There are so many uncertainties at the moment. How long until all young people are back in school? When will friends and families be reunited? What will our new normal be? One thing we do know, thanks to Girlguiding’s research surveying almost 7,000 girls and young women, is how the global pandemic is affecting the lives of girls across the UK.
Girls and young women are particularly concerned with how Coronavirus is affecting their well-being. The health of others is a significant cause for concern – 4 in 5 girls worry about someone else getting sick, much greater than the quarter who find themselves worrying about their own health. I think this speaks volumes for how compassionate young people are.
Thinking back to the start of the pandemic, I did not change my habits due to fear of catching the virus, but rather to protect others. The thought that my lifestyle (being very social, using public transport, travelling between cities) could result in making my grandparents ill, was distressing. Of course, it is natural to worry about loved ones, but when a dangerous, highly contagious disease gets thrown into the mix, low level concern is heightened and, sadly impacts on mental health.
Worries about school closures and what this means for education and grades are also at the forefront of girls’ minds. We know already from previous years’ Girls’ Attitudes Surveys that academic performance is a major worry for girls and young women. In 2019, nearly 60 % were worried that not doing well in exams would ruin future life opportunities, whilst only 1 in 5 received help and support to manage this stress. Now, over three quarters of girls say that uncertainty about school and education is negatively affecting their well-being, 70 % worry that they are falling behind at school, and a third feel anxious at the prospect of a teacher predicting their grades.
All at a time when young people have even lesser access to support networks of friends and teachers. I myself am in a ‘non-key’ year of my education, and still I have worried to no end about my results and what this may mean for my future. I can only imagine what it must feel like to be a school leaver, and to feel like so many years of hard work are down the drain.
So, after reading this, and the full research report, you may be thinking: What can I do? If you’re a young person, continue to voice your concerns, talk about your feelings, and demand to be listened to. Your worries are absolutely valid – do not let anyone try to tell you otherwise. If you’re an adult, please engage with any young people in your life – ask what you and other adults can do better, and advocate for young people’s inclusion in matters that affect them.
I feel so strongly that at this time it’s more important than ever for adults (whether parents, teachers, or decision makers) to engage directly with young people. Coronavirus has introduced an array of unprecedented difficulties into our lives, and for adults to assume they know how young people feel about this without actually asking us about our concerns, is insulting and damaging.
When we voice our concerns, we absolutely deserve to be listened to by those in power. That’s why Girlguiding called for the prime minister to deliver a young people’s press conference, and why we’re infuriated that under 18s cannot submit questions to the Government and advisors. It is also why I am thankful, as ever, to Girlguiding for making sure young people’s voices are heard, even in the midst of a global health crisis.
We are excited to announce the British Youth Council’s support for Teach the Future, a campaign to reform the education system to reflect the severity of the climate crisis and ecological emergency.
For a number of years, the British Youth Council have worked to convince the Government to introduce statutory and compulsory high-quality citizenship education to the curriculum. The Youth Select Committee’s report in 2013 ‘A Curriculum for Life’ concluded life skills education in schools falls short of its full potential, and ever since, youth representatives across the country have demanded concrete commitments from the government to improve this. In 2018, the Government listened to some of our recommendations by committing to mandatory sex and relationship education. However, this does not go far enough to prepare young people for their future.
It is clear that the scope of the current citizenship curriculum is far too narrow and must be broadened to educate young people on wider political and constitutional rights as well as global issues including sustainability, and the climate. A vital finding of the Youth Select Committee’s report on a Curriculum for Life was that young people are willing and eager to take part in shaping the curriculum to ensure that it addresses the issues which they are facing. All too often schools do not take full advantage of this creative energy. Young people know what issues they face, and should be given the opportunity to shape the curriculum to address their concerns. Through observing the recent school strikes and the full breadth of climate activism, it is undeniable that young people are passionate about doing all they can to protect the planet and attain a greener future.
However, research from the Green Schools Project showed that just 4% of students feel they know a lot about climate change, whilst polling last year showed that 68% of students want to learn more about this, and 71% believe that climate change education should be part of the school curriculum. The appetite among young people to learn and take action is being squandered. Young people want to protect the planet, which is why in November of last year, Members of Youth Parliament gathered in the House of Commons and voted to make Protecting the Environment one of their campaign priorities for the next year. The British Youth Council backs this widespread action and enthusiasm to learn about climate change amongst young people and supports the multiplicity of climate action projects being carried out by young leaders across the country.
All of this is why we have become a supportive partner of Teach the Future! Along with dozens of other organisations and activists, we are calling on the Government to reform the education system to reflect the severity of the climate crisis which we now face. We want the Government to review how the education system prepares young people for the climate emergency and the ecological crisis, along with including the climate emergency in all teacher training.
You can find out how you can support the campaign by visiting the website at www.teachthefuture.uk
The British Youth Council has been saddened by recent protests and discourse in the media suggesting relationships and sex education shouldn’t be inclusive of LGBT+ people. The British Youth Council have a long-standing belief that all schools should provide education to young people that is inclusive of the LGBT+ community.
We welcome the Government’s commitment to a LGBT-inclusive curriculum in both primary and secondary schools. It should be recognised that education which precludes LGBT+ identities puts young people up and down the country at higher risk of mental and physical harm.
LGBT+ students still require the necessary support other students are afforded, disregarding some young people puts them at risk unnecessarily. We call on the government and Department of Education to make LGBT+ inclusive education mandatory in all schools without exception, and we call on Ofsted to make sure homophobic, biphobic and transphobic bullying is being treated seriously by schools across the UK.
Responding to recent reports in the media, Lewis Addlington-Lee, Deputy Chair of the British Youth Council said: “We believe in defending, promoting, and advocating for the rights of the LGBT+ Community in the UK and internationally.
“It’s upsetting to hear about the sustained opposition from a minority but we must recognise the importance of a curriculum which is inclusive. All schools across the country should be teaching relationship and sex education in a way which is inclusive of the LGBT+ community without exception.
“Children should be able to learn about all types of identities and relationships from a young age so this institutionalised discrimination can be brought to an end.”