COVID-19 has heavily impacted the school experience for young people over the past 18 months. But has the time outside the classroom revealed a need for the current education system in the UK to be reviewed? We reveal all in our new study.
With government restrictions massively reducing how much time has been spent in the classroom, we polled young people in the UK1 to find out how they found the learning experience and what changes they would like to see in their education moving forward.
Topics to add to the curriculum
Delving into the topics young people think should be taught in high school, the top ten subjects they would like adding to the curriculum are:
- Mental health (83%)
- Personal finance (e.g. mortgage advice, tax and money management) (73%)
- Survival skills (e.g. first aid and self-defence) (70%)
- Black history in the UK (70%)
- Relationship values (e.g. consent, understanding sexuality, how to spot manipulative and abusive behaviours) (63%)
- Human rights (63%)
- LGBTQ+ history and rights in the UK (63%)
- Mindfulness (60%)
- Job hunting and interview preparation (53%)
- Basic law (53%)
Other topics young people are keen to learn about in school include real-life sex education (53%), sustainable living (40%), sociology and anthropology (47%), nutrition (50%), online etiquette and safety (37%) and social skills (47%).
Commenting on our study, Caroline Allams, co-founder of Natterhub said: “The subjects in the top ten are a clear indication of what’s currently lacking in our education system and so many nudge towards personal empowerment, wellbeing, and mental health-related issues. It’s great to see young people recognising the importance of ‘human skills’ as well as academic knowledge. It’s encouraging to see Mental Health at the top of the list. The Covid-19 pandemic has certainly brought about a lot more informed and open discussion about mental health amongst young people, which can only be a good thing moving forward.
“Our current hierarchy is based on a Victorian structure and, although it contains some important and relevant skills, there is still so much knowledge in it that could be swapped out for skills-based learning. Our blended on- and offline world means that we have so much knowledge available to us but we need skills to find, use and apply knowledge to different scenarios. These soft skills are so much more relevant now. In response to acknowledging that our young people are growing up in an increasingly complex world, living their lives seamlessly on and offline, the RSHE curriculum was most recently made compulsory. This guidance gives teachers the opportunity to support pupils in navigating challenges, risks, and opportunities safely. This is the sort of reflective change that, in my opinion, would best benefit our young people.
“As we know, classrooms are diverse environments with many different academic, social and personal needs. From a young age, there could be more opportunity to play to people’s strengths and provide a nurturing education for different learning styles, skills-based courses, and apprenticeships. We need more open-ended creativity across the entire curriculum and recognition for pupils who are not inclined towards academic frameworks. This could provide greater wellbeing, self-acceptance, entrepreneurship, problem-solving and personal achievement.
“Let’s give teachers the autonomy to do what they are so great at. Retrain teachers to have the space and freedom to get to know their pupils, to demonstrate empathy over accountability. Allow teachers to duck out of the sausage factory and champion students – whatever their interests and learning styles.”
Learning during COVID-19
Reflecting back on the recent UK lockdowns, the new study reveals that 30% of children in the UK say they did enjoy virtual learning, with the main reason being that they enjoyed the freedom it gave them (67%). Over half (56%) say they enjoyed being able to learn at their own pace at home with 44% saying there were fewer distractions compared to the classroom.
In comparison, 43% of young people say they did not enjoy virtual learning with their main reason being that they missed being around their friends and teachers (73%).
Returning to school
Nearly three quarters of young people say they have enjoyed the return to classroom learning (73%)
The main reasons young people have enjoyed returning to school are:
- They missed being around their friends and teachers (73%)
- They can concentrate better in the classroom (68%)
- They learn more in the classroom (64%)
- They were lonely at home (36%)
- They missed being able to have 121 support on areas of learning they were struggling with (23%)
- They didn’t have the right equipment at home (23%)
- They usually have free school meals (14%)
On the flip side to this, those who have not enjoyed the return to the classroom gave the following reasons:
- They don’t like the environment of being in school/the classroom (40%)
- They prefer learning from home as they can plan out their own time (20%)
- In school it’s distracting (20%)
The future of learning
We also asked children to share what ways of learning they would like to see continue. A staggering 57% state they want more freedom for individual learning following COVID-19. And over a third (37%) would like to see a combination of at-home and in-classroom learning moving forward.
So how could the school week look in the future? The majority (57%) of young people say their ideal school week would be 3 full days in the classroom followed by 2 days split between in-classroom learning and real-life work experience.
Other interesting insights children shared with us about the future of learning include:
- Over half (57%) of young people say they want more freedom for individual learning following COVID-19
- Over a third (37%) would like to use more online resources for learning in the future
- 30% want to see staggered start and finish times for the school day
- Over a quarter (27%) would like virtual parents evenings to continue
- 13% said they would like to see social distancing in the classroom and around school to continue
Sophie Simpson, Co-Founder and CEO of Conscious Youth said: “One of the biggest areas that has been impacted for young people in the UK over the past 12 months is their education. The change in how children learnt over this time has really highlighted how behind the times we are and that the education system in the UK needs to be reviewed.
“The world has changed dramatically and the issues young people are facing are different to when I was at school. It’s more important than ever to ensure they are equipped with the right knowledge and skills to be able to succeed in the future. From black history in the UK to personal finance advice, it’s great to see that young people have the appetite to grow their knowledge in these areas. We just need the UK government to sit up and pay attention to what young people are calling out for.”
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- Survey conducted by Conscious Youth CIC of 10 to 18-year-olds based in the UK in September/October 2021