An insight from our Associate Director of Education Kerri Hall

Let me start by saying thank you to all of the inspiring #iwill partners who have made my transition back to the Step Up To Serve team after maternity leave so immensely invigorating!

Having joined the campaign team back in 2014, just a few months after its launch, I have had the privilege to see the evidence on what we know works in youth social action develop into, what is now, a robust narrative of not only why youth social action matters so much for young people and communities, but also why embedding youth social action in schools is our biggest opportunity to close the persistent socio-economic gap in youth social action participation that exists in the UK. Check out Dr Eddy Hogg from the University of Kent’s blog suggesting that schools are the most egalitarian way to involve young people in youth social action

With thanks to #iwill research partners like the EEF and BIT, we now know that when young people take part in quality social action, their character is transformed, they develop the skills employers want and they experience greater well-being.  There is also some emerging evidence that youth social action can boost attainment too. And to top it all off, communities become better integrated and socially mobile.

But what do teachers think about youth social action?

Over the past three years, NFER have polled teachers across the country to find out. Encouragingly, across the board we see a trend of more teachers reporting that social action is a part of their school’s culture and practice. In Primary this is up from 18% in 2016 to 45% in 2018.  Secondary school teachers also report an increase from 48% in 2016 to 73% in 2018. What’s even more encouraging is that many of the teachers who said social action wasn’t part of their school’s culture wanted to do more. In fact, the main challenge for schools who don’t yet see social action as part of their culture is a lack of awareness – 20% of Primary school teachers said it’s not something they’d thought about doing.

#iwill campaign partners are right to focus on supporting Primary schools to embed youth social action – not least because the Jubilee Centre for Character & Virtues research into a Habit of Service revealed that young people who started before the age of 10 are 2.5x more likely to develop a habit of service than those who start at 16.

Further analysis reveals that we need to redouble our efforts not just to support Primary schools, but also schools with high proportions of students eligible to receive free school meals.  Looking at secondary school teachers, the difference between those teaching in schools where there are the fewest number of young people receiving free school meals to those schools serving the most saying social action is part of their school culture and practice is stark: In 2018, 82% of those teaching in the lowest %FSM compared to 61% of those in the highest %FSM schools.

We therefore need to support schools’ leaders in less affluent communities to embrace social action as a means through which their students and their school can achieve the outcomes they are seeking for their learners and wider community.

How could we help schools embed youth social action?

Check out this interesting blog from our friends at Henley Business School who looked into this & started to uncover whether there was a process to support schools to embed youth social action. What comes through this research, and comes through time and time again in evidence and stories, is the power and the potential of the young people right there in the school classrooms and corridors to lead this change themselves – we just need to give them the opportunity. But don’t listen to me – go and check out #iwill Ambassador, Adam Ramgoolie’s blog about it here.


Do you know any inspiring examples of Primary and Secondary Schools who have developed a whole-school approach to embedding youth social action so that all of their students are participating?  If so – get in touch with our education team!