At the Youth Trust, we are passionate about seeing a generation of young people empowered to transform society. It’s who we are, it’s what we do. We outwork this vision by working with schools to develop their pupils’ leadership and character and give them meaningful opportunities to put this into action through social action projects in their communities. These social action projects benefit the pupils, their schools and their local communities. Practically these benefits may differ but are of equal worth to explore - why? We are becoming increasingly aware of worrying national trends affecting not just young people, but schools and communities. These challenges include online abuse, loneliness and discrimination. The media often frame young people as part of these problems. But we’re convinced that young people are actually part of the solution, and by taking part in social action, we can really see them start to dissolve.
Personal benefits which come from social action may have wider implications on a young person’s academic results and employment prospects, whilst also benefiting their wellbeing and character development.
The yearly National Youth Social Action survey shows that young people taking part in social action leads to increased wellbeing and stronger personal networks. This personal development, in turn, may make them more attractive to potential employers with the Confederation of British Industry stating that up 85% employers give priority to an employee’s character and attitude over academic record.
Ruth le Breton sums up this benefit in saying:
‘Young people benefit themselves through the knowledge, skills and real-life experiences they gain. This has a positive impact on their character, sense of wellbeing, employability and even academic results.’
We have the privilege of seeing these benefits first hand from young people taking part in the Young Leaders Award (YLA). We’re constantly inspired and encouraged by young people’s stories and seeing how they are transforming their local communities through social action.
Below is Wil’s story of social action through the YLA, and the lasting impact on his family.
Various sources, such as this Ofsted report, suggest that social action can also benefit the schools of the pupils' taking part. The report indicates that teachers consider social action as positively influencing exclusions. This is particularly interesting to note in light of the governments most recent figures on school exclusion, which outline an increase. The same Ofsted report continues to detail how social action may aid the development of other challenging areas such as attendance, behaviour and academic standards.
As well as social action helping decrease school level challenges, it is understood to advocate agency among young people motivating them to take initiative often taking action to make a difference to their own school communities, for example by setting up extra-curricular clubs or campaigning for changes that will benefit the whole school.
We love hearing stories of pupils coming together in schools to take part in social action showing courage and hope. Watch the pupils from Percy Hedley School visiting the residents of a local care home.
More broadly, social action benefits communities at large. For instance, annual expenditure at a national level echoes worrying challenges for each of our communities. A lack of integration on grounds such as ethnicity and social class reportedly costs the government £6 billion a year with £700 million in social care costs, 27 solely due to the isolation of older people.
Communities are changed through social action. People are brought together, the lonely are kept company, generations build rapport and relationships are strengthened.
Watch this video of the fantastic KS3 pupils from Trinity School in Carlisle taking part in a day of social action in their local community.
It’s clear that social action holds a variety of benefits for pupils, their schools and wider communities. From increasing the chances of a young person’s employability and character development, to young people caring about and influencing their school communities and the potential to positively impact those who are most vulnerable in society. It’s striking that when young people work towards practical action in the service of others to create positive change, rhythms within society as a whole have potential to strengthen.