This last year has been so tough for our young people. With much focus having been understandably on protecting the elderly and vulnerable, it has been young people who have had to make sacrifices and in my view the impact of this needs to be acknowledged, writes Amanda Jenner.
Young people have missed vital face-to-face learning, socialisation time with friends, sports activities and much more. Now is the time to put them at the heart of policy and to do our utmost to make up for all they have lost during the last year.
I am not going to focus on areas where I think the current Labour Welsh Government could have done more for young people. Instead I think we now need to look forward, debate bold ideas and push for policy that will help our children become resilient and happy adults. There is much I could write about: such as the need for better-resourced mental health support for young people, which isn’t just provided at crisis point; or the need to fund ALL local authorities fairly so that children’s and youth services have the money to focus on preventative support rather than crisis intervention.
Unfortunately, too often we see sticking plaster measures that kick in too late. For all problems, we need to go back to the root cause, feed the soil, and then nurture the seedlings.
One area I think needs more attention is the teaching of life skills in schools. The new Curriculum for Wales does provide an opportunity to do this, however, with little being mandatory, I would argue that a bit of a re-think is needed to guarantee that this happens in practice.
What do I mean by life skills though?
An understanding of how to budget and manage finances
Young people need to understand the likely living costs in their area, what they will have to earn in order to make a living and how to manage their budget.
A few years ago there was a backbench bill brought forward on this subject. Sadly the Welsh Government did not pass this and so it was a missed opportunity. In order to equip our young people to manage their finances, we need to revisit this subject as it could help increase prosperity for our future generations.
I also believe we need to try and help young people appreciate the difference between ‘want’ and ‘need’ when it comes to the items they choose to have in their lives. From my time teaching, I recall a 25 minute session when we were expected to teach ‘life finances’ to a Year 9 group. With such little time, I asked them to make a list of all the things they believed they would need to pay for as adults and how much they expected each item would cost monthly.
This exercise shone a light on how many of these children just did not know the difference between ‘want’ and ‘need’. I was also surprised to see some of their planned spend on clothes, makeup, socialising and media entertainment type items. I highlighted that for some of their expectations, they would probably need to start off with a salary of over £40,000 which was about £15,000 more than the starting salary of a junior doctor. I think this came as a bit of a shock to some and perhaps wasn’t the best way for me to teach financial management. However, with so little time, I wanted to do something impactful. My point is this should not be a one-stop lesson. Financial awareness needs to be built into learning at every opportunity, whether in maths lessons or elsewhere.
The skills to get a job they are qualified for
Children need to leave school knowing how to showcase their skills on a CV. They need the confidence to sell themselves in an interview and even just to make a telephone call enquiring about a job.
For many young people, their family may help them with these things. Unfortunately, this will not apply across the board. Furthermore, communication between young people has changed and much takes place over social media. For some, making a phone call can be daunting and I would argue these skills are so much more vital than yet another English lesson on how to analyse a Carol Ann Duffy Poem about an onion.
The knowledge and understanding of yours and other’s health
Yes, this is broad and yes I am pleased to see that Health And Wellbeing is already going to be covered on the new curriculum as an area of learning.
However, this last year has shown how important it is to ensure we get this right.
Good health is holistic and fragile. A social media incident could impact a child’s health and wellbeing for the rest of their life. A lack of understanding of an individual’s health condition can destroy friendships and obstruct opportunities. Just knowing where to go for help or to speak to someone independent about how you are feeling, can save a life.
There are arguably more specific subjects, such as the impact of behaviour on social media on others’ mental health and wellbeing, which need to be compulsory parts of the curriculum.
I would like to pay tribute to Suzy Davies who, along with other campaigners, has fought for life saving skills to become a mandatory part of the new curriculum and for her efforts calling for menstrual wellbeing on the curriculum.
Is it the job of teachers to teach all of these things?
Yes as Conservatives we could argue that teachers should teach the usual subjects and parents should raise children so they have the necessary life skills. As both a parent and a teacher, I would argue that all children deserve to be taught these life skills. The world has changed and there is so much that children need to be prepared for. We owe it to our young people to ensure they all have the opportunities to learn these skills. We therefore need more to be mandated on the curriculum and also to be part of the inspection framework.
Amanda Jenner is a Councillor on Powys County Council and is the Welsh Conservative Senedd Candidate for Ceredigion.