I visited the Isle of Wight recently to meet young people and youth charities. I was keen to find out more from young people about what they think about life on the Island, what the challenges are and what they feel the solutions could be. By talking to those with most experience, I hoped I could shine a light on some of the issues they raised.
What young people told me, though, was that shining a light can itself have adverse consequences for them.
You might remember that last year the then Chair of Ofsted David Hoare was forced to resign after he described the Isle of Wight as a poor ghetto that suffers from inbreeding. Hoare said the island was blighted by a “mass of crime, drug problems, huge unemployment” and underperforming schools.
The resulting media glare meant an increase of pressure on those responsible for the Island’s schools’ performance. Academic outcomes became the exclusive focus of local authority and education leaders, and this must have led to almost unbearable pressure.
Young people told me about the many school reorganisations that have taken place as a consequence. One young person said he’d had four head teachers at his time at the school. “We’ve been standing on constantly shifting sands”. The fact that head teachers have been changing has felt “demoralising for [us]…what are we worth?”
Whilst there has been some improvement for the majority, there have been adverse consequences for some. Youth workers told me about the impact they had seen on young people’s mental health, when young people were “written off” because they are not going to achieve. “And who’s definition of success are we using, anyway?”
Many school leaders are doing the best job they can but in the face of exceptionally tight school budgets they have few options. Young people were angry their schools were not well enough funded to provide them with the text books and equipment they needed.
Young people and youth charities told me that young people on the Island need well supported schools which are well funded, offering pastoral as well as academic support, and the option to take part in a range of affordable activities that challenge and stimulate them – both in and out of the school context.
Youth charities told me about the importance of intervening early with young people to give them the chance to develop crucial ‘life skills’ before their problems escalate.
These solutions – and the examples given by many of the young people and youth workers I met on the Island – are well worth shining a light on.