Moving towards a life worth living – Nudge Education

February 3, 2020

The ability to provide mass education to young people is a cornerstone of a modern and sophisticated domestic economy but too often there are students who don’t feel connected. Richard Dawson speaks to Diego Melo and Brian Mair from Nudge Education about what they call “chronic disengagement” and how their interventions are making a world of difference in the sector

Around 50,000 young people find themselves chronically disengaged from the education system each year. That could be a child who is either not attending school or is so detached from the learning experience, they might as well be absent.

A 2016 report from the Career and Enterprise Company revealed that the highest rates of disengagement are in the North of England, with students from the Humber, Liverpool and the Tees Valley most at risk of becoming disengaged.

There are a whole host of reasons why a young person might become disengaged at school, from experiencing problems in the family home, to being entrenched in the care system, to being in and out of the youth courts. There’s also a lot of young people out there who might have undiagnosed learning difficulties or mental health problems that prevent them from engaging constructively with the education system.

The key point is that every child is different and might find themselves in a different set of circumstances to the next. That is why it is so important to have wellbeing and education intervention services that offer flexible and bespoke support and put the needs of the individual child front and centre.

This is where Nudge Education steps in. Founded in 2016 by special educational needs teacher Diego Melo and former third sector training and skills professional Brian Mair, Nudge Education brands itself as the fastest-growing education intervention service in the North of England. With a flexible workforce of up to 90 people operating across all parts of the UK, it’s easy to see why.

Diego’s passion for helping vulnerable young people was fostered from a young age in his native Brazil, where he spent a lot of time working with children in impoverished parts of Rio de Janeiro – many of whom had no name, birth date or identity.

“We’d get them into this halfway house, get them a name and an identity so that they could be put through to adoption,” he says.

Diego came to the UK 16 years ago and when he arrived in the North East, worked with communities in places such as Blyth, Battle Hill, Byker and Walker.

Around that time, Diego met Brian, who had been heavily involved in The Work Programme at Ingeus, holding workshops, skills training sessions and offering one-to-one support to help people find sustainable employment.

Both of them spent their early careers helping those who were being failed by the current system and were becoming increasingly frustrated with the lack of workable solutions to the challenges they faced.

They decided to form Nudge Education – a wellbeing and education intervention service that is bespoke to the needs of each child and committed to protecting the most vulnerable.

“Somebody said that you know the calibre of the society that you’re living in by the way they look after the most vulnerable,” says Diego.

It’s that philosophy that drives Nudge Education, combined with a vision to eradicate child disengagement from the education sector once and for all.

What makes Nudge Education different from other intervention services is the flexibility they have in being able to tailor the intervention to the needs of the child. This is unique in the sector where, generally speaking, you have large providers bidding for multi-million-pound contracts. Operating at this scale makes it so much more difficult to create a bespoke plan based on an individual’s needs.

Brian expands: “If you were going to provide medical assistance, you wouldn’t be prescribing the same prescription to ten different people; you’d be servicing the needs that each diagnosis presents you with.”

The Nudge Education approach to procurement is rooted in the understanding that one size doesn’t fit all and, when they meet with commissioners from local authorities, their first question is always, “tell me about the child that needs saving?”

Once they have identified what support a child may need, Brian and Diego will then design an intervention and get in touch with experts in their flexible workforce who might be able to help.

Diego explains the chronology of the Nudge Education intervention as follows: “When a child is referred into us, we initially assess them and then select an education expert and try to understand the environment in which that child will thrive and what that child should be journeying towards. We then deploy the education experts with complete care through our case managers and close monitoring and then we move them through a pathway.

“When the child is showing signs of transition, we work with the local authority to find a suitable place for that young person to transition to.

“That young person is then beginning to live a life worth living.”

In qualitative terms, it’s been a tremendously successful approach, with 96 per cent of young people who come through Nudge Education transitioning back into school.

“They go from 0 per cent attendance to 100 per cent attendance with Nudge,” Diego maintains.

The average intervention takes about two school terms. But Brian and Diego are clear that their interventions extend far beyond the school gates, working closely with all of the relevant stakeholders around a child to ensure that work being done in the evenings, weekends and holidays is helping to engineer change in that child’s life.

Since 2016, Nudge Education has worked with around 140 young people, 60 of which are ongoing. In that time, they’ve had some truly inspiring testimonials from people whose lives have been changed by their interventions.

Brian and Diego talk about a child whose care order was dropped because of how his love for life had been reignited after working with Nudge Education.

They talk of another who was entrenched in the youth criminal justice system and who, after his intervention, had his tag removed, his court order removed and went straight back to college. The judge even praised him for the progress he had made.

There was a girl who came through Nudge Education who had severe learning difficulties and was prone to very angry outbursts. The team transitioned her from that point to a place where when she was upset, she would ask for her Nudge Education experts.

“Every case study is amazing,” Brian reflects.

One of the most heart-warming testimonials was from another young girl who was struggling with multiple issues around identity and depression that were holding her back from what she wanted to do.

Diego explains. “She was suicidal but through the therapeutic and educational interventions we provided, she said ‘thank you for saving my life’.”

It’s not only the children who have been transformed by their experiences with Nudge Education. Many of the education experts they have worked with and employed have seen their passion for teaching reignited.

Diego talks about one of their colleagues who, as a former headteacher, had become completely detached and marginalised, which unfortunately is not uncommon in the sector.

“We’ve got a workforce in the sector that is disillusioned,” says Diego. “Teachers and mental health practitioners on the whole, the ones who stick to it, they’re overburdened with commitment and essentially, what we’re seeing is the neglect of their humanity.”

Due to the ever-growing demands placed on those working in the sector, many children who need help the most are not getting it, which is having a demoralising effect on both the student and the teacher.

But at Nudge Education, teachers have time to slow down and focus on the needs of one particular student, rather than having to teach an ever-growing national curriculum to an ever-growing classroom.

“We’re re-energising teachers’ moral sense of purpose,” Diego says.

While Brian and Diego understand the financial pressures local authorities are under, they want to make clear that investing in an early child intervention with Nudge Education will be cost-saving in the long run.

This is because early intervention leads to lower rates of criminality later on and young people who can get their lives back on track become less reliant on benefits and social services in adulthood.

Diego explains: “We will engineer a life that’s worth living with a child and that’s going to be far more cost-effective.

“You don’t get a first aider to operate on someone’s heart because it’s cheaper. You get the best surgeon to operate. With chronically disengaged children, you need to get specialist people.”

At the start of this new decade, Brian and Diego have big plans to mobilise their workforce on a much larger scale so that they can hit 5000 interventions by 2025. To facilitate this, they have appointed Sarah Hunter, who has been instrumental in their growth, as a company director.

Diego concludes: “Enough of the lip service for those who need it the most. Let’s get the ‘heartbrain’ and the ‘head-brain’ working together to deliver these interventions, which these young people need.

“Let us join forces and eradicate this out of the sector, once and for all.”

Nudge Education

Scroll to next article
Go to

Viewpoint: Gordon Hewling