Empowering communities is the key to change the futures of disadvantaged young people in the UK

Date 12.10.2020

A team of academics from Northampton have submitted written evidence to the Education Committee, urging Government to re-engage left behind pupils by empowering the communities in which they live.

The Education Committee are currently working with academics, charities and those working with young people across the UK, to examine the issues faced by disadvantaged groups. The Committees initial inquiry hopes to understand the educational underachievement of white pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds, including white working-class pupils, and the committee are particularly interested to consider the effects of the COVID-19 outbreak on this group.

The authors, Nick Cartwright, ‘Teleola Cartwright, Adree Wallace and, Roy Wallace, who bring together their unique backgrounds in law, community engagement, representation, education, student retention, progression, and achievement, argue that investment in creative social justice programmes which can adapt and react rapidly to technical, social, cultural, political and, global situations are needed.  They call it the ‘Changemaker’ model.

Through their written evidence, they argue that social justice, creative engagement and, educational programme delivery, which actively targets key areas to help expose and galvanise solutions to the problem would be effective in terms of both costs and outcomes for young people and crucially avoids a punitive system.

Roy Wallace, Senior Lecturer in Media Production, at the University of Northampton said: “The monomodal educational system is simply out of touch with ever evolving technical developments which inform young peoples preferred personal, social and, informational lifestyles. New forms of education actively blend different approaches and forms which connect with academically detached youth.  These forms prioritise meaning making as the methodology and this provides a proven route to help overcome personal, social and, cultural distancing.”

“With the traditional education system failing these young people, the home learning environment provides the primary means for teaching and learning. Such personal, family, community and, politically influenced home learning experiences unofficial power structures, which act as role models for young people and provide a sense of economic, personal and cultural security for predominately young white males. But these experiences are not rounded and un-biased, the impacts of this underachievement, both for individuals and for communities, creates a lifetime of despair and missed opportunity.”

In the written submission the authors examine the particular nuances of life in Northern Ireland, specifically working-class communities, where a high proportion of young men continue to have lower educational attainment than their peers. Speaking about this Adree Wallace, Visiting Fellow in Law, at the University of Northampton whose work focuses on social justice, said: “The increasing levels of anxiety and stress related illness growing amongst marginalised community, and the alienating effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on this group would suggest an increasingly spiralling trend into depression, drug/alcohol abuse and petty crime and then into the criminal system justice.

“The lack of community cohesion and the alienation felt by many young people now manifests in large groupings of underage and detached youth creating social nuisance. The breakdown of trust and an ever-increasing demand on policing services, means that criminality replaces the traditional youth activities which have been devastated through underfunding, lack of vision and, mismanagement.”

This lack of community infrastructure, the authors feel drives a cyclical and predictable route into the criminal justice system, for those from a disadvantaged background.

‘Teleola Cartwright, an inclusive education consultant who recently worked with the Faculty of Business and Law at Northampton, said: “Educational underachievement is a key factor in the transition from victim of crime to perpetrator. Positive engagement is needed to help break the poverty cycle at key points including: early years interventions, schools, home environments, social places, community facilities and, secondary, further and higher education.”

“Priorities for Government in terms of tackling this issue should be focused on targeted community empowerment. An active, multimodal approach which fuses realism, creativity and, critical consciousness is needed to develop motivated learners. This crucially requires Government to interrogate Department for Education statistics in a more meaningful way, to enable tailored, community focused and community driven interventions to support young people to achieve their potential.”

Nick Cartwright, Senior Lecturer in Law, at the University of Northampton, whose PhD research explores the relationship between equality and the method and practice of teaching and learning said: “Priorities for Government in terms of tackling underachievement should be focused on targeted community empowerment, creating the capacity which is lacking at the moment to identify and discuss solutions. Locally tailored solutions, including youth clubs and community organisations, would provide considerable support for pupils and their communities.  However, new thinking is required to radically address the issue and reverse the dynamic cycle of underachievement.”

You can read the full submission to the Education Committee here.