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How can we manage young people’s expectations without crushing their dreams?

This week I attended the youth sector’s annual conference Creative Collisions to hear from, and celebrate, the diversity of young people and the youth sector.

Organised by a coalition of 9 leading youth sector organisations the conference had a wide ranging agenda discussing the leading issues facing and energising young people today.

Perhaps because of the looming (elephant in the room, due to purdah) General Election, and Brexit, thoughts of those present were clearly focused around young people’s futures. Whilst a range of important topics including mental health and skills were discussed the main topic sparking debate was social mobility, and one of the young members of the audience asked the question above.

There was an instant response from the audience. When asked what issue delegates at the conference would most like the next PM to take action on, the majority replied social mobility for young people – or lack of it.

The statistics certainly are shocking. Pupils from low income backgrounds are less likely to make good progress at secondary school compared to better off peers and are twice as likely to drop out of education at 16. 24% of children eligible for free school meals attend higher education compared to 42% of children from more privileged backgrounds and took up only 10 per cent of apprenticeships, even though they accounted for 13 per cent of the cohort. Young people from poorer backgrounds are also poorly represented on CV boosting schemes such as the NCS and Duke of Edinburgh Awards.

And the answer? Commonly given is the importance of improving young people’s own aspirations – as if low aspirations themselves are the problem. At Creative Collisions, youth sector leaders and young people argued this was far from the case. Young people often have high aspirations. It’s the reality that lets them down when they come up against the structural inequalities and prejudice that still exist in society in education, work and housing.

The panel at Creative Collisions – drawn from youth sector professionals and academics – argued the importance of equipping young people with the resilience they need to bounce back from these difficult life situations and knock backs.

But as one young speaker pointed out in the question she posed, above, it’s a very fine line between managing young people’s expectations and crushing their dreams.

I was left feeling that there’s a missing piece of the puzzle. Instead of equipping young people with the patience they need to deal with lack of opportunity in post Brexit Britain, we must empower young people to take action to challenge these structural barriers. The youth sector must express and challenge the range of issues that impede social mobility such as the lack of access to work experience; poor advice and guidance; weak vocational routes and access to apprenticeships; and financial disadvantage through low wages and benefit changes. As a sector we must support young people’s political participation, advocacy and lobbying to make change happen and we believe there needs to be a clear, coordinated call to action from the youth sector on how to move forward.

As a funder, the Blagrave Trust supports a charities working to address barriers to positive transitions for young people including work with schools; high quality advice and guidance; and mentoring for disadvantaged young people. We are strong supporters of youth voice initiatives and we fund relevant research and campaigns to support long term change.

We believe that now is the time to listen to young people’s hopes and dreams and put power in their hands so they can design services to allow their dreams – and futures – to flourish.

TH 3-5-17