The Purpose of Education – A Youth Perspective

MegOne of our fantastic Youth Ambassadors Meg attended the Education Committee conference with us two weeks ago. Here she shares her take on the day, and a powerful message on the need to have more Youth Voice at the table when discussing young people.

On the 13th September, I attended an Education Conference at Portcullis House led by the Education Committee on ‘The Purpose of Education’. Alongside Jenny Mullinder, the Content and Marketing Executive at YEUK, we both represented Youth Employment UK with me in my capacity as a Youth Ambassador.

The Conference, which was chaired by the MP Neil Carmichael, was split into panel sessions for everyone and breakout specific education groups. Evidence from across the country and internationally had been collected in order to discuss three questions:


  • What the purpose of education for children of all ages in England should be;
  • What measures should be used to evaluate the quality of education against this purpose;
  • How well the current education system performs against these measures.



This was then conferred with attendees from a range of organisations either through Q&As or open discussions. There were many interesting comments following the first panel debate, including the importance of practical solutions over meaningless objectives and the difference between knowledge and remembering. I was disturbed by the suggestion of ‘Generation Snowflake’; that our generation is ‘thin-skinned’ and unable to cope with the realities of the world. Although I agree that much of our education system does not currently adequately prepare us, I think it is ignorant to label our generation as ‘lazy’ or ‘soft’. We do have real issues in our society at the moment that trap young people in debt or force them to take unpaid or poorly paid ‘experience’ that requires them to live with their parents. I do not think this is an issue solely linked to education and is more an issue of our society.

During the first breakout, Jenny represented YEUK at a session ‘Employability and functional skills’. This is an important area that YEUK focuses on to reduce youth unemployment through advocacy and programmes such as the YEUK Young Professional. I attended a talk on social mobility, an area of particular interest to me. It was fascinating to hear opinions on how social mobility can be achieved through education, but also to discuss whether this should be the role of overstretched educators. Personally, I feel this links to employability and some schools, particularly fee-paying schools, have more time and resources to develop this area.

For the second breakout session, I was in the panel on 14-19 assessment while Jenny attended a talk on ‘Wellbeing and mindfulness’. The day finished with a talk by the Classicist Mary Beard who offered a powerful critique of what historians might make of elements of the education system, concluding we can’t teach children and young people all we’d like them to know. We must teach them how to learn – though it is harder to measure.

Although I was impressed with the line-up of experts, I was concerned with the lack of Youth Voice in these discussions. Myself and Jenny were quite obviously the youngest representatives in the room by some mile which both of us brought up to the attendees separately. It is important to have expert opinions on education, but none of the panel members were experts at being a young person in the 21st Century. Having only recently left education myself, I do have an important insight into education. Our comments were taken on board but I do worry that they may only result in youth ‘tokenism’ rather than youth accountability. Young people are not a homogenous group. We have different experiences, ambitions, and motivations. It is important that our range of views are heard and considered equal to the ‘experts’. Fortunately, YEUK is trying combat this and brings youth representation to every parliamentary event they attend. Let’s encourage more organisations to follow this example!

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