Connexions: A day in the life - Gareth Sayers, personal adviser at Connexions

| 23 June 2004

Connexions frontline staff have a wide remit, but what do they do all day? Anthony Burt shadowed personal adviser Gareth Sayers to find out.

Connexions arose from the vision presented in the 1999 Social Exclusion Unit report Bridging the Gap and now employs around 7,900 personal advisers across England. It has been criticised by organisations such as the Community and Youth Workers' Union and Youth Access for attempts to colonise other fields of work and for providing an inconsistent quality of advice.

Young People Now spent a day with Gareth Sayers, 26, a personal adviser at Derbyshire's 8m Connexions partnership, to see what his job involves.


Driving to Derby's Curzon Street Connexions centre, Sayers explains he is "on duty" for drop-ins and appointments between 10am and 1pm today.

Then he will move on to in-school clients and a multi-agency meeting.

Sayers runs the Breadsall Youth Centre in Chaddesden on Tuesday nights.


Checking his email before going down to the centre, Sayers finds he has been asked to get involved in a local sexual health day at Swanwick Hall School later this month. Co-ordination of days like these and service provision with other organisations is part of Sayers' multi-agency work.


Forty staff are based in the centre: personal advisers, information advisers and education business partnership workers. Sayers checks for updates and young people interventions on the Connexions Customer Information System. This is the national database of information Connexions was meant to have implemented in all 47 partnerships by April 2004. The Department for Education and Skills (DfES) "expects all partnerships to be fully compliant by the end of June". Its purpose is better co-ordination of information sharing between agencies. "It will mean agencies can check what is happening and reduce duplication," says Sayers.


"The more you promote this service to young people, the more help they expect," explains Sayers as he opens the centre doors.

"The remit is too wide. You can't focus on everything," he continues.

"I've never been asked to deliver a service I know nothing about, but on some issues, like drugs and alcohol, you can only refer young people to specialists." Sayers has, in recent months, completed his NVQ Level 4 in guidance.


Young people entering the centre talk to an information adviser: if they can point the young person to the right information, they won't refer them to a personal adviser.

The first young person Sayers sees, Charlie Thompson, 18, from Normanton in Derby, has been sitting at a table looking through training packs.


Charlie is unsure about having an interview with Sayers in a separate room, but after seeing the rooms have glass windows he walks over.

"The glass is there as much for the personal adviser's security as the young person's," explains Sayers. "We could have a potentially violent client other colleagues need to watch out for during interviews. Equally, we need to make young people feel safe."

Charlie has just dropped out of a horticulture fast-track training scheme at Broomfield College, where he was paid 75 a week to learn while working.

He seems confused as he sits down with Sayers to talk through the option of Entry to Employment (e2e). "It's like doing lots of taster work placements until you find the one you like," explains Sayers. It is a minimum of 16 hours and 40 per week. Charlie thinks about it, grumbling that "the paperwork is too over the top" for these schemes. But he agrees to go on e2e and an appointment is made for him to see the e2e co-ordinator.


Sayers explains to Charlie how to use "Occupations", a folder summarising every career path available. "The paperwork can be really confusing for young people," admits Sayers.

Sayers assesses young people who need ongoing support by using the Connexions Assessment, Planning, Implementation and Review system. It has 18 sections, including family relationships and health.

"The wheel visual is great for young people. They can see where their goals are," says Sayers. "But it has created a lot of paperwork, takes time and, despite what Connexions expects, is not appropriate for every young person." From April this year, the system has been mandatory for use with all the Connexions-defined "level one" intensively supported young people.


The centre is buzzing. Sayers is interviewing 17-year-old Christina Bolton.

She wants to get into PR but is not interested in any more full-time college courses. After running through data protection and confidentiality issues, which he does prior to interviewing all his clients, Sayers recommends NVQ training. It's important, he says, to show employers your continuing commitment to learning.


Interviewing young people in quick succession leaves little time to catch up on admin. "I usually take an hour after my shift to update all the young people's files," he says.

Sayers sees Natalie Hall and James Gilmour, both 18, and Charlotte Tebbutt, 17, about their combined disenchantment, after two years, with their NVQ childcare course.

This is a common guidance issue. "All you can do is try to persuade them to complete the course," he says. Which is what he manages. Today, at least.


Sayers' average daily appointments vary. "In the centre it can be five or six young people, then another five when I go to the schools in an afternoon." The majority are for careers guidance.

According to the DfES' Supporting Children and Young People Group, Connexions achieved two million interventions with 13- to 19-year-olds between 1 April and 31 October 2003 - 1.2 million were with 16- to 19-year-olds and more than 640,000 were not in education, employment or training.

The two million figure refers to the number of times a personal adviser has intervened to help young people, not the number of young people.


"It can be emotionally draining being a personal adviser," says Sayers as he sits down for lunch while doing paperwork.


After driving to Swanwick Hall School, Sayers talks to a Year 11 pupil referred by the head of year because he has stopped attending school.

"We're working out a flexible learning approach," explains Sayers. "He can keep attending core subjects like English and Maths but, after discussion with his parents, we'll set up a part-time work placement to ease the academic pressure."


A multi-agency meeting, consisting of three personal advisers, the education social worker, manager of student support, deputy head teacher, and heads of Years 10 and 11, moves quickly. Everyone discusses their individual cases, sharing information about certain young people.


Sayers climbs into his car to carry on the rest of his evening at the Breadsall Youth Centre. He has an alcohol workshop planned with ingredients for making non-alcoholic cocktails, from 6.30pm to 9.30pm. "I'll be tired by the end of it," he says.


- After doing an NVQ in childcare at Derby College for almost three years, I've changed my mind about it. I think I want to do something else and so have come into Connexions to see what I can do. I'm a bit confused and just hope they've got some other options.

James Gilmour, 18, Derby

- I'm here to meet Jackie, the e2e co-ordinator, as she's taking me to a job interview for an admin assistant. I've left school and want to get a job and do an NVQ in business administration. Connexions knocked on my door and asked if I wanted to come into the centre.

Jageleep Chohan, 16, Sinfin, Derby

- I've just done a landscape gardening training scheme and didn't like it. Now I'm looking for a different training scheme - maybe hospitality and catering. I've been put on the fast-track scheme where I can work and earn money, but I want Connexions to help me choose something I like.

Charlie Thompson, 18, Normanton, Derby

- I've just had enough of childcare. It's probably silly to quit but I wanted to see what else I could do. Gareth's helped me before so I was hoping we could work something out.

Charlotte Tebbutt, 17, Derby.

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