A Curriculum for Life

A few weeks ago we submitted written evidence to an inquiry by an organisation called the Youth Select Committee. This is an initiative set up by the British Youth Council and supported by the House of Commons, which aims to be a “youth version” of a Select Committee in the House of Commons or House of Lords. Select Committees have a minimum of 11 members, decide upon policy areas to run inquiries on, and then gather written and oral evidence (the latter through hearing from witnesses at oral evidence hearings in Parliament). Findings are put into an official report which is then published, and the Government then usually has to submit an official reply to the Committee’s recommendations.

All of these requirements apply to the Youth Select Committee. The Committee consists of 11 young people aged between 15-18, and these young people hold an annual inquiry about a policy issue relevant to young people, with the aim of influencing government policy. Their inquiry last year looked at the challenges faced by young people with regard to public transport. This year’s Committee focused on the role of schools and the National Curriculum in equipping young people with the skills for adult life – otherwise known as “life skills”. This followed on from the decision of the UK Youth Parliament at their annual House of Commons debate in November 2012 to vote for “A Curriculum for Life” to be their priority campaign for 2013.

Life skills can include a wide range of areas, such as political or citizenship education; sex and relationships education; cultural awareness; financial education and many others. As we are a campaign which focuses on tackling youth unemployment, our submission therefore focused on four types of “life skills” which we thought would make most difference to young people in making them employable:

  1. Literacy and Numeracy skills
  2. Enterprise Education
  3. Citizenship and Political Education
  4. “Employability” or “Character” skills

We spoke to many young people when compiling this evidence. Some were volunteers for The Found Generation, some were not. What was clear from our evidence was that there were serious problems with provision of life skills education in schools and the National Curriculum. Many schools failed to ensure their pupils left school having achieved the expected minimum standards in English and Maths. There was limited exposure to formal or informal enterprise education in schools, even though surveys of young people consistently suggest high levels of interest in business and enterprise. There were many complaints about the quality of Citizenship and political education. Finally, there was nowhere near enough focus on “employability” or “character” skills.

Our recommendations in our evidence therefore included:

  • Introducing enterprise education into the National Curriculum – something which is already being done for financial education;
  • Using Citizenship lessons to promote the benefits of volunteering and undertaking extra-curricular activities, as voluntary work is an obvious way to gain or develop life skills and tackle a lack of work experience;
  • Ensuring that all schools provide a wide range of extra-curricular activities such as Young Enterprise societies, debating societies, “coding” clubs etc, and ensuring that schools give greater incentives to students to get involved in extra-curricular activities, or even make participation in extra-curricular activities compulsory for their students (this already happens in University Technical Colleges);
  • Making wider use of community volunteers to go into schools and assist with the development of literacy and numeracy skills, along the lines of initiatives such as the Get London Reading campaign.

We hope that our evidence and recommendations will make our way into the Youth Select Committee’s report and will be given due consideration by the Government. If you would like to read our submission in full you can find it on our website or on the British Youth Council website (reference number EV18). You can also find the official call for evidence from the Youth Select Committee here.

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