Schools and places of education in the UK are currently facing major reforms. However, perhaps the most important voice on learning has struggled to make itself heard in these debates: that of young people themselves.
It's like a supermarket business making large scale changes, without hearing from its customers about how good the service is, what the staff are like and the quality of the produce. How successful would they be in improving their business? It's no wonder young people feel dissatisfied and frustrated with many aspects of current education reform.
To help address this, over the last six months, I have been one of nine Youth Ambassadors, working on the My Education campaign, a joint initiative with Pearson, the world's leading learning company, and Teach First, a social enterprise that aims to address educational disadvantage. Through an extensive youth census, school debates, and discussion across social media, the My Education campaign sought the views of over 8,000 young people across the country and gained a greater insight into what young people think of education today and how it could be improved. This wealth of data has now been collected together in the My Education report, and the findings offer plenty of food for thought for policymakers.
Last week we presented the research to Shadow Education Secretary Tristram Hunt MP, Tom Shinner, Senior Policy Adviser at the Department for Education, and Laura Trott, the Prime Minister's Special Adviser on Education, before launching the report publicly in Parliament, at an event hosted by Graham Stuart MP, Chair of the Education Select Committee.
The views from learners across the country were very clear.
Students recognise that teachers' passion for their subject and enjoyment of the job is vital in creating a stimulating environment for learning. 93 per cent said the top qualities of a teacher were passion for their subject and an enjoyment of teaching. They have also stressed the importance of teachers knowing them as individuals and knowing what their aspirations are, which would encourage them to participate more in class. More than three quarters (76%) also agreed that encouraging tougher discipline in schools would help students to achieve their goals.
Learners also felt that their voice is needed to be better heard, wanting to have a say in the direction of their studies and management of their school. They want teachers, head teachers and authorities to value their contributions, take their ideas seriously and act on them. However, many young people feel inhibited by school hierarchies and lack the confidence to share their opinions openly. 57% said lessons are just about how to pass exams and therefore your opinion is not needed.
Many young people have also said that they are primarily driven by their ambitions for the future. They see classroom learning and qualifications as a stepping stone to future success and want to see that reflected in the curriculum: 82% want to experience lessons that are linked to the workplace, while 83% of those surveyed want more opportunities for work experience and better careers advice. Young people want teachers to understand their aspirations and then empower them to meet their goals. They need encouragement to share their ambitions with their teachers, and clear explanation of how the subjects they are studying are of value in getting them there.
There is also a huge concern amongst young people that formal examinations often test knowledge alone, rather than the understanding of the subject and their skills in applying that knowledge. Furthermore, the data shows widespread fears that the assessment system too often reflects their performance on one day only and does not allow sufficient scope for qualitative assessment. Perhaps reflecting students' awareness that the job market is now global, many felt that formal qualifications must have international acceptance. 91% of young people agreed that high-quality qualifications that are respected by universities and employers will help them to improve their learning and reach their goals.
However, knowing what young people think is one thing. Using that insight to help policymakers improve education in the UK is another. We look forward to seeing how the teachers' bodies, education providers, politicians and policy makers we have briefed will respond to the report. I hope that policymakers start actively listening to students' views on the future of education, providing the infrastructure, creating the lessons and the assessment techniques that meet the high ambitions of young people today.
Together we are all seeking to deliver a world-leading education system that will both inspire young people to achieve their goals and deliver the skills that will guarantee the UK's future prosperity. We believe that the breadth of insight in the My Education report offers a unique perspective, from a voice that is all too often missed in debates over educational reform.
Our aim is not only to give young learners a voice, but to ensure that their voice is used to further improve education and outcomes for all young people. We would encourage everyone to read what the report has to say and hope that the views of young people will act as a positive force, helping to drive improvements in our education system.
Please click here to view the full report.