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youth social action #iwill Young people from low-income backgrounds are less likely to take part in social action activities than their more well-off peers. Young people who have additional needs or who have been excluded from school are also more likely to miss out on these opportunities.

Yet, youth social action has been associated with a wide range of positive outcomes, both for the young people taking part and for the communities in which these projects take place. Participating in YSA has been linked to improvements in confidence, teamworking, attitudes to education, personal wellbeing and a sense of community.

While these are important for all young people, it’s especially vital that those from groups less likely to go to university, start an apprenticeship or find sustained employment after school have access to projects that will support them in gaining skills to enhance their employability.

Therefore, when we started work on the research phase of the Youth Social Action Toolkit for Careers Leaders’, it soon became clear that in order to make the toolkit as impactful as possible it would need to address the disparity of access to youth social action (YSA) opportunities.

We travelled the country speaking to a range of young people who had taken part in social action projects. On one particularly sunny day we arrived at Sheppey College, a small modern campus on the Kent coastline with a beautiful sea view. We met pupils from construction, beauty and childcare courses and heard about the projects that they had been involved with in their town.

We were encouraged to see that participating in a range of YSA projects that linked back to the skills students were picking up within their wider studies had been beneficial to each young person and to the community.

For example, James, an 18 year old studying construction, told us about a project he had been working on with other young people on his course, repairing and brightening up seating areas in the local town, and the pride he felt seeing members of the community enjoying the space.

Taking part in public facing YSA also allowed local residents to see young people in their area taking action to improve facilities for everyone, dispelling some of the persistent negative myths often held about teenagers. What was great was students’ powerful conviction that anyone could participate and benefit from YSA, or as one student put it ‘anyone who cares about others.’ If this is the case, then perhaps the only real barrier to YSA is selfishness!

However, in settings where there isn’t an expectation that all students will participate, a whole range of factors can stand in the way. Research has suggested that when young people are provided with an ask or ‘trigger’ to get involved, most will. When an explicit invitation is not given and young people can self-select onto activities, those from higher-income backgrounds are more likely to take up these activities and students from low-income backgrounds can lose out as they might not see activities as being ‘for them’.

Recent research into the availability of YSA opportunities also found that organisations and services set up to support activities such as volunteering were “substantially stronger in areas of socio-economic advantage”. Basically - the more affluent the area, the more likely there are to be opportunities for YSA.

Outside of education, young people may already be taking part in activities that are beneficial to the community they’re in but not be seen as traditional ‘social action’, for example, students may be caring for family members. It’s important therefore that schools and colleges understand what activities students are already engaged in. The school can then respond by putting in place support and helping them to reflect on the skills –identifying where these might be transferrable.

In 2018 60% of young people who had taken part in YSA got involved through school or college. Schools and colleges are therefore uniquely placed to draw young people into opportunities for YSA that inspire them to play a full role in their community and gain skills vital for employability.

When speaking to staff from The Vale School, a special school tucked away next to the Tottenham Hotspurs stadium in north London, we discovered that as well as providing opportunities to develop skills, YSA can also show young people with additional needs and disabilities that they are capable of helping others and making positive change in their community.

For young people who are often viewed as in need of support, this shift in role can be extremely positive – boosting self-esteem and personal agency. In taking part, YSA can help young people build their personal networks and meet others in the community and this is particularly useful for students at greater risk of social isolation due to inaccessible services.

If you’re considering broadening the YSA offered to students in your setting, the good news is that the Youth Social Action Toolkit can help. From the survey tool, designed to support you in identifying which activities young people are already taking part in, through to the examples, containing information of brilliant projects run with a huge range of young people, the resources are designed to ensure that all young people benefit from YSA.

Whether you’re in a school or college in an area with high levels of deprivation, looking at how students with additional support needs can take part, or working with young people studying subjects which may not be typically linked to volunteering; this toolkit is designed to support you in ensuring all young people access opportunities to develop skills and attributes that will be vital when stepping out of education and into the wider world.

View the Youth Social Action Toolkit here.