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.
The children’s charity, NSPCC, has released data showing that children and young people are facing a rising tide of racial hate crimes. Reported incidences of racially motivated abuse and bullying have increased by one fifth since 2015-16.
“I’m heartbroken to hear of the racism young BME students are facing in schools across the country and, regrettably, not shocked because their stories are very similar to my own”, says Larissa Kennedy, Trustee of the British Youth Council. In 2015 young people across the UK voted for racism and religious discrimination as one of the top five issues facing young people in the annual Make Your Mark ballot. This prompted the Youth Select Committee to undertake an inquiry into the issue in 2016.
“The Youth Select Committee received evidence from a range of young people sharing their experience of racial and religious discrimination, both in their communities and in schools,” says Kennedy. The Committee made a range of recommendations regarding actions that could be taken to better support schools and teachers to educate around this issue and to tackle racism when it does happen.
In the joint ministerial foreword to the government response, representatives of the Home Office, Department for Education and Department for Communities and Local Government stated “We are clear that no child should live in fear of racism or bullying. To this end, we have sent a clear message to schools that they need to challenge and tackle all forms of bullying and discrimination, including racism and religious discrimination.” In this response the government made no new commitments to tackle the issues raised by young people.
Whilst the sentiments of the Ministers were right, the British Youth Council believe it is time for action. Between attainment gaps, erasure from the national curriculum, disproportionate expulsions, discriminatory dress codes and these reports of racist incidents in schools, education is a right that young BME students are not currently being fully afforded. We must not only prevent and tackle racist incidents but institutional racism in the education system. The British Youth Council renews it’s call on the government to listen to young people and to work with us to actively eradicate racism in schools.