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‘Why we must make social action a component of our country’s vision for education’


John Cridland, director general of the CBI, writes:

At the CBI, we believe the quality of our education system is the single biggest long-term factor in determining the success of our economy and society. It is essential that all young people get the support they need to fulfil their potential in our schools and colleges, especially at a time when youth unemployment rates are reaching almost 17 per cent.

Our members are clear that, first and foremost, they want to recruit young people with attitudes and attributes such as resilience, enthusiasm and creativity – not based on academic ability alone. In our increasingly competitive jobs market, it is work-readiness and work experience that will give young people a head start. Businesses already tell us that when they recruit school and college leavers, it’s attitudes to work and personal character that they look for above all other things.

So when I was asked to offer CBI backing for the #iwill campaign that is aiming to create positive change by making social action – practical action in the service of others – the norm for young people aged 10 to 20, I said yes without hesitation. There is no doubt in my mind that getting involved in activities such as campaigning, fundraising and volunteering can help develop precisely the kinds of attributes and skills that the businesses we represent say that young people need when preparing to take on a job. Add to this that participation in high-quality social action also has a positive impact on the communities in which these young people live, and you have a genuine ‘double benefit’. 

Great education leaders already know this and are keen to develop their students as active, responsible citizens, ensuring that this priority sits firmly alongside achieving good grades in the vision for their school or college. Many will encourage their pupils to take part in social action programmes such as the Duke of Edinburgh Award, National Citizens Service and others. Indeed the recent #iwill campaign survey, carried out by Ipsos MORI, found that over 60 per cent of young people who are socially active were introduced to it through their school or college. So while we have a great platform from which to build, we can do much more. At the heart of the education reforms we want is embedding activity in our schools and colleges that better prepares students for the world of work. So we’re calling for social action to be part of the fabric of all education settings across the UK, not just a select few.

There are of course other ways that schools and colleges can develop future generations of the UK workforce. We know that the more interactions young people have with the workplace, the better they are prepared for life outside school and college. So we’re also calling on all businesses to increase their engagement with schools. There is no more important determinant for long-term economic growth, and we need to start acting like this matters as much as it does.

To support and encourage this, we are calling on the government to bring back compulsory work experience in England for Years 10 and 11. This would provide a powerful incentive to schools to build links with employers, and send a clear message to parents and to the business community that preparing young people for work is part of what a successful school and college system must deliver.

For this reason, the next government should require schools and colleges to work towards a broader set of outcomes, which prioritise not only academic progress but also the development of “character”. These outcomes, which should be driven by reform of the Ofsted framework, would still incentivise schools and colleges to focus on rigour in academic achievement but would also encourage them to think more about developing rounded and grounded young people. In the future, any education setting judged as “outstanding” must be delivering all aspects of a quality education for all young people – not just some of them.

We should also boost awareness of vocational opportunities, with a focus on apprenticeships – which will be vital as we look to tackle skills shortages, especially in sectors like Stem. We must direct young people to where there are current vacancies and also to where they are expected to be in the future, as well as equipping people with the skills to access these. Only by doing this will we find the electric car designers, aviation engineers and tech entrepreneurs of tomorrow.

There are many ways that we can make the time our young people spend in school or college more directly linked to the day that they start work. It seems to me that making social action a component of our country’s vision for education could be among the simplest and most effective ways of building happier, more community-minded and work ready young people.

More information on the #iwill campaign run by the Step Up To Serve can be found at and @iwill_campaign. The CBI sits on the campaigns advisory council and are one of the campaigns 15 business pioneers.


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