I was recently sent this image of our education system. While a bird, a monkey, a penguin, a fish, a seal and a dog line up, an official says: "For a fair selection everybody has to take the same exam: please climb that tree.”
It is foolish to judge everybody by the same set of metrics, while not taking into account their individual strengths and weaknesses. But this is what happened while I was at school, and still goes on today.
It’s time to do things differently. I’m really proud of how Holly and Sam’s charity Big Change are working to reimagine the education system and are investing in big ideas that help young people thrive in life, not just in exams.
I was thrilled to take part in the Virgin Strive Challenge again this year – raising more than £1m for these life-changing projects for young people. We hiked, biked, cycled and kayaked 2000kms across Europe, finishing with a climb of Mont Blanc. The challenge teaches us so much about ourselves, especially how much we can achieve if we keep going and don’t give up - no matter how old we are, where we are from or what we do.
One of the Strivers said: “Often the path of least resistance is the path of least existence.” I couldn’t agree more. Even when we were climbing the mountain, we tried not to focus on the sweat and pain but on the journey and helping each other overcome the challenges together. It didn’t matter if one person wasn’t as physically strong as another or found it emotionally challenging – we came together as a team.
This tree-climbing example can be related to all walks of life - just because we are not so great in certain areas, it doesn’t mean we should feel inferior or be made to feel bad about ourselves. In fact, our differences should be celebrated and embraced, not stifled.
Every individual should be allowed to pursue their own interests and develop their own strengths. We all shine more when we are given the freedom to work on what we love, which is why we need to rethink the way we teach and inspire young people. We should be tailoring teaching to the skills that we anticipate children will need in the future.
Education is the biggest lever for social change yet the current system is failing to meet the needs of many young people. It’s time to look at the root causes of the problems, rather than trying to fix the outcomes. Big Change are creating social change from the bottom up by backing great projects that they believe in at an early stage (when many struggle to get funding) to prove their impact and to help them grow. Many projects, such as a social worker training scheme called Frontline that Big Change previously backed, have gone on to attract large scale government funding with one in three of all local authorities now working with them.
When we were on Strive, people from different Big Change projects would come and speak to us. It was so inspiring and really boosted morale and helped spur us on. I loved hearing about The Difference, a current project Big Change are currently working on, which is tackling school exclusions and creating a new generation of leaders to deliver the best in education to the most vulnerable children. They told us how when a child was excluded from school, they are 9x more likely to experience mental health issues. Many children act out if they are struggling, and it saddens me to think how these children may never fulfil their potential because they got into trouble at school and weren’t supported in the right way.
Teacher burnout is a big issue in the education sector and it’s true that if we don’t look after teachers we can't effectively support young people in their care. The Institute for Teaching is another great current partner Big Change are working with to improve teacher well-being, along with EasyPeasy, an early years learning app for parents to increase engagement and better prepare children for later learning.
It was great to hear about the success stories from previous Big Change partners, such as Head Start, which improves young people’s employability and life skills through work experience, bespoke training and social action. It really shocked me to hear that 90% of employers reported that young people leaving education lack core employability skills – so it was great to see a project tackling this issue with tangible action.
It’s great to hear and celebrate all of Big Change’s successes so far and I can’t wait to see how they will grow into becoming the choice for visionary individuals and organisations who want to collectively invest in a positive future. You can find out more about all of Big Change’s wonderful projects and the impact they are having by following their social media channels.