Positive Feedback from #Focus5 School Group

#Focus5 have been carrying out a pilot scheme in secondary schools, offering help and advice to young people through small group and individual support sessions. At the end of a series of six sessions, we visited a school in Somerset to find out what the students thought of this new service.

This particular group was made up of girls, those who are most at risk of NEET (not in education, employment or training) when they leave Year 11. 

What did the six sessions involve?

Over the course of the six sessions the girls have been learning some or all of the following topic areas, delivered in a relaxed and engaging way by Louise Barnes (Focus5 key worker) and Debbie Barsby (DWP).

  • About Me - Confidence building, self-esteem and identifying strengths, goals and outcomes.
  • CV & Digital Skills - Producing a CV, creating an email account, opening a bank account, and other digital skills.
  • Future - Where young people want to be, using spider graphs and mind mapping. Sharing information about apprenticeships, job searching, traineeships, college and ad-hoc courses.
  • Life Skills - Communication techniques, resilience training, healthy relationships, customer service skills, self-esteem, coping with anxiety, building confidence, overcoming barriers and life skills.
  • 1:1 Session - 1:1 session with the key worker to complete a survey, look at applications for courses or employment, do further work on removing barriers to engagement and reducing any anxiety, doing another self-assessment and preparing for the future.

What did the final session involve?

The final session explored interview skills, planning for transition to college and what to do if you fail your exams. The girls considered how they would approach employers with their CV's which were delivered to them on a memory stick to take away, and brainstormed how to tackle interview situations. They were given information on the top 10 questions that someone might ask at interview along with websites for interview advice. 

We then discussed how they were feeling about applying for college, with Louise and Debbie describing college life very well as they are both so familiar with the local colleges. Both are really positive people able to turn any negative attitudes or worries from the girls around into positive scenarios. They explained the importance of applying for college even if you don't accept the place, and that if they subsequently found a job, they might be able to turn the opportunity into an apprenticeship. They also explained that full time college might not necessarily mean full time attendance, which is something really important to those with social/emotional needs or learning difficulties or a family situation which leaves them with additional caring duties. They discussed what to expect from college, and the way in which it differs from school as well as thinking about what options are open to them for further studying should their GCSE exams not go well.

Something of great interest to the girls was the fact that colleges tend to have sizeable wellbeing departments, where students can go to talk and open up about life, and ask for help where they need it. 

What feedback did the girls give on the group?

The students all had a 1-2-1 session with our key worker where they were able to really open up and confide about their worries, barriers to learning, and plans for the future. This was considered by them to be really valuable and something difficult to access inside or outside of school. They gave working with their key worker a 5 out 5 rating and said Louise and Debbie were very supportive, kind and caring.

They all felt that learning in a group offered the opportunity to see different peoples perspectives and to know that you aren't alone in the way you are feeling. They also said they were able to be open and honest with neutral mentors who are not connected to school.

They all rated the #Focus5 group very highly and say they feel more positive about planning for their future with the advice and support they have received, particularly with regards to producing a CV and searching for jobs. They also said the group helped build confidence, improve their interaction skills and identify their skills and strengths.

All the girls felt this kind of 'life learning' is really important and could benefit all children in secondary school, particularly from year 9/10 onwards when the pressure shifts from being about fitting in socially, to passing their GCSEs.

What does the future hold?

All the girls are feeling positive about the future and feel more confident about their next steps regardless of what happens with their GCSE exams. Some are applying for college, others are still considering their options or are looking at applying for jobs, armed with their CV's and employability skills.

It is quite clear that there is a real need for careers, life skills and emotional support for young people within secondary schools and hopefully the Government's recent pledge to roll out a nationwide trial of mental health support groups will help to fill this void. #Focus5 will reflect on the trials we have carried out and hope to do more schools groups in the coming months.