Earlier this month, the Prince's Trust published its annual Macquarie Youth Index, which looks at the views of people between the ages of 16 and 25. Sadly, the organisation found that the happiness levels of these young people are at their lowest since the study was first commissioned in 2009. According to the results, more than a quarter (28%) of respondents do not feel in control of their lives and over a third (36%) do not feel in control of their job prospects. Unfortunately, from my work at the Dallaglio Foundation, I can all too easily understand why these figures are so high.
Our RugbyWorks programme engages disadvantaged young people, between the ages of 14 and 17, who have been permanently excluded from mainstream education. Instead, these teenagers are being educated in Pupil Referral Units (PRUs) across London, Newcastle, Bristol and South Wales. Our goal is to deliver a long-term intensive skills development programme, based on the values of rugby, to ensure these young people achieve sustained education, employment or training.
The young people who have been referred to a PRU often, although not always, come from disrupted homes and commonly experience a range of severe risk factors including drinking, drugs, mental health issues, domestic violence and family breakdown. It is these young people in particular, who could be seen as outcast from society, who actually need society's support to build their confidence levels and work towards a more positive future. This is especially true if you consider that only 1.4% of pupils enrolled in alternative provision are achieving five A*-C grade GCSEs nationally, compared to 53% of those in mainstream education. Even more unsettling, is the fact that 80% of young people in the criminal justice system were previously excluded from school.
So, what is the answer to improving happiness levels and prospects for these teenagers? It all comes down to social inclusion. This can be through the roll out of non-government funded programmes in PRUs, such as RugbyWorks. We work closely with the schools, using rugby as a hook to deliver soft skills training, employability training and mentoring. But social inclusion can also be achieved by any successful business on a regional level, if they choose to engage with PRUs in their local community. This can be on a small or large scale, offering pupils everything from a single taster day to a full-time, paid apprenticeship scheme.
The results of social inclusion and increased engagement are evident from our own research. At the end of the 2015-2016 academic year, the teachers and the rugby coaches who deliver our programmes reported a 100% increase in pupils who regularly showed a positive outlook on life. There was a 50% increase of participants in our study who were perceived to be happy. And it's not only the young people who benefit from social inclusion. Businesses also benefit from the stream of new talent brought in through work experience and apprenticeship schemes.
We - society - therefore must work harder to improve the happiness levels of our young people in the UK. But this must be for all young people, no matter their background or current situation. With positive mentoring and support, they'll soon learn that it is all still to play for.