ChildFair State Young Leader Papa writes about the Inquiry's findings on education, in light of the pandemic


Something which I have noticed throughout the pandemic, and coming out of it, is how integral education is to the well-being of young people across the UK, something that, arguably, has been taken for granted by many.

At the ‘peak’ of the Covid-19 pandemic or, at least, the first peak, I was in Year Nine before the lives of many drastically changed and the entire country was plunged into lockdown. Having begun my GCSE courses, it is needless to say that I, and many other young people, were in a position to understand the disruption the crisis had caused. I also had the opportunity to participate in some interviews, workshops and research regarding certain aspects of the welfare state with other young people. Much of what stuck with me most was what was said about education; the fact that the pandemic had only just hit a system which like many, was unprepared to deal with it allowed, in my opinion, for a greater scrutiny and awareness of what school had meant back when things were normal.

Something that shone prominently throughout many of the workshops hosted was the belief many young people held of the education system feeling that there were significant failings within it. Some felt that school did not teach students that the world is not as black and white as it may seem, potentially allowing for many young people to fall through the cracks created by false perceptions of life outside of school. Others noted that strengths of school are not the strengths of the real world, following a trend which saw the education system presented as something which does not adequately set up young people for making the transition from leaving a community you have been a part of for eighteen years into the real world. Class was also said to have an underlying influence on, and a cause of, the significant disparities in terms of quality of education in the UK.

It was not only the failure of the education system to bridge the gap between school-life and wider society which was discussed, however. There was a strong feeling among those who attended the ChildFair State workshops of disillusionment with the system, many feeling that it did not have the students' best interests at heart. For example, it was suggested that education should include empowering those who suffer from mental illness, yet it was acknowledged that there are inadequacies in how those who have mental illnesses were treated. A proposed solution to this was having an education system which is ultimately run by educated young people, for young people themselves as they will likely have their best interests at heart, somebody making the important point that “The needs of everyone is the most important thing”.

Fast forward to now, and we’re all beginning to ease out of the pandemic and the restrictions that came with it. However, the messages and views expressed by those in the workshops have not suddenly lost their importance over close to two years now. There was a furore over the decision to grade GCSEs with an algorithm which took into account the performances of the school during the past three years, which tended to benefit students of smaller private schools far more than those of larger schools simply because of results they themselves had played no part in. The concerns of there being a significant divide between different classes in education exposed themselves through this and furthermore, an exam-centric focus, which had excluded teachers and students alike from truly understanding whatever was being done in regards to grading, seemed to further deepen the rift between the education system and young people themselves. All of this simply presented the education system as something that was out of touch with the real needs and desires of young people in the country.

Now being in Year Eleven, I’m likely to be among the first set of fifteen to sixteen year olds to actually take the GCSE exams since the pandemic began. Transparency and communication regarding them between teachers and students still isn’t the best it could be, with information related to the exams only having been sent round recently and there still being a lack of trust that the plan in place now will still be fully stuck to come May. To be brutally honest, I can’t say that, given the opportunity to change the education system however I wished, it would differ much from the proposals of all those we had workshops with back in 2020. There clearly are deep-rooted issues in the education system that can only be fully rooted out once the needs of the student are put at the forefront of the system: after all, it is predominantly young people who are an indispensable part of education. Only then can there truly be an education system, in the words of those we spoke to, “perpetuating a more welcoming environment at school,” where young people are actually happy to learn.

 

Papa, 15