Breaking Barriers? Reaching the hardest to reach

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The Prince's Trust / Royal Bank of Scotland Group, 2003


Background to the study

This UK research study interviewed more than 900 14-25 year olds, involving quantitative and qualitative methods, to explore the aims and aspirations of disadvantaged young people, and the obstacles that held them back from achieving their aims. Four categories of young people were included: the unemployed, educational underachievers, ex-offenders and serving prisoners and those in or leaving care, aged 16-21. In practice, 62% of the disadvantaged sample fell within more than one category. A control group of young people who were not disadvantaged were also included in the sample.


The findings showed that the aims and aspirations of disadvantaged young people were very similar to the control group, although do shift with maturity, and include having a family, an interesting job, and sufficient money to support their lifestyle. However, for many disadvantaged young people, there was a lack of understanding as to how they would achieve their aims in life. The underlying importance of having a home and family was important to the majority of those interviewed: 82% cited either family or having a nice home as one of their most important aspirations.


Young people from disadvantaged backgrounds had clear perceptions of the barriers that held them back from achieving their goals and 41% identified that a lack of qualifications was a cause. However, only 33% of educational underachievers recognised that a lack of qualifications was an obstacle to their success. The barriers identified were different for disadvantaged males and females and the focus shifted with age. Females were more likely to mention a lack of confidence, not having enough experience and being a parent as holding them back, despite enjoying the time spent with their children. Males were more likely to mention bad behaviour. Some specific findings:

Specific personal barriers such as racism, bullying and harassment were mentioned surprisingly infrequently.


The report concludes that any social intervention measures need to recognise the common aspirations of all young people, and work to tackle the barriers specific to socially excluded young people. While disadvantaged young people are aware that their poor educational achievement holds them back, they do not fully understand the long-term implications of leaving school without qualifications until they are much older and therefore it is crucial that there are tangible incentives to remain in education - the Government's 14-19 agenda is much needed. Critical intervention points are when leaving education, care, or prison; becoming a parent; losing a job; getting a record or, in the case of young mums, returning to work. Finally, young people want to be able to make their own choices, so social services need to be able to provide a range of options; however, the nature of the benefit system greatly limits the options available.


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