Member of Youth Parliament for Leeds, Sylvia Cullen, reflects on the Government’s announcement on guidance for schools
This new guidance is exactly the sort of forward thinking and developed framework that I believe young people need. As technology develops and becomes more advanced our lives become more complicated and new difficulties arise. By making it compulsory for schools to teach their pupils how to say safe online they are equipping them for life in our modern era and helping vital life skills to develop.
Also, mental and physical health come hand in hand, with poor physical health often leading to a decline mental health, and vice versa, and thus it is vital that we as young people are all taught how to look after ourselves in both respects. The new exam system is placing more pressure than ever on our young people and this newly published guidance indicates that steps are being made to help us look after ourselves amongst the pressure that we face.
Throughout our education we have the importance of friendship reinforced frequently but, until now, have never been offered much guidance in the way of maintaining and strengthening these relationships. This new guidance indicates that this will no longer be the case and that young people will now be taught how to keep relationships healthy and fruitful, which I hold to be highly important if we are to teach our young people self respect and to respect others.
The Rt Hon Damian Hinds MP, Secretary of State for Education, has just announced that, in a move affecting all schools across the country from September 2020, the government will introduce mandatory relationships and health education in schools. This will add to current schooling guidance on online safety, mental and physical health, financial literacy, and relationships, in what represents “a major step in addressing concerns about consistency of quality and reduced curriculum time for PSHE”.
This follows work from a vast array of sources: the PSHE (Personal, Social, Health and Economic) Association, tens of thousands of young people across the UK, and from the British Youth Council’s own Youth Select Committee and UK Youth Parliament.
It’s not as if the signs haven’t been there. Young people have been campaigning to leave school with a “good level of understanding of mental health… (with) the ability to understand and develop their own mental wellbeing” (Youth Select Committee 2015 ), and almost 120,000 young people voted mental health services as their top priority in the 2017 Make Your Mark ballot. Young people want education that is fit for purpose, education that serves to better the understanding of key topics facing them today. Young people are living in a world where mental health and wellbeing is ever more crucial to understand, with 75% of young people with a mental health problem not receiving treatment, depression being the biggest cause of ill health among teenagers around the world , and the most common reason for Childline Counselling sessions in 2016/17 being mental and emotional health.
The painting is a grim one.
In my capacity as a trustee of the British Youth Council, and in my work in the youth sector over the last eight years, I have worked with thousands of young people. I will never forget the mum of a girl I worked with at a youth club, in one of my first positions engaging with young people, who I sat down with and explained that depression didn’t mean there was anything wrong with her daughter, and that it didn’t make her ‘different’. We eventually decided to roll the mental health talk out to the group, as it was clearly not something they had heard before.
To see her daughter, who was a gem, coming out of her shell and getting excited and confident on a club trip to the seaside later that year, unshackled by negative perceptions of her own mental health, and with friends who understood her was and is one of my most rewarding experiences working with young people to date.
What I’m trying to say is, it’s great that the government is rolling this out. It’s needed, though. It’s badly needed.
When YouGov find that more than half of young people “feel embarrassed about mental illness”, when last year’s Youth Select Committee conclude that “body dissatisfaction causes long-lasting consequences for young people”, it feels like the government have only made a small step in the right direction.
Updating guidance that was last updated in 2000 is a positive start.
Ensuring children grow up to “become happy and well-rounded individuals who know how to deal with the challenges of the modern world” is crucial.
I warmly welcome the government listening to young people, but cannot stress enough the urgency of this problem, and a warning against piecemeal action. Creating PSHE that works for young people, makes them healthy, happy citizens, is of vital importance over the years to come.
We’re on the right path, but we’re not there yet.
The Children’s Commissioner for England, Anne Longfield, has launched a new report, ‘Life in Likes’, on the impact of social media on the lives of children before they become teenagers. Today’s report reveals many children are approaching a ‘cliff edge’ as they transition from primary to secondary school, with social media becoming much more important in their lives but causing them greater anxiety. The study suggests some children are becoming almost addicted to ‘likes’ as a form of social validation that makes them happy and that many are increasingly anxious about their online image and ‘keeping up appearances’.
The British Youth Council welcome the report and its recommendations which echo the Youth Select Committee report launched in November 2017 on young people and body image. ‘A Body Confident Future’ was published following an inquiry which gathered evidence from a range of witnesses, including charities, young people, academics, social media companies, and health and education professionals.
Anna Rose Barker, Chair of the British Youth Council said: “We welcome the research undertaken by the Children’s Commissioner into the impact of social media on children. Our own research through the Youth Select Committee highlighted that body dissatisfaction is the norm amongst young people in the UK. Social media can have both positive and negative impacts on body image, and whilst social media companies have taken some steps to mitigate the negative effects there is still more that can be done.
“It is good to see that the recommendations outlined in ‘Life in Likes’ reinforce the recommendations from the Youth Select Committee, specifically in calling for increased digital and media literacy within formal education, more support for teachers to understand the impact of social media on well being, and for social media companies to take more responsibility for the content on their platforms. We hope that this reinforces the need for action to protect children and young people.”
The Youth Select Committee report recommendations have been submitted to the Government for response, which is expected within the next few weeks.
Today we heard the Government’s legislative plan via the Queen’s Speech. There was some good news, some expected news, and a huge missed opportunity.
The British Youth Council campaigned on six key issues in the run up to the General Election. These are the issues that young people have told us are important to them and they want to Government to listen.
So the good news is a commitment to reforming mental health legislation to ensure that mental health is prioritised in the NHS. Our Youth Select Committee in 2015 made recommendations to Government on issues such as funding, training for GPs, and support in education, and we look forward to seeing the detail of the new legislation.
We are also pleased to see a commitment to raising the National Living Wage. The recent Social Mobility Barometer highlighted that young people believe their future to be bleak, and proper and fair pay for work is crucial to this. So whilst the announcement today is good news we would like to see this go further, with the introduction of the real Living Wage, and a pay structure that does not discriminate by age.
As expected, there is a significant number of legislative proposals in relation to Brexit. This is going to dominate the political narrative over the next two years. Therefore Proposals around the great repeal bill, immigration and trade come as no surprise.
What is severely lacking is the government’s response to young people. The youth vote grew massively at this election, showing that young people care about political issues and will turn up when politicians show that are listening. What is missing from all the talk of Brexit is a commitment to putting young people at the heart of negotiations. We have written to the Prime Minister seeking an early to meeting to discuss how we can work to ensure young people are part of the process and not left behind.
Also missing is a commitment to invest in and listen to young people. BYC and the Votes at 16 Coalition have long been campaigning to lower the voting age to 16 in all public elections, complemented by comprehensive political literacy as part of a compulsory PSHE curriculum. This would ensure that all citizens understand our democratic processes and are prepared and empowered to play their part.
Democracy is one of the most wonderful things in this world as it allows people to have a voice in choosing who should govern their country. Many people around the world still don’t have this privilege and I am thankful that I do.
As I am able to vote and so are thousands of young people, it’s important that politicians listen and engage with young people. Young people can also engage by campaigning for the parliamentary candidate they support. I do believe it’s a two-sided effort as young people need to make an effort to raise the issues important to them with politicians and equally for politicians reaching out to young people and hearing them out when they have an issue that needs addressing.
An issue that has gained a lot of support from many people so far as it needs to be improved is the access and quality of mental health services. The priority of ‘Our Minds Matter’ aims to do this and it’s something that needs to be addressed at different levels especially on a national level where it can potentially have the most impact. As a member of the NHS Youth Forum this is something that I feel really passionately about. We have been focusing on young people’s rights in healthcare, ensuring that young people know that they have rights and that healthcare professionals recognise and respect those rights. This is crucial within mental health provision for young people. We have created a series of posters on your rights in healthcare and we want all health settings to display these posters and to respect and listen to young people.
Want to get involved?