Friday, 22 January 2016

Not just another brick in the wall – the wider benefits of social action

So it’s official; social action projects – defined as practical actions in the service of others to create positive change – not only do good for the community, but also for the young people who take part in them.

Recent analysis of youth social action projects – funded by The Cabinet Office – has shown unequivocally that those who take part in social action projects develop some of the most important skills they need to succeed in later life. Some of those programmes which were analysed were organised by my College.

Students take part in the 'Brush up Broadstairs' project
The research found that young people taking part in these projects improve a range of skills. These included their empathy (up 8 per cent), problem solving abilities, co-operation, ‘grit’ and community spiritedness (up 9 per cent).

These are all things which – few would disagree – have a real world impact, not just on the local community of the young people taking part, but also on the local economies. Of course measures like ‘grit’ may well be somewhat subjective, but the mere fact that the data suggests those who took part in social action projects had more of it can only be a positive thing when it comes to getting employed, and staying employed. Those who took part in social action also had a far more positive outlook on life, with far lower levels of anxiety reported.

The data also highlighted another positive for young people looking for jobs – interviewees were found to be 10 per cent more likely to be hired if they had taken part in some sort of social action project. Volunteering was also found to triple a young person’s chances of getting that all important interview itself.

Charity cookery on the Broadstairs Campus
So what does all of this mean for further education? It’s fairly obvious really – if we want to improve the outcomes of our young people, sometimes it’s more important to get out of the labs, the workshops and the office spaces, and into the real world where they can make something better.
My College takes this seriously. We’re driven by improving the outcomes of our students. The obvious benefit for students taking part in social action projects has led us to commit six weeks of the academic year as ‘progress weeks’. Students then get to tackle a range of projects which help their local community, while also making them a more rounded and capable individual – what I believe FE should be doing at all times.

So if you’re an education sector leader, ensuring those in your care take part in social action can pay off not just for the local community which is helped, but also for the student themselves. That’s surely what we all want to achieve.

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