Youth Social Action in Education

Great education leaders know that education is about more than grades. Schools and colleges get students ready for life, equipping them to be active citizens – both today and in the future. In fact, when young people get involved in social action, it’s usually through their school or college.

When a young person takes part in meaningful social action it can improve their grades, transform their character and grow their sense of well-being. Those who take part are also more likely to feel engaged with their school or college, and ultimately develop the skills employers want.

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Why should schools and colleges embrace youth social action?

Results from the 2018 National Youth Social Action Survey show that compared to young people who don’t take part in social action, those who do are more likely to feel that they belong at their school; that their ideas are taken seriously; and that they have the opportunity to shape school plans and projects.

Results from the National Youth Social Action Survey have consistently shown links between social action and higher levels of wellbeing. Students who do social action also have stronger personal networks. A youth social action programme tested by the Behavioural Insights Team also found that the young people involved reported reduced anxiety by over a fifth.

In 2016, evaluation conducted by the Behavioural Insights Team (BIT) of several social action programmes found that young people who participated in high-quality opportunities saw robust improvements in character qualities including empathy, cooperation, resilience and problem-solving. Evaluations undertaken by the EEF of both the Children’s University and Youth United also support these findings.

When surveyed in 2014, 85% of employers said that they prioritised character & attitude over academic results. A survey conducted by the Chartered Institute of Personnel & Development also reported that 67% of employers say candidates with social action experience show better employability skills. 81% of young people participating in meaningful social action believe it will help them get a job in the future.

Research by the Education Endowment Foundation (EEF) shows that peer to peer tutoring has a positive impact on learning, equal to approximately five months’ progress.

Evaluation of the work of the Children’s University shows social action activities can also have a positive impact on maths and reading in KS2. Research completed in the United States also reveals that when social action was integrated into the curriculum there was a significant improvement in academic performance.

What is the role of schools in supporting youth social action?

Education is the key route to participation

Most young people get involved in social action through schools and colleges. When they do, the majority take part because they want to get involved, not because they have to. From stimulating peer tutoring in the classroom, to partnering with local organisations to help their students make an impact or creating whole school activities to improve the local community; schools and colleges can support a wide variety of social action.

What do teachers think?

Over the last three years, more and more primary and secondary school teachers indicate that they see social action as part of their school’s culture and practice. However, fewer than a quarter say that the majority of their students take part regularly. Primary school teachers are also less likely to say social action is embedded into their school’s culture – just 48% of primary school teachers believe it is compared with 73% of secondary school teachers in 2018.

Young people from lower-income backgrounds are less likely to participate

When polled, teachers that work in schools with a high proportion of low-income young people are less likely to say social action is a part of their school’s culture & practice than those who teach more affluent students. Many young people from low-income backgrounds are not accessing the wide range of benefits that participation in social action can provide.

How can my school or college support youth social action?

There’s no one-size-fits-all approach to supporting social action in a school or college. It’s also often most effective when developed by and aimed at the unique needs of the local community. In 2016, 100 school and college leaders identified four key ingredients that enable schools and colleges to embed social action:

  1. Put social action at the heart of the school or college’s strategy and values
    • From the senior leadership team to the individual students, social action is valuable in and of itself, but also supports other key priorities. This includes academic attainment, parental engagement, student destinations and meeting Ofsted criteria.
  1. Inspire and empower young people to lead their own social action
    • This requires teachers asking young people their opinions and harnessing their passions.
  1. Recognise and reward social action
    • This includes showcasing role models and recognising social action that takes place in or outside of the school or college.
  1. Build strong partnerships with local and national organisations
    •  This can involve working with other local schools, charities and employers to access opportunities for students make a real world impact with their social action

Case Studies from #iwill Partner Organisations

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Resources to support youth social action in Education

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