Our study of South Wales identified the need to ensure young people know, and can access, the opportunities available to them.
Much of education policy is devolved to the National Assembly in Wales, and over time the approaches to education within England and Wales have started to diverge considerably. As Teach First targets its work towards the areas where it can have the most impact, understanding what makes local contexts distinctive is key. We interviewed students and professionals working in secondary schools within South Wales to understand more about young people’s lives, and the stories which lie behind the statistics.
A number of features of life in the area stood out. These include:
- Young people described a range of aspirations for future employment, but many questioned whether they could fulfil those aspirations locally. Students noted the support they received from schools and family members, but felt that the careers advice they received was limited and sometimes partial.
- School leaders emphasised the distinct curriculum being developed within Wales and the importance of schools serving the priorities of their local communities. School leaders and teachers recognised the importance of student attainment, but did not describe some of the accountability pressures found in our other case studies. On the other hand, school leaders expressed considerable concern about the limits and predictability of the funds they received. Additionally, whilst retention of teachers was perceived as very high, some areas faced challenges in recruiting new teachers and short-notice supply staff.
- Schools offered extensive pastoral care to young people but teachers expressed concern they were unable to offer sufficient mental health support. School staff and parents expressed concerns about the funding of and young people’s access to Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS).
- The lack of jobs and employment opportunities for young people was frequently cited as a major challenge. New employment opportunities had failed to compensate for the decline of local industry over many years. Even within nearby cities, the stability and quality of jobs was perceived to be poor. Many areas which experienced high levels of deprivation were felt not to have improved in many years. Students and teachers wished for more employment opportunities in the local area and better leisure facilities and more activities for young people.
- Young people’s wishes for improvement focused on making the area safer and more attractive; professionals discussed the need to improve the fabric, reputation and perceived importance of schools.
Our study poses questions for Teach First about how we can help participants quickly gets to grips with the new and changing curriculum offer in Wales and learn about the needs and character of the local communities their schools serve.