Friday Insights (9th August)

9 August 2019

This Friday, we’ve got some highlights from Jon Yates’ Twitter tell-all, and an exciting update from project partner alumni Generation Change.

Jon Yates is schooling Twitter

Have you been following Jon Yates on Twitter this week? If you’d like to be schooled on some opportunities for change within the UK education system, I’d recommend tuning in. Founder of The Challenge and, until recently, Special Adviser to the Secretary of State for Education, Yates took to Twitter this week to answer the questions, “why is the UK so crap at technical education?”, and subsequently, “why does technical education matter so much?”. Both threads are worth reading in full, but here were some bits that really stood out to us:

  • Yates points out that our technical education is lagging behind because many of the influential people in education – decisionmakers, journalists and the like – didn’t do technical education, and therefore don’t often give it much thought
  • On a related note, technical education suffers from a harmful perception problem – Yates says that “…the public secretly think that technical education is for stupid, not very capable students. Worse they think it is for disadvantaged, stupid, not very capable students (as though all disadvantaged students are stupid and incapable)”
  • This perception has a knock on effect on the quality of technical education. If the public thinks that technical education is for less capable students, …”therefore they think it needs to be easy”, says Yates. “The result? A load of ‘technical’ qualifications that don’t actually train you to do a skilled job. Which makes them pointless”

This bit of thinking about why the UK’s technical education is lagging behind highlights several things for us, but the one that comes to mind first is how important it is to have a diversity of educational backgrounds and career paths in decisionmaking positions – Yates mentions that we don’t think about technical education or how to improve because our decisionmakers never did it. Otherwise, technical pathways that could drive more equitable outcomes through education and learning get neglected, left behind, or get stuck with negative perceptions. Which brings us to Yates’ thoughts on why technical education is so important:

  • In a word? Robots. Yates hypothesizes that robots will take over a lot of mid-level jobs – “This means western economies will become like an hourglass”, says Yates. “Lots of high skilled jobs at the top with people earning good money and lots of low skilled jobs at the bottom with people struggling to get by”.
  • Technical education, says Yates, plays a role in helping young people “sneak into the top of the hourglass” through increasingly high paid technical jobs that robots are unable to do – jobs such as plumbing, high skilled hospitality and construction.

It’s clear that better technical education is crucial to set young people up to thrive in a world of constant change. However, this series of thoughts from Yates raises questions for us about the usefulness of social mobility language and goals, such as moving from the ‘bottom’ to the ‘top’ of an hourglass, as opposed to more social equality-related language and goals, which seek to repair a divide as opposed to helping people navigate to the ‘right’ (or wealthier) side of it. 

We feel it’s incredibly valuable to get an insider’s take on the opportunities for change and improvement in the UK’s education and learning system. We look forward to following Jon Yates as he continues to address more of the UK’s most pressing education questions – he’s giving us lots of food for thought!

Generation Change accelerates its impact

Project partner alumni Generation Change announced this week that it will be transferring its 12-month Impact Accelerator program, which has aimed to support social action organizations through a structured process of reflection and improvement work, to the Centre for Youth Impact. Twenty-nine organizations have already been through the program, which existed as a part of a portfolio of work that Generation Change runs to support its mission, which is to turn social action into a mainstream activity for all young people. Generation Change realized they could widen the impact of the Accelerator by moving beyond social action organizations, and making it available to the wider youth sector. To do this, they transferred the program to a partner who could take it far in wide in the youth space – Centre for Youth Impact. 

Says Bethia McNeill, CEO of the Centre for Youth Impact, of the opportunity:“The Impact Accelerator is a powerful opportunity for youth organisations to focus on and strengthen the quality and impact of their work. It represents a really valuable addition to the Centre’s practice development offer, and we are excited by the opportunity to build on the work of Generation Change, and take the programme onwards into its next phase of life”.

Of the decision to give the program wings under different leadership, David Reed, Director of Generation Change, says:“Generation Change was founded by delivery organisations in order to drive systems change. Our goal in designing and scaling up the Impact Accelerator was to develop a robust, common benchmark for learning about effective practice – so that funders and practitioners can both focus on what’s important. Having achieved this in the youth social action space, we are delighted that the Centre is going to broaden its use across the whole youth sector.”

Having confirmed that this kind of collaboration and servant leadership are crucial for bringing about transformational change in our Reimagining Education Together research, we love this collaborative approach to scale. We look forward to following the progress of the Impact Accelerator in its new home, and congratulate both Generation Change and the Centre for Youth Impact on this development.