School: The highway to social action?

Part of NCVO’s Volunteers’ Week 2016 series.

kerri-hallKerri Hall is education manager at Step Up To Serve.

Schools and colleges are often exciting melting pots of inspiration and activity, where students can connect with issues they care about and start acting on them to make a difference.

For most, social action has been confined to the ‘nice-to-have’ pile in school days – the optional add-on for the keen beans who might’ve done it anyway.

However, with new robust research clearly linking quality social action activity to the kind of skills and qualities that help people go from ‘surviving’ through life to ‘thriving’ in it, there is little excuse not to make this an even bigger part of school life in the UK.

Thankfully, social action does have the support of the UK inspectorates, Ofsted, and the Department for Education.

Culture change

Clearly education is a powerful instigator for participation in social action – 74% of those doing it got involved through school. Yet only 42% of all 10-20 year olds are regularly doing social action and there is a persistent socio-economic gap in participation (Ipsos Mori, 2015).

So how can we all support more schools and colleges to encourage all of their students to get involved?

Whilst research shows that almost all primary and secondary teachers in England recognise the value of social action, only a third of them feel social action is embedded as part of their school culture. (NFER, 2016)

There is also a gap in attitudes between primary and secondary school teachers. Most primary school teacher either don’t know if it is or not, or think their students are too young. This is despite additional research suggesting young people who are committed to social action often start before they’re 10.

Four steps to creating a culture

Here at the #iwill campaign, we are keen to celebrate those that are doing it well, such as great primary schools, like Victoria Academy in Barrow-in-Furness, or Newton Farm Nursery, Infant and Junior School, whose students prove that five years old is not too young to make a difference.

When it comes to inclusion, and social cohesion, East Kent College are one of the pioneers.

They are all part of a growing number of great headteachers and principals who say there are four simple steps to getting the culture right in schools & colleges.

1. Put youth social action at the heart of school or college

Make sure students know that life is about more than just grades.

2. Inspire and reward youth social action

Celebrate the great achievements of students and inspire them with role-models.

3. Empower young people to lead their own social action

Social action is done best when it’s shaped by the passions of young people and the communities they identify with and care about.

4. Build strong partnerships locally and nationally

Quality providers like DofE; NCS; Scouts; Guides; and Free the Children can help you get your students stuck in, but don’t forget the value of working with smaller local charities like your local care home for the elderly, to help students see the difference they make.

Why does all this matter?

It’s not just in the interest of the education sector to ensure that our future generations are engaged and learn what it means to be active citizens from a young age.

We should all look to partner and engage with schools and colleges to embed youth social action in young people’s lives from an early age. If we can all support younger people to realise their potential through social action at a young age, we can help build a more compassionate society, with leaders across sectors passionate about service to others.

What can you do?

When you are celebrating your volunteers, of all ages, this week, take a moment to think about what got them involved, who inspired them to take part, and how we can really work together to build strong partnerships locally and nationally to empower more young volunteers for the future.

If you’re a voluntary organisation and you don’t have young volunteers yet, then why not consider making a pledge to the #iwill campaign to show your support?

Helping young people develop key strengths and networks can enable them to reach their high aspirations and access further education, training and employment opportunities. Alongside this, we will see a strengthened and engaged voluntary sector.

#iwill support more young people to get involved in social action, what will you do?


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