Reading the education sector news, I see little to inspire hope or positivity. Year after year, article after article describes a system that is at best creaking, at worst causing real damage to both learners and educators. In recent months alone, we’ve seen teachers striking over pay and conditions, declining mental health and increased risk of suicide, and speculation school class sizes could spiral almost unmanageably. It’s hard to find stories of optimism and progress that will fuel our future. But they does exist.
Across the UK, people and organisations are talking bold steps to experiment with new ways of working – and some are working alongside those closest to the issues, empowering those in the know to lead the way. The Big Education Challenge is a great example. In this competition, The Young Foundation and Big Change are supporting 15 future leaders, with funding and learning support to bring their ideas to life. The programme is pioneering a new approach to supporting ideas and people who show potential to transform education and learning. This time, young people are leading the way, with 13 of the 15 finalists aged under 25.
Last week, I spent two days with these finalists, deepening my understanding of the challenges they are tackling head-on. These range from an environment-focused project, flipping climate anxiety into positive social action, to an AI-driven classroom solution, with personalised lessons plans enabling students and teachers to focus on social, emotional and relationships elements of learning alongside academic progress – and a project building healthy, racially inclusive learning environments where young people can achieve their potential and discover their purpose.
The hard work for these finalists has just begun and, over the next six months, they will work to develop and refine their ideas, supported by innovation coaching and learning support from The Young Foundation. And while ideas themselves give reasons to be hopeful for the future, the energy, wisdom, and leadership they bring to their work are hidden gems – and embracing that is something other systems and organisations can learn from.
The bigger picture
Our work with Big Change is part of the bigger story we see emerging, of young people leading the way to drive system changes. Together with the Peer Action Collective, for example, we heard young people’s approaches tackle violence and discrimination. They demonstrated that, despite experiencing injustice, there’s a real appetite from young people to be the change they want to see in the world. Similarly, the Institute for Community Studies is engaged in a two-year, youth led project, exploring young people’s transition from adolescence to active citizenship. Focused on 16- to 30-year-olds, the Civic Journey programme looks at changes in individuals’ position, role and relationship with their wider community, and seeks to understand both what young people want to do for their community – and how communities, local ecosystems, and national policy can support them in return.
Amazing things can happen when we pro-actively challenge and support those closest to issues to become change-makers. Not only do these people have detailed understanding of what’s needed and what’s possible, but they bring unrivalled passion to deliver positive change, fuelled by their lived experience. That, when harnessed, has huge potential to accelerate the pace of progress.
We know the news can be gloomy, and we know the education sector has big challenges to bear down. That’s why The Young Foundation is committed to building support, working to enable engagement across the UK. Because young people are our future leaders, and while we know there are far too few opportunities for them to be active participants in change – less so leaders of it – there are reasons to be positive, when we support people who’ve experienced challenge or disadvantage to drive change from within.