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Tackling Inequality in Education & Opportunities

After attending the Trading for Good launch event in March this year I began thinking about the impact businesses have on local communities. An idea I have had for quite some time surrounding offering opportunities to young people that experience barriers to entering the labour market started to develop as a result of the conversations I had that day.

The idea has grown and is now well into the planning phase. It focuses on one of the key areas in which TfG is making an impact, helping young people into work. At present there are 975,000 young people aged 16-24 in the UK who are Not in Education, Employment or Training (NEET). Almost 10% of these young people are based in London (ONS, 2014).

The inequality gap inherent to the UK education system starts early and continues to grow throughout the period spent in school, subsequently impacting on the well-being and opportunities experienced by differing groups. Data from the 2011/12 cohort shows that 36.3% of FSM pupils achieved 5 A*-C GCSEs, compared with the national average of 62.6% for all other pupils (DfE, 2013). The subsequent impacts of lower attainment negatively affect happiness, available employment opportunities, and future earnings potential, amongst a host of other indicators.

There are many great social enterprises and charities working to connect young people to employers, and I had the pleasure of meeting one of them at the TfG launch. An issue we discussed is that often potential future employers are primarily interested in the A and B grade students, with those not excelling in school often finding it much harder to be noticed.

This is where the idea originated for developing a project that taps into the talents of those who are not predicted to attain the government target of 5 GCSEs A*-C. We recognise that just because a student hasn’t demonstrated an aptitude for succeeding in modern Britain’s testing and examination system, they still have skills and talents that can be developed and nurtured to ensure they become a confident individual with something to add to businesses both large and small.

So the idea is to start a small business - initially we are looking to open a mobile café - which will provided students in the Free School Meals (FSM) bracket and who are not predicted to gain 5 A*-C GCSEs, paid work experience to help make this business work. Students will be broken into teams, with marketing, operations, sales ‘departments’.

Students will spend time contributing to strategies that will be implemented in the real world, and developing key transferrable skills such as collaboration, planning, communication and leadership. A specifically designed school based module of learning will provide guidance on how the skills students have developed, and their personal and team achievements, can be harnessed when applying for future employment. The benefits on school attainment as a result of engaging in work experience have been documented in a number of wide-ranging studies, with a report coming out of the International Centre for Guidance Studies (ICeGS) in 2011 arguing that well integrated, holistic career guidance programmes can have a significant impact on students’ academic achievement.

In 2009, the Unleashed Aspirations report found that 4 in 5 employers recruited former interns, highlighting this an important route into work. In light of this, the project will also offer students access to a network of local businesses that will offer placements, internships and other opportunities to further expand students’ networks and enhance their aspirations. We plan to build a wide and diverse network of local businesses covering multiple sectors in order to provide access to a range of experiences that students can embark and build upon.

Recent research conducted by the Education and Employers charity has suggested that employer engagement during school or college gives recipients a significant advantage in the labour market over those who have little to no contact with employers. The research also found that these trends hold even after taking factors such as level of education and social background into consideration.

Providing young people from FSM backgrounds with the opportunity to create and expand their networks is a core function of this project. We aim to address the suggestion made in this Work Foundation report that the lack of knowledge of the opportunities available in the local labour market, and the route to getting these jobs are often major barriers to employment.
With the government now directing funding at socially disadvantaged students through the pupil premium policy, and high impact coalitions such as the Fair Education Alliance seeking to close the inequality gap, the time is right to ensure students and employers needs are being met in harmony. To find our more about the direction the project is taking, or if you would like to get involved please feel free to contact me, the more contributors we can have the more impact the project can have!

Samuel Grinsted
About the Author

Samuel Grinsted

Through working in Educational Publishing and as a current Master's candidate in Educational Planning, I am interested in how the inequality gap between students can be tackled to produce fairer outcomes for all. Also, I am researching the potential of educational technology for providing effective learning in emergency situations. My spare time is either spent playing/watching/reading about football, or working at farmer's markets in South London!

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