mental health issues (picture 4).

Picture 4 of Edinburgh Youth Panel
Picture 4

It is interesting that both groups highlighted the importance of dealing with mental health issues as this was one of the most common barriers to participation that we found in our research – and this across almost all our partner nations. Issues with young people’s mental health appears to be a growing phenomenon and now concerns about it appear regularly in the mainstream media. Problems associated with stress, anxiety and depression were particularly prevalent in our research, so it was interesting that both groups placed this high in terms of importance for engagement. Certainly if we are serious about engaging marginalised young people with a view to enabling them to move into more long-term education or employment it is critical that young people have the support to deal with these issues.

It is also important to highlight that both groups felt small groups were key to engagement. They discussed how this was important at the beginning of engagement as often confidence could be low and anxiety about engagement could be high. As such, it was felt that small groups aided the building of friendships at the beginning of engagement and that larger groups could be a barrier in terms of social anxiety and feeling intimidated. This certainly chimes with what we found in our research. Food for thought.

Thanks to Catherine McMillan and the Canongate Youth Project for allowing us to meet and work with the young people there. Particular thanks to Louise, Tyler, Jordan and Kyle for their input and for the interesting discussion.

We’d be happy to hear what you think is important to the engagement of young people on post-school education and employability programmes, if you have a view. Feel free to comment below, if you do. Thanks.