Education should be the backbone of our society.
It should shape our youth, provide them with opportunities, and help them take control of their lives. It should provide them with the chance to compete on an equal playing field, where success is determined by merit, rather than by circumstances outside their control. Most importantly, it should provide young people with hope: hope that they can make a place for themselves in the world, hope that they can change the way things are, and hope that they can play a part in creating a better future.
But that is the ideal.
This is the reality:
Household income, geographical location, and ethnicity are all factors outside a youth’s control; nevertheless, they are all factors that have been linked to educational attainment. Social Market Foundation (2016) has found that family income is a strong predictor of educational performance, regional disparities in education have increased over time, and there are significant disparities in educational attainment across ethnic groups. Young people from less privileged backgrounds also tend to have vastly different experiences in the education system: they are more likely to feel a lack of control towards their learning, are less likely to experience as rich a set of experiences in the classroom, and are much more likely to have their confidence undermined through their experiences at school (Hirsch, 2007).
But the picture does not have to be so dismal. Research has also shown that access to higher education increases social mobility, and that it may be effective to work with less advantaged youths to help them increase their sense of confidence and help them take control of their learning process (Iannelli & Paterson, 2005; Hirsch, 2007). What this means is that it may not be enough to simply place less advantaged young people in the education system and hope that it turns out for the best; some may need extra attention to get them past these hurdles and onto a better track that will bring them towards their long-term goals.
It is for this reason that Westminster Befriend A Family has recently launched a Broadening Horizons project to provide academic and vocational advice to young people aged 13+. The goal of this project is not to be yet another voice telling less advantaged youths what to do. Instead, the aim is to empower youths, help them develop a sense of confidence in their own abilities, and reveal to them just what they are truly capable of achieving. It is a partnership where trained mentors will guide, motivate and support the young person to formulate and put into action plans for education and careers. Mentors may, for instance, bring the young person to visit a university campus, or they may help the young person explore other routes to employment such as learning a trade or applying for an apprenticeship. Our goal is to open up possibilities and help youths to discover just what they can achieve, despite the many challenges posed by an often hostile environment.
The attainment gap created by our country’s education system is growing. Many young people feel let down and disillusioned by the opportunities available to them. There is no easy or quick fix to readdress this balance. A great amount of work is needed to reform policy and improve the education structure in the UK. However, this also means there is a current need for improved educational services from within the third sector. The fact that the education system is imperfect means that it is all the more important that we persevere in trying to remedy this situation. Services must grow to ensure that every young person has a fairer shot at making their own aspirations a reality. Through this education can go a long way in helping to shape a better future for our society.
Hirsch, Donald. 2007. “Experiences of poverty and educational disadvantage.” Joseph Rowntree Foundation, ref 2123.
Iannelli, C. & Paterson, L. (2005). “Does Education Promote Social Mobility?”
Social Market Foundation. (2016). “Educational Inequalities in England and Wales: Commission on Inequality in Education.”
Title of the article is a quote from Nelson Mandela.