Leaving education without relevant qualifications and skills can severely damage an individual’s employment prospects, long-term earnings, and future health and wellbeing.
While there have been improvements made in young people’s academic achievements during the past five years, action still needs to be taken to ensure that no young person is left behind. Accordingly, additional funding should be made available to schools to target marginalised groups, such as those who are excluded from school and those leaving without qualifications, to raise their attainment levels and give them an equal chance of success.
However, the continued push for academic improvement should not be at the expense of the broader wellbeing of young people.
Young people taking part our focus groups made it clear that they were increasingly feeling severe pressure to do well in exams. This is something that is reinforced by ChildLine in Wales delivering nearly 1,170 counselling sessions on exam pressures last year, an increase of 200% on the previous year.
In addition, significant numbers of young people revealed that they are experiencing bullying; whether that is in schools or online via cyber bullying and pressure to partake in ‘sexting’.
To support young people’s journey through education, YMCA is calling on the Welsh Government to, firstly, prioritise support within schools for those suffering from exam stress and, secondly, provide training and support for teachers to better identify and tackle bullying as well as support those affected.
In the drive to improve academic attainment, it is also important that the other, broader skills young people need to succeed are not forgotten. Young people frequently told us they felt ill-prepared for the transition into independence and employment, stating that they did not feel they had the necessary skills.
YMCA proposes that the Welsh Government takes a more radical approach to providing young people with these informal life skills by introducing a separate Skills for Life curriculum, which incorporates areas such as resilience, healthy relationships, money management, substance misuse and body confidence.
However, rather than the responsibility falling on schools, this should be a partnership curriculum delivered by a range of local organisations who are sufficiently funded and empowered to support young people both in and beyond the school setting.
To supplement this, the Welsh Government should invest in the quality of work experience available ensure all young people in Wales have access to at least three weeks work experience before the age of 17, including those individuals not in mainstream education.
At the heart of YMCA’s beliefs is that people should always have the opportunity to better themselves and continue to learn once they leave school, especially those whose education was disrupted the first time around. However, many of the people with whom YMCA works felt that they are currently unable to do this, demonstrated by the number of participants in further education haven fallen by nearly 45,000 over the past five years.
YMCA believes the Welsh Government should look to become a leader in the provision of accredited open and online further education to increase in the numbers participating in training and education. This should be supplemented with investment to ensure all homes and businesses have access superfast broadband and that there is a network of access of free-to-use public access computers in the most deprived and rural communities.
The last Welsh Government’s focus on increasing alternative Further Education and training options, which led to increasing numbers of apprentices, is welcomed. We hope the Welsh Government builds on this success and continues to financially incentivise employers to take on apprentices, in particular young people and those with low academic attainment, through schemes such as Young Recruits.
Another significant barrier raised by people looking to access Further Education and training, particularly by those choosing a non-academic route, was the ability to find funding. Consequently, YMCA believes that the Welsh Government should remove some of the financial barriers currently in place and creates parity between the financial support available for people taking a university route and for those choosing a non-academic path.
This can be done in a number of ways; firstly, by extending the cut-off age for funding support in Further Education from 19 to 21-years-old and, secondly, by crediting a student loan style system for those taking non-academic courses and certificates.
In addition, we are calling on the Welsh Government to expand the My travel pass scheme to offer discounted public transport to all young people up to the age of 21 undertaking an apprenticeship, further training or an education course.
Finally, it is important that the Welsh Government continues to help those who need training, education and support the most; the 94,000 people in Wales are still out of work and struggling to find employment.
Young people told us that Jobcentre Plus is merely dehumanising many of those who access its services, damaging their confidence and in some cases even setting back their journey into employment.
For this reason we are calling on the Welsh Government to replace Jobcentre Plus in Wales with a new Youth Transitions service, which brings together a range of organisations, giving every young person access to professional careers advice and comprehensive tailored support to participate in education, training or work.
- Provide schools with additional funding to target those pupils who are often marginalised from mainstream education.
- Offer more support within schools for young people suffering with exam stress, including lessons on managing exam pressures.
- Provide all teachers with more training and support on how they identify and tackle bullying in schools.
- Develop a national non-formal Skills for Life curriculum to sit alongside the formal schools’ academic curriculum.
- Guarantee all school age young people access to at least three weeks of meaningful workplace experience.
- Expand the provision of accredited open and online further education courses.
- Ensure every home and business in Wales has access to superfast broadband and that there is a network of public access computers available in the most deprived and rural communities in Wales.
- Extend schemes such as Young Recruits to provide all employers in Wales taking on young apprentices with an enhanced apprenticeship rate.
- Extend the age limit for funding education and training courses from 19 to 21-years-old.
- Establish a loan system available through Student Finance Wales to help people pay for alternative forms of Further Education and professional certificates.
- Expand the My travel pass scheme to offer discounted public transport to all young people undertaking an apprenticeship, further training or an education course.
- Replace Jobcentre Plus in Wales with a Youth Transitions service giving every young person access to professional careers advice and support to participate in education, training or work.