I am currently working for a Government scheme that aims to give young people a chance to operate outside the classroom. It is designed to encourage team building, communication, direction, personal goals and arm young people with a better understanding of the real world and the maturity to be successful in whatever they choose to do with their lives.
Whilst I was training and reading about how unprepared our kids are for life after education, everything seemed hypothetical. You read about all the ways they plan to get school leavers ready for work, skilled and enthusiastic and you watch from afar and think it won’t work. And I was sceptical about the scheme I had just joined. I could see how in theory it would work, but in practice?
I have now completed my first week on campus with my ‘team’ of 11 and observed not only them but the campus in general.
Most of mine are all remarkably lucky young people. They come from comfortable enough backgrounds to have had good all round educations. They are not rich but they are members of clubs and social teams and they are enthusiastic, bright and keen to try new things. I have only one who does not come from this sort of background and the differences between them and their team mates is startling.
The scheme they are enrolled on does not discriminate between background, disability, financial stability or academic or vocational ability. It is open to all aged 15- 17, whether they be in full time authority education, SEN schools or in another type of educational environment suitable for the age group. Even NEETS get a look in through job centres and other schemes.
But it struck me quite early on that the general uptake of this project is generally white, middle / working class female students, despite the huge range of initial application forms. No student can be forced to attend. But there is also no excuse for any child not to attend.
It’s a fantastic opportunity for any young person and I’d encourage any parent to enrol their child but I am concerned about those under achieving students lacking in confidence or motivation who have not attended. Those young people who already have these skills will lap it up and love it. But all in all, is their benefit from it greater or even as good as those young people from less privileged backgrounds who may never have left their own county in their entire lives, who may never get the chance to try archery, raft building or learn to work as a team to read maps across open country? They are simple enjoyments for many children, but for others, just something other people do and something others are too afraid to try.
Motivation is addictive. Once you discover it and the world outside there can be no stopping you. But if you’re used to entertaining yourself in front of a TV, maybe hanging around with your equally unenthusiastic friends in the local park how are you to discover this? Negativity and a lack of direction breed all sorts of problems.
Already within this generation of young people I can see the cavernous divides between their desire for life, positivity, ability to work with others and emotional and communicative development, purely by the stimulation they get in their home environment and from their peers and family.
If a young person is told they will never go to University because only ‘clever people go there’ and they have no interests and are afraid to try new things because they are scared of failing or being laughed at, how are they going to survive in life? Because all these things are day to day hurdles that we all face, mostly without a second thought. But for these children who are told they will not amount to much or are not encouraged to do anything constructive, how are they to apply themselves?
It is not money that gives these children these opportunities. It is a simple sense of being, of appreciation, of value, of being encouraged and praised and if you don’t give these things your children will not know how to make their way in the world, and this is where the problems begin.
My second week on campus is about to start. It is far more academic than last week where we camped in fields and climbed walls and swam in lakes. And I am intrigued at how things will progress. And I watch the fearful amongst my group and hope they will find themselves and what it is they are meant for in this world.
Because you cannot teach this stuff. It has to be found from within.