07 April 2016
Last month I was fortunate enough to hear John – a young poet – talking about his life in East London, at the launch of local youth organisation, Studio 3 Arts’ exciting project to bring Shakespeare to the streets of Barking this summer.
One of John’s lines that stuck with me was simple: “I am a seed waiting to grow….and fulfil my potential.”
Listening to John talk afterwards, he was passionate about the role that Studio 3 Arts had played in his personal development. As we reach the final months of the countdown to the London Mayoral elections we can only hope that the candidates wake up to the role that youth work and youth organisations can play, to complement the support young people receive in school.
The current Mayor, Boris Johnson, has taken great pride in the improvement in London schools, and while he has had no formal powers over education, he and his team have made a concerted effort to promote attainment and driving up standards across the capital.
But even he acknowledges that more can be done – and that many young people are still not able to take advantage of what London has to offer – or, in John’s words, to fulfil their potential.
So how can youth organisations help?
We recently asked teachers and youth workers what they thought was missing in formal education, and where there was scope for more support and opportunity for young people within the community.
The findings are captured in the report, Youth Work and Schools: A partnership worth building? written by education and youth think and action-tank LKMco. The report found that there are certainly things that teachers value, but can’t always deliver within the constraints of the curriculum and the school day. These include the chance for young people to do community activities, learn to explore and cope with transitions, and explore complex issues within their own lives and those of their peers.
To traditionalists, these might sound like ‘nice to haves’. After all, if young people get qualifications and skills, surely they will be able to find jobs? That certainly appears to be the view of the leading London mayoral candidates, who in general don’t seem to be offering much to young people beyond commitments to support skills development.
But for many young people skills and qualifications are only part of the story. Some lack the networks to give them the opportunities to find work experience – vital preparation for a future career. Or don’t have the confidence to articulate what they know or what they want to achieve.
And employers too say they want to see young people with social and emotional skills – the capacity to innovate, to learn more and to settle quickly into new environments. Good youth work can give them this.
And the good news is that our report found there is an appetite for partnerships between schools with youth organisations, many of whom already have strong links within the community, and long-term trusting relationships with young people and their families.
Despite cuts in funding and a general lack of understanding of our work, youth organisations can and do demonstrate having a statistically significant impact on young people’s confidence, resilience and relationship skills – some of the key components of ‘character’ that the extension of the school day is intended to support. A parallel report, Good Youth Work Works., highlights our learning and the evidence base we’ve established to date.
So if we know good youth work works, and that teachers, employers and young people all value it, let’s have a mayor and a new London Assembly that give more weight to what happens outside of school – as a way of ensuring what is learned in the classroom has the most positive impact.
We’re calling for a Mayor of London who will guarantee all young Londoners the chance to play, volunteer, participate in sport, and take advantage of London’s fantastic cultural offer. All of these things can be delivered in partnerships between youth organisations, schools and other providers.
A London where all young people have the chance to develop, grow and fulfil their potential is surely something we’d all want to vote for.