news 1 November 2022

Why our new PM has a chance to supercharge the UK’s future by creating opportunities for all young people

With Rishi Sunak reportedly about to set out sweeping education reforms, our External Affairs Manager Derin Adebiyi explains why expanding access to activities outside the classroom could benefit the UK’s future, as well as young people themselves.

The last few years have been very difficult for young people. They’ve had to navigate the pressures of lockdown, lost education and record levels of mental ill-health – all combined with rising poverty and an ongoing cost-of-living crisis. They are facing challenges unique in modern memory.

But, through all of this, it’s increasingly clear that the pandemic has made a strong case for the importance of enrichment – non-formal educational opportunities, outside the classroom, that help young people broaden their horizons, discover new passions, and gain the skills they ultimately need to fulfil their potential and succeed in future.

As well as reducing inequality of opportunity and supporting young people’s wellbeing, expanding access to enrichment – so all young people have access to these activities – can play a key role in education recovery and “levelling up” the country.

Sweeping reforms

So we were interested to hear last week that our new Prime Minister, Rishi Sunak, is said to be on the verge of setting out sweeping reforms to transform our education system, with the aim of delivering the silver bullet in public policy that will put the UK on the path to prosperity.

While the Prime Minister has described the 2019 manifesto as providing a mandate from the public, it’s important to note the key focus it placed on education, describing it as “the most important thing to unleash the UK’s potential”.

The funding provided by the National Youth Guarantee was a core commitment to this – and it’s great that education is back at the very top of the Government’s agenda.

What’s the PM reportedly calling for?

Along with an uplift in early years funding, Sunak’s plans advocate many of the proposals made by the Times Education Commission – a year-long project aimed at addressing some of the issues in the education system.

The Commission’s recommendations included the introduction of a British baccalaureate to offer broader academic and vocational qualifications at 18.

There’s an argument that introducing a baccalaureate presents an opportunity for UK growth, because having a wider curriculum will mean young people can get the skills that they need and employers want.

But the question is how this all ties together to fuel the pipeline between school and employment.

That’s why the PM’s adoption of many of the Times Education Commission’s recommendations is so interesting. There’s a lot of alignment between our policy goals at the DofE and the Commission’s recommendations – but particularly one ask: an ‘Electives Premium’.

Opportunities for all

Employers are looking for skills like creativity, curiosity, problem-solving – exactly the type of skills enrichment activities provide.

Enrichment activities like sport, music, drama, art, debating, outdoor learning and dance should be an integral part of the timetable for all children, not an optional “extracurricular” add-on.

The Times Education Commission has proposed that this model should be tried out more widely, with an “electives premium” to fund additional sports coaches, cultural clubs and outings. The policy would also serve to enthuse pupils about school – and it’s popular with parents.

This is a key area for us at the DofE. We want a curriculum that gives an exciting, inter-disciplinary learning experience – one that provides greater enrichment opportunities and brings learning to life.

We know there’s clear evidence of the important role enrichment activities like the DofE play in building vital so-called ‘soft skills’ and character traits in young people – like character, resilience and confidence – which are all highly valued by employers.

We also know these can positively influence young people’s performance in the formal school setting.

But it’s crucial the Government implements this in a way that makes sure ALL young people benefit from access to non-formal learning activities.

Ensuring there’s a pathway for all young people to get these skills will have the knock-on effect of preparing them for work – helping to improve UK productivity and filling the jobs of tomorrow that will drive UK economic growth and “level up” the UK.

There’s growing recognition that this is needed. Along with the Times Education Commission’s calls for a more holistic curriculum, the Getting young people ‘work ready’ report by the Confederation of British Industry (CBI), also makes a strong case for the need for young people to develop soft skills – an area that will be crucial as we begin to fill the jobs of the future.

It’s brilliant to see young people’s education and skills back at the top of the political agenda. Now we need to do our best to make sure all young people benefit.

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