Developing young people as a whole | Speakers for Schools

Developing young people as a whole 

Is our obsession with attainment leaving them behind? The importance of socio-emotional skills  

Here at Speakers for Schools, we strongly believe that work experience and enrichment activities outside the central curriculum, in its wide range of forms, are crucial to developing young peoples’ social and emotional skills and affecting their life outcomes.

In fact, our new publication highlights how opportunities for work experience and enrichment could impact access to top universities and potentially top jobs too.

But as it stands, this is not yet top priority in our education system. Our recent report shows that for too long, the focus has been on improving attainment as a means of overcoming barriers for disadvantaged young people.

Similarly, research conducted by the University of Exeter and funded by the Nuffield Foundation found that compared to other nations, England’s pandemic response was considerably more focused on academic catch-up than socio-emotional skills, extracurricular support, and wellbeing. So why is this an issue? 

The evidence shows that the emphasis on academic success over socio-emotional skill development is not working. In fact, the University of Exeter’s research also revealed that socio-emotional skills are just as critical in GCSE performance as cognitive ability.

20% of pupils who performed highly in cognitive tests at the age of 14, yet had average socio-emotional skills, were not able to secure five good GCSEs. It is abundantly clear that there is more to be done to support young people. But what needs changing?  

Enrichment opportunities

According to The Centre for Education and Youth and National Citizen Service, there has been a decline in young people’s access to enrichment opportunities in school over the past decade.

The decline has affected disadvantaged young people more than their more advantaged peers, creating a widening ‘enrichment gap’ between rich and poor, which has continued post-pandemic.

It is essential we look at ways we can facilitate high-quality enrichment activities for young people, creating opportunities for them to develop their socio-emotional skills. 

Enrichment activities can take many forms; from inspirational talks to sports, book clubs, volunteering, social action and adventures away from home. The latter categories were explored in more detail in a recent report commissioned by the National Citizen Service Trust (NCS Trust) and the Duke of Edinburgh’s Award (DofE).

The report recommends where policy makers, educational practitioners and researchers need to focus to improve the quality and accessibility of enrichment activities for young people.

Firstly, policy makers need to work towards developing a framework of best practice in enrichment provision; secondly, educational practitioners need to utilise their school trust networks to facilitate consistent enrichment activities (and ultimately, a framework) and seek collaboration with community stakeholders; and lastly, research needs to identify how different types of enrichment are purposeful for disadvantaged young people and develop methods of tracking enrichment participation. This call to action is a positive step in improving social and emotional skill development. 

Work experience and career activities

As a charity, we are amassing a body of work which evidences why work experience is so crucial for success in later life. A report published last week by Organisation for Economic Co-Operation and Development (OECD) on social and emotional skills reiterates our argument even further.

They found that globally, 15-year-olds with higher social and emotional skills were more likely to engage with career activities, suggesting they draw on their skills to navigate and explore careers options.

Synonymous with our previous work, OECD report that disadvantaged young people are less likely to engage with career activities than their advantaged counterparts. Thus, prioritising social and emotional skill development is a critical need in supporting disadvantaged young people.  

A rich and meaningful provision to develop social and emotional skills, we believe, need both access to quality experiences of the world or work including work experience and enrichment activities such as those examples highlighted in recent reports.

Our work

Enrichment and career activities are evidently vital in improving outcomes for young people, especially those that are disadvantaged. Moreover, the social and emotional skills that are developed by enrichment activities and drive career activities underpin successes for young people.

As a nation, we need to let go of the belief that attainment is the only way to success, and to see young people as the diverse and talented population that they are – and in doing so, give them the opportunities to develop and grow outside of the classroom. 

Through our charity practice we continue to create the essential opportunities that overcome the challenges young people face; and through our current and future charity research, we will continue to bring forth the evidence of what needs to be done to improve the lives of disadvantaged young people.

Written by Isobel Waite, Senior Researcher and Matthew Kent, Press Officer at Speakers for Schools