Engaging ‘Youth Voice’ to Shape the Future of Education

12 August 2020

Big Change teamed up with Jaiden Corfield, ReKindle School Codesigner, to host a discussion with five fellow youth advocates on what makes for meaningful engagement in collective efforts to reimagine education. 

Adam Ramgoolie – FEA, Chloe Bennett – Youth Leads; Jaiden Corfield – RekIndle, Reclaim, Ashoka; Lamide Odanye – LIVE Mentoring, #iWill; ; Louie Adler – Humanitarian Operations, Tommy Kirkwood – Youth Combined Authority rep for Salford

Planning to invite young people to the table? Here are five things they want you to know: 

1. The best people to engage young people are young people

“As young people we can help raise children’s belief in themselves that they have a voice, and are capable of doing things to change the way education is done. There has to be a group of us to start that, it’s not just going to happen spontaneously.” – Louie

Building a youth-led space into your process will give rise to qualitatively different conversation and ideas, Jaiden explained: “If you create a process that young people are managing from top to bottom, you create an environment where young people feel safe to say what they really think. That doesn’t mean there has to be a complete lack of adults, it just means a separate space, for example a zoom call once a month. Young people will then feedback the output for collaboration from other groups – asking, can you help us with your platform to create this change? Or what is your advice for us as young people to create this change?

2. Young people are not a singular ‘voice’! 

Recognising the wide range of perspectives that come from diverse experiences of education today is key to transforming the future of education, as Tommy set out, “I want to help change education for everyone. We need to make an education system that benefits everyone, not just the academic people. To do that we need to listen to young people who attend PRUs and to children who’ve left care or are in care. They are often most excluded from these conversations, but they’ll have a whole range of important information. We also need to hear from people with home education or alternative education school backgrounds who often take over their own education and what they want to learn.”

“It’s also important to have older young people in the conversation, who’ve been through the education  journey and have had a chance to reflect. Consider the diversity of young people not only in education background but also age and demographic” added Chloe.

3. Proactively find the quieter voices, and hand them the mic in a context where they feel comfortable  

“A lot of the time it feels like it’s the same kind of people invited to these discussions, and that doesn’t capture the whole range of youth voice in terms of the different needs young people may face. It feels like it’s those already engaged, who are outspoken or already taking action in your community, who are given the opportunity to speak.” – Lamide

“Do we continue to focus on young people who’ve had a say or do we look into the communities where young people don’t necessarily use their voice enough, and perhaps have a young person who is comfortable speaking up to facilitate that conversation? I’ve personally always been more comfortable with having those conversations with other young people than with adults, because I know they understand.” – Jaiden

4. You’re hearing but are you listening? Youth advocates want to facilitate action, they’re tired of tokenism

“Sometimes it feels like young people are invited to tick a box, to ensure they can say ‘we’ve listened’ or that there’s another agenda – rather than an actual co-creation where young people are treated as equals. To what extent is it age or actually experience that qualifies us as the best facilitator, because I’ve been doing this since I was 12 so have over ten years experience in youth volunteering!” – Lamide

Tommy reminded us that Roger Hart’s Participation Ladder, published in 1992, is still a good guide. Aim for the top rungs, where young people are initiating and directing, or genuinely share in decision making, as with Louie’s team where “the youth board come up with ideas, it’s taken to the adults to be tried in practice and if the children are happy with the outcomes then it’ll be put into place, but if the adults challenge the decision or the children aren’t happy with the outcome, they really need to argue their case!” 

5. Be thoughtful, what’s the exchange of value?

As with engaging all stakeholders to contribute their time and insight to a process, think carefully about the incentive for participation. This is key not only to motivate participation but also to ensure its accessibility, including affordability. 

Adam pointed out that “the evidence shows that youth social action improves academic outcomes, and enhances social mobility”, but not all young people can afford this opportunity or are sufficiently tooled up to translate the transferable skills they gain to a line on the CV or compelling case study in interview. 

With thoughtful design, there is an opportunity for the process of participation and co-creation itself to be constructive and rewarding, independent even of the outcome. 

This is a challenge we’re excited about at Big Change, as we work with others towards a hopeful vision of the future of education. This puts young people at the heart of a learning ecosystem, in which their expertise and imagination play a vital role in its continual innovation. 

Are you a young person with an idea for the future of education? Join the discussion and get in touch with us on Twitter using the hashtag #hopes4ed. We’d love to hear your thoughts.