Does the government’s plan for ‘levelling up’ go far enough for education?

Following the news that Michael Gove has unveiled his plans for ‘levelling up’ to improve services such as education, Sharon Davies, CEO of Young Enterprise, an employability and financial education charity working across the UK, shares her thoughts on the matter. Sharon believes that if we want to truly level up, social mobility is key. This means making applied learning a part of the curriculum, supporting those most vulnerable and working within local communities, which in turn will boost the region’s infrastructure.

Earlier this month, the much-awaited Levelling Up report was unveiled, outlining policies to help ‘put an end to the geographical inequality which is such a striking feature of the UK’.

The paper sets out pledges for improving the economic, technological, educational and healthcare disparities across the UK, with targets set for each. One core aim, is to increase the number of primary school children achieving the expected standard in reading, writing and maths, and to increase the number of children achieving the expected standard in the ‘worst performing areas’ by over a third.

This is very much a welcome step in the right direction, but if as the proverb goes, ‘it takes a village to raise a child’ then for levelling up to be truly sustainable, the steps to make levelling up happen will require a collaborative approach, valuing input from the voluntary sector, business and education, working together.

If we want to truly ‘level up’ for the long term, then addressing barriers to social mobility for young people needs to be front of mind. Key to this is consistent access to opportunity, and one way of doing this is to embed applied learning across the curriculum. A high percentage of young people leave school without the skills they need to succeed in the real world. Applied learning can support those most vulnerable with the practical skills they need to enter and succeed in the workforce and work within local communities, which in turn will boost the region’s infrastructure. Ensuring that members of the future workforce are ‘workplace ready’ when they leave school will make sure those regions of the UK truly ‘level up.’

Alongside applied learning, ensuring the next generation is able to build business and personal networks will be key. Networks are a key opportunity driver, but many young people are held back by their limited personal knowledge and access to people and organisations that can help them in building their futures. Education initiatives such as the Young Enterprise Company Programme provide tangible ways of bringing together business and education to enable young people to participate in community based opportunities that help them build relationships, and apply their skills in a real-world context. All the time, helping them to expand their networks whilst they learn.

Supporting young people to connect and engage as members of local communities is absolutely crucial to levelling up. We all want to feel that we belong, and we matter, and young people have a vital contribution to make to building thriving communities. In order to put an end to what the report describes as ‘the geographical inequality which is such a striking feature of the UK’, we need to address this imbalance; we need to be equipping children with the transferable skills that enable them to adapt and thrive in careers, but we also need to create and ensure young people are aware of attractive employment opportunities that exist in local areas. Matching talent with opportunity is critical to avoid a repeat of the exodus of young people we have seen from certain regions over the past three decades.

Equalising support and access to opportunities for all young people up and down the UK needs to remain a top priority if the nation is to take a sustainable approach to ‘levelling up’. Rebalancing educational opportunity remains one of the most important factors for enhancing future opportunity for children across the UK and it is essential that the Government commits to ensuring every child receives a first rate education.

Levelling up education will be key to turbocharging the economy by delivering forward-thinking and progressive educations to all regions. It is up to us to support all children and young people in a way which will enable the whole of the UK economy to benefit from unleashing the talent, passion and skills which in many areas is currently going unharnessed. At Young Enterprise, we are fully committed to play our part.