CEO’s Blog | What we can learn from Scotland

Matt Hyde, Chief Executive of The Scout Association and #iwill trustee, outlines how bringing learning from out of the classroom into the curriculum has helped Scotland make strides in youth social action.

Something’s happening

Step Up to Serve’s MORI research provides a treasure trove of fascinating data on social action. But for me the statistic that jumped out the most was the variation in young people’s participation rates across the devolved nations. In particular something very interesting is happening in Scotland and we need to understand why.

The MORI research shows that 49% of young people in Scotland are undertaking youth social action. This compares to 39% in England, 39% in Wales and 36% in Northern Ireland.

Scouting in Scotland has demonstrated similar successes – since 2010, youth membership growth in Scotland has been 16%, which compares to 9% in England, 14% in Wales and 11% in Northern Ireland.

What makes our Celtic neighbours so successful in helping young people to take action?

I’m sure there are lots of intersecting variables that leads to such a positive result, but one which I’m convinced is pivotal is the embedding of responsible citizenship and wider achievement that has been achieved through Scotland’s Curriculum for Excellence, where non-formal learning (what you do outside of the classroom) is considered when determining if you have achieved your educational outcomes. This is supported by the fact that 63% of young people in the UK said they got involved in social action through their school or college (Ipsos MORI).

Non-formal education

Yesterday at the #iwill campaign’s anniversary celebrations, two pupils and their head teacher at Bishopbriggs Academy – recently named The Sunday Times’ Scottish State Secondary School of the Year – told us about the vision for the school where academic success sits alongside developing responsible citizens. Recognising that many students in the school were already regularly supporting their communities, Head Teacher, Mr. Moulsdale decided to develop a partnership with East Dunbartonshire Voluntary Action to develop in-school Community Ambassadors whose role is to encourage other students to take up social action.

I have also recently returned from Scouting Scotland’s AGM where I heard how activities in the Scout Programme have been mapped against Curriculum for Excellence indicators so that young people can provide the evidence they need against their learning outcomes.

If we’re serious about doubling the number of young people undertaking social action – and accruing the associated benefits to the individual and wider society – then the non-formal education system across all parts of the UK needs to be recognised in the formal curriculum.

Other influencers

But I wonder if there are other influences at play here. The whole nature of youth provision in Scotland appears more supportive and co-ordinated compared to the rest of the UK. One example of this is the provision of a youth proof of age (Young Scot Card) for all 11-25-year-olds, which is used by many local authorities as a top-up card for cashless catering in schools as well as discounts for young people. Another great example is YouthLink Scotland, which continually champions the role and value of the youth work sector.

Perhaps it’s not a surprise then that Scotland has led the way with Votes at 16, where 16 and 17-year-olds showed themselves more than capable of engaging in thoughtful political debate and critically turned up to the ballot box in a referendum debate that captured people’s imagination.

Too often our debates about where young people should access youth social action opportunities is presented as either via schools or extra-curricular organisations but never both, resulting in initiatives that pretend young people’s lived experiences reside in such rigid silos. Imagine how powerful it would be if we married the universalism of compulsory education with the transformative methods used by non-formal education initiatives within local authorities, voluntary organisations and national providers.

If Government invests in young people, providing co-ordinated services and a joined up education system, you see the returns in improved life chances, greater civic engagement and increased democratic participation. Scotland should be proud of the success exposed by the research released today. We in the rest of the UK owe it to young people to learn from it.


Find out more about the #iwill campaign and follow the action on Twitter using #iwill.

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