Expanding inclusion as strength – A 2019 focus area

28 March 2019

Big Change believe in Inclusion as Strength – so much so that following targeted research we’ve defined it as one of our three 2019 focus areas into which we’ll direct multi-year support to new project partners. This is only possible thanks to the incredible generosity of our amazing donors and Strivers.

Read our 2019 Focus Areas for Big Change blog to discover the research process and the context for all three focus areas, including how they have been expanded from those of our 2017 cohort.


Big Change believes that we need a learning ecosystem that is working together to ensure that all young people thrive in a world of constant change – and we truly mean all young people.

The Need for Change

The state of formal school exclusions practice is dire and it has long term consequences. Permanent exclusions have been rising for seven years now, with the rate of increase accelerating in the last three years, culminating in a 15% increase between 2015/16 and 2016/17.

Groups from particular backgrounds, such as being eligible for free school meals, having a special educational need or disability, or being Gypsy/Roma or Black Caribbean are particularly vulnerable to formal exclusion.

Excluded students are also overrepresented in the UK’s Not in Education, Employment or Training (NEET) and incarcerated populations, and are far less likely to reach the same academic attainment as their peers who remain included in mainstream school.

We are seeing other trends that are suggesting that young people are feeling excluded, both formally and informally. These trends include increases in mental ill health in young people, increased feelings of loneliness, made worse by weak social networks and lack of coping skills, increased feelings of inadequacy and isolation with increased engagement in social media, and a growing lack of trust in democratic institutions.

The Emergent Opportunity

There is an opportunity to strengthen inclusion by preventing the causes of exclusion in the first place, through creating a system that is responsive to the needs of all children, no matter what their backgrounds are.

Evidence suggests that inclusion, especially in education and learning, is crucial to bringing about the kind of future where young people can develop as persons, citizens and professionals.

The OECD’s Trends Shaping Education report explicitly mentions young people’s wider inclusion in their learning ecosystems as the way to ensure that young people develop the potential to challenge stereotypes, fight segregation, address the urban/rural divide and help stimulate their communities.

Previous Big Change Support

We believe that we cannot bring about the kind of society that enables young people to thrive without the work to create the kind of learning ecosystem where all young people- no matter their background feel included, which is why in the past under a narrow understanding of school exclusions we are proud to have backed these project partners:

  • Frontline: raising the status and improving the quality of social work for children with complex needs through recruiting and training the country’s top graduates to become social workers.
  • NCS: which aims to help young people develop their agency by taking part in social action projects, encouraging social mixing in the process
  • HeadStart: which provides young people of all backgrounds with more pathways into employment through involvement and volunteering in their communities
  • Reclaim: which aims to strengthen working class young people’s agency and citizenship through building their leadership skills and participation in social change projects
  • The Difference: which seeks to prevent exclusions by up-skilling teachers to work with the most vulnerable students