Spark is an added learning programme offered in Secure Schools (a new model of youth custody announced by the Ministry of Justice) for the young people in custody, which aims to create further engagement into learning. It takes advantage of the small and localised nature of the establishment by involving members of the local community to support the rehabilitation of vulnerable youth from their area. Through Spark, the young persons can try and participate in a host of courses and activities offered by community supporters, who are willing to share their skills and expertise with them. Spark gives them the space to experiment and fail, identify and nurture their interests and strengths, and therefore contextualises the value of learning for them, and builds aspirations. It is built as a structured iterative model around exploration, assessment and reflection which is documented in the form of progress, engagement, strengths and interests.
Spark brings value to many users and stakeholders involved in the Youth Justice System, with it primarily being used to help young people in custody. They (16-19 yo) become aware of their own strengths and interests, gain confidence, set aspirations, and develop motivation that results in further engagement into learning and better life choices. Community supporters are proactive citizens mobilised by Spark. Through a safe and guided programme, they offer their expertise and abilities to young people in custody, who have otherwise often been disadvantaged members of society. They create positive change and contribute to the wellbeing of their own community. Secure School educators are provided with a flexible and iterative learning structure that allows them to manage learning experiences that are tailored to every young person. The MoJ benefits from a model that is aligned with the Secure School’s vision. Spark aims to tackle reoffending by building aspirations and self awareness, as well as establishing positive relationships which sustain after release.
Over 90% of the 16 or 17 year old young people sentenced to custody had a previous record of being persistently absent from school. They usually come from unstable backgrounds (social, economic, mental) and approximately ⅔ of them have special educational needs. These vulnerable situations don’t give them the physical and mental space to identify and nurture meaningful interests and therefore aspire for a better future. This results in disengagement from learning, lack of positive networks and wrong life choices, which can keep them stuck in reoffending loops. Grounded in extensive field research, involving workshops with policy makers, interviews with ex-offenders, educators, youth social workers, education consultants, and citizens, our theory of change is a learning experience in custody that focuses on rehabilitation by building positive aspirations and relationships which sustain after release.
Spark is comprised of the Spark Programme and the Spark Community. The Spark Programme is a learning model which consists of four main stages: Act is put into practice by giving every young person the space to try new activities offered by community supporters; observe is a back-stage moment in which educators assess engagement, strengths and behaviours; reflect gives the young person the opportunity and tools to visualise their strengths and progress in order to plan the next activities, increasingly aware of their interests and aspirations. Spark Community consists of individuals and organisations (like local businesses and charities) that take on the role of community supporters. First feedback from citizens validated the hypothesis that people have varied skills and knowledge they are willing to share and many would be happy to volunteer. Prototyping sessions with policy makers and former young offenders led to a minimum viable product focused on reaching out to people and organisations already working within the Justice system.