I have recently enjoyed, hated, cringed, laughed and had to remove many a lump from my throat whilst watching the channel 4 series “Educating Yorkshire”. I often found myself rewritting the education system whilst reminiscing about days when life was in hindsight “easier”.
The series got me thinking about our role as “informal educators” and the role we as youth workers can play in supporting young people in education as well as those working in educational settings to ensure and support young people to be the very best individuals and citizens that they can.
The series seemed to be cleverly edited to highlight a number of “disruptive” and young people with “additional needs”. This is great if that is the aim of the programme. However, I believe that all young people regardless of their behaviour, personality or track record should and must be supported and encouraged to be the very best that they can be. I believe passionately that if for instance, 2 young people say to me that 1 wants to be a brain surgeon and the other aspires to be a shelf stacker in a supermarket that they should both be given identical time, support, love and guidance to be the very best brain surgeon and shelf stacker. This attitude is built on very basic characteristics- honesty, hard work and enthusiasm.
Something that was quite prominent in the series was the use of isolation for those deemed disruptive, unruly and problematic. This really began to annoy me on a number of levels! My view was and is that if a young person is not interested in a subject and removes themselves or is removed from a class then a better solution to this and a better way to get that young person engaged in meaningful and worthwhile skills development would be to get them picked up in the corridors and school grounds by caretakers, school nurses, catering staff, admin staff and offered the choice of engaging with these staff to learn about what they do, how they do it and ultimately to actually get involved with what they do. This would inturn keep the young person in school and potentially open up career options and develop their skills with a member of staff who they may see as “non teacherish” and who may not present with the authorative attitude that some young people are unable or reluctant to engage with and who may develop a mentor role and support that young person to integrate back into formal lessons.
I wonder how as youth workers we could suggest this or if anyone supports my idea?
My second issue with this programme was around values and how we as youth workers can support our collegues in formal education by supporting young people to understand and explore these values.
I went to a school where if you had 1cm of your shirt untucked you were pulled up about it. You had to have your top button down up, your tie straight, no dyed hair, no piercings and certainly no innapropriate footwear. At the time I remember thinking it was all rubbish and this was just an excuse for teachers to reaffirm their power and to feel good about themselves. However, 10-15 years later these values resonate with me whenever I go to formal meetings, weddings and in my day to day activities. The values that this taught me was to have pride in my appearance, to remember who I was and who and what I represent. This added to having a father who hated the idea of lateness set me up for life. I was brought up with the mantra of “if you’re due at Gatwick airport at 3am to go to Barbados you’d be there for 2am, so there is no excuse to be late for school or work”. This is something I carry with me to this day.
Things evolve, change and develop but I was shocked that this programme and ultimately the school in question seemed to be in my view concerned just with the education and statistics side of things rather than the whole picture and the whole of the young person. It was almost as if its ok to go for a job interview with 5 A-C GCSE grades as well as an untucked shirt and trainers. In my view, its not ok. Young people need and must be supported to achieve excellence in whatever they do, we can not afford or allow young people to not reach their ultimate potential.
How do we and how can we as youth workers empower young people to explore and develop their values?