Should we worry about increased anxiety?

By Sally Dicketts, Chief Executive of Activate Learning

Follow Sally on twitter @sallydicketts

The anxiety levels of teenagers are apparently on the rise.

Recent research suggests that young girls in particular are showing more signs of emotional distress.

Anxiety

Research by University College London and the Anna Freud Centre compared the mental health of more than 1,600 11 to 13-year old boys and girls in 2009 and 2014. The results found the number of girls at risk of emotional problems had increased sharply, from 13 to 20 per cent within five years. Meanwhile the level of other mental health and behavioural problems remained fairly static.

So what’s going on behind the statistics?

Although our levels of empathy decrease during adolescence, young girls are still more likely than boys to become attuned to feelings of distress in others.  They may not yet however have the capacity and skills to give support without being adversely affected themselves.

Those commenting on the research have suggested that the increasing pressure on girls to perform academically, coupled with anxiety over body image amplified by social media, could be behind the rise.

It begs the question as to whether today’s young people face more pressures than their parents’ generation did, or whether the culture in which they operate is heightening levels of stress.

As Eleanor Doughty wrote in The Telegraph online, many of the things that occupy teenage minds – exams, relationships, future ambitions – are unchanged. Social media has had a major impact on these way thoughts and feelings are shared, but that can be helpful as much as it can induce feelings of stress.

I am inclined to agree, and I don’t think there is yet sufficient research into the effects of social media to lay blame at its doors. I do however believe that children are growing up in busier homes where the growth in digital technologies makes it harder to compete for attention. We all want to be heard but we are losing the art of listening, and if you don’t feel listened to you can soon feel isolated. It is a point explored by Nancy Kline in her book, ‘Time to Think’, and an issue that educators should take notice of. We need to help young people develop good listening skills to support their social interactions and build their resilience.

I also believe that young people face a more fiercely competitive jobs market than generations before. When I grew up getting a degree set you apart from the competition. Today it has become commonplace and students are expected to achieve at least a 2:1 and must offer additional skills and experience to stand out. Candidates are competing in a global jobs market and one which offers much less job security than it did for their parents.

This research is significant for those educating young people in schools and colleges. It suggests that we need to be much better at detecting signs of emotional distress, which can get overlooked in light of more obvious behavioural problems.

It also adds weight to the argument for incorporating mindfulness techniques into our teaching and learning as we build young people’s resilience and help them take ownership of those things they can change, and let go of issues outside their control.

What can marshmallows teach us about student success?

Sally Dicketts is Group Chief Executive of Activate Learning.
Follow Sally on twitter @sallydicketts

marshmallow1

Picture the scene. You are left alone with your favourite sweet treat and told not to eat it – or at least told not to eat it for 20 minutes after which your self-control will be rewarded with double helpings.

You can’t leave the room, you can’t do anything else, just sit and wait.

Would you forego instant gratification for the promise of something better in less than half an hour?

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When it comes to education, is the customer really king?

Sally Dicketts CBE is Group Chief Executive of Activate Learning

Follow Sally on Twitter @sallydicketts

English and maths GCSE

How many educators think about their students as customers?

If we did, would it change the way we deliver our products and services?

In the last few weeks English and maths have been hitting the headlines again.

A survey of business leaders by the Education and Training Foundation revealed that three-quarters of employers believe action is needed to improve English and maths skills.

Some complained that young recruits use text speak rather than full sentences, others said that poor spelling and communication skills are damaging their business.

Meanwhile a poll of 1,000 parents by ComRes for Teach First and Barclays revealed that parents value maths skills for their children, but struggle themselves. Two in five parents need to use their phone calculator to work out sums and a third feel anxious about supporting their child with homework.

Since September 2013, any young person who fails to get a grade C in GCSE English or maths must continue to study the subject until the age of 18.

As an education provider we want to attract and delight our customers. Yet the reality is that our customers don’t want to re-take failed GCSE English and maths exams.

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The writing’s on the wall for adult learning

Sally Dicketts CBE is Chief Executive of Activate Learning

Follow Sally on Twitter @sallydicketts

Writing on the wall

Further education providers across the country finally received the news they’d been dreading last week as the Skills Funding Agency confirmed cuts to the adult skills budget.

The chopping of 24 per cent off funding for adult learners was delivered with a message that things could in fact have been much worse.

SFA chief executive Peter Lauener announced that a last minute deal with the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills managed to cushion an even more devastating 32 per cent reduction. Providers who do not deliver apprenticeships, traineeships, nor English and maths will still face this higher level chop and it is difficult to see them surviving at all.

Cuts are cuts, and it is unlikely that anyone in the further education sector is breathing a sigh of relief at a figure of 24 per cent. For a group such as ours, cuts to the adult skills budget will reduce annual income by £1.4m.

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Levelling the field in preparing for work

stock-footage-young-person-attending-a-business-interview

At a college advisory board meeting this week the message from employers was a familiar one.

When it comes to job interviews, young people just aren’t prepared.

The typical candidate was described as having done little or no research on the company or role, inappropriately dressed and lacking the desired language, behaviour or attitude.

Not a ringing endorsement for today’s young people.

For our born digital generation the prospect of a 20 minute interview focused on a single activity, involving conversation and eye contact, can feel like an alien concept. More typically our young people are wired to mobile devices, used to texting while talking or engaging in multiple social media conversations without human contact.

It raises the age old question of work readiness and how we get our young people to meet the expectations of employers and the demands of the workplace.

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Should pensioners foot the bill to give young people a chance?

young-and-old

By Sally Dicketts, Chief Executive of Activate Learning @sallydicketts

We keep hearing that the old have plundered the wealth of the young. Significant increases in life expectancy mean that Britain’s over-65s outnumber those under the age of 16 for the first time. The Institute of Economic Affairs recently warned that the government will need to cut spending by more than a quarter or impose significant tax hikes to fund future pension and social care obligations.

At the same time we hear that social mobility and parity of esteem is essential if we are to address disadvantage and provide today’s young people with the same opportunities as our wealthy baby boomers.

The reality is that there is only ever going to be a finite amount of money and competing demands. But I would suggest that the answer lies not in taking money from our pensioners, but in achieving greater equity in funding for education.

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Are mergers the only answer to swingeing cuts?

There is no denying that times are incredibly tough for the further education sector.

We know that the next three years will bring swingeing cuts to our adult budgets and potential reductions in unit resource for 16 to 19 year olds. Management teams in every college in the country will be exploring the impact of this on their profit and loss account and seeking new ways to generate income and save costs.

Financial pressures are nothing new, but I can’t remember a time when the position has been quite so stark.

Finance, or lack of it, remains one of the key drivers pushing colleges to merge. We have certainly seen a recent flurry of merger activity, a process made simpler by the 2010 Education Act. This comment by the Guardian Further Education Hub provides a useful overview.

But are mergers the only answer to achieving financial stability amidst a sea of cuts? I believe there are alternatives.

Continue reading “Are mergers the only answer to swingeing cuts?”

Social mobility undermined by spending plans

This week David Cameron pledged to protect per-pupil funding for five to 16 year-olds if the Conservatives are re-elected in May.

The announcement means that post-16 education remains unprotected from potential cuts – the only section of education to be left in such a vulnerable position.

We often talk about the importance of social mobility in our society. I believe that further education offers the greatest opportunities for social mobility. It equips school leavers with the skills and qualifications required for successful careers and enables adults to access higher education or retrain in light of changing circumstances.

However the funding consistently fails to measure up.

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When I grow up…communicating the value of skilled sectors

Careers advice in schools has once again come under fire – this time for causing teenagers to underestimate what they could earn in skilled sectors.

Research by the Edge Foundation, to mark the launch of this year’s Vocational Qualification Day Awards, asked young people to predict what they could earn in technical or skilled roles. In some cases the respondents undershot average earnings by almost 40 per cent.

According to published statistics, the sector with the highest annual earnings in 2014 was electricity, gas, steam and air conditioning. But only one in six teenagers guessed it was in the top three. When quizzed, they thought average earnings in this sector would be around £23,000 when it actual fact the figure is closer to £38,000.

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Technology partners to help plug digital skills gap

Nicky Morgan this week announced that new partnerships with technology giants, including Google and O2, will help to increase digital skills in the classroom.

As part of a £3.6m drive to teach computing skills in primary schools, experts from these organisations will provide training, facilities and resources. The Education Secretary used the BETT educational technology show to outline a series of projects with schools, universities and businesses that would boost the computing curriculum.

If you want to find good examples of these types of partnerships in action, you need look no further than the further education and university technical college model. These organisations are successfully harnessing the skills and expertise of industry leaders to provide a relevant curriculum which teaches contemporary, career-focused skills.

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