Protégé DNA

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Protégé DNA is approaching its 10th anniversary. When it began, it pioneered a new way of working with young people who had been excluded from mainstream education. Since that time, it has had a highly successful journey in reintegrating young people into education or employment.

Protégé DNA is inspired by the idea that if Leonardo da Vinci were alive today, history’s greatest polymath would struggle with the curriculum and probably be kicked out of the classroom.

The project works with divergent young people who struggle to ‘fit in’ and benefit from mainstream education. It aims to:

  • Test and create personalised learning approaches for young people who have missed school and under-attained to catch up in core skills and develop functional competencies to enhance their skills and knowledge, and broaden their perspective
  • Work with partner organisations to understand the learning obstacles their students face, with the intention of co-devising tailored projects that aim to close attainment gaps for young people who are being left behind, or alienated from mainstream opportunities
  • Use the unique opportunity of being a public-facing gallery to create projects and experiences that increase young people’s comfort zone and sense of belonging to the community; improve their wellbeing and reduce their isolation; and increase their understanding of pathways and opportunities beyond school – including career progression opportunities, familiarity with different business models, workplace culture and pathways to the creative and cultural sector.

The project delivers alternative learning provision that is flexible and responsive to the different stages and types of need of educationally divergent young people. Depending on individual need, this can include:

  • Catch up in core skills and basic competencies, and development of new skills and pathways
  • Positive experiences and mainstream opportunities to overcome the rejection and isolation that individuals have experienced as a result of school exclusion

Protégé is distinctive from other provision. Its USP is that it offers non-institutional learning in an aspirational environment of trust, with a detailed understanding of obstacles, and all-round development of divergent and hard-to-reach young people.

We tailor our offer to the specific need and setting of each individual or small group. The service includes:

  • Self-directed learning facilitated by artists and creative practitioners
  • One-to-one and/or small group tailored support delivered through bespoke projects
  • Personalised curriculum: catch-up in core skills and/or curriculum work eg GCSE
  • Digital and physical Portfolio development
  • BTEC and Arts Award Accreditation

Protégé works closely with colleagues in the schools, local authority, health and youth justice sector. It has developed long term relationships based on trust and detailed understanding of young people’s needs, and how it can work with partners to meet these needs. Through effective networks that Protégé has created, it is able to access the most needy beneficiaries that are not being adequately met by mainstream education.

Protégé is on the Approved Provider list of various referring agencies and local authorities. This ensures that it is part of a wider conversation about how the needs of excluded young people can best be met. It also means that there are increased opportunities to work jointly with other providers to ensure a young person can benefit from a carefully constructed ‘jigsaw’ of provision to meet their complex needs. It has become recognised by referrers as an organisation that uses experience, intelligence and tested approaches, fused with innovation when relevant, to ensure we provide the best experience and opportunities for every young person we work with.

The High Street Experiment

Protégé are about to come to the end of a three year project known as the ‘High Street Experiement’. The experiment set out to:

  1. Strengthen their methodology and test its use in different settings
  2. Facilitate divergent young people to design a personal curriculum that responds to their complex individual learning requirements and increases their skills, confidence and competencies
  3. Create opportunities to increase young people’s familiarity with the wider world of work and careers.

The project saw them take up a lease for a gallery/shop space in Richmond in order to broaden the opportunities available to the young people. It has enabled the students to display their work alongside that of professional artists.

Over the three years, the High Street Experiment has worked with 110 young people:

  • 70% of whom are long-term excluded who are not attending other provision
  • 30% are at risk of permanent exclusion
  • Progression routes for young people have included college, employment and enterprise

Protégé began developing its model in 2006.   Originally part of the Wider Participation Department at Central St Martin’s College it quickly outgrew this and became a separate registered charity in 2009. John Lyon’s Charity has been supporting Protégé since 2007, along with a solid group of core funders that include the Arts Council and Esmee Fairbairn Foundation.

Protégé is now looking beyond the High Street Experiment and is searching for new ways to benefit its extremely vulnerable young people even more effectively.   The work has already changed significantly from being exclusively 1:1 provision to now including work in group contexts in special schools and also in hospital schools.   We are excited to work with Protégé to see how the work continues in the future.