Monday, 3 February 2014

I am a Champion.

When I started in youth work I was first assumed and then told to be a "young people's champion". As so often with such terms, it has both survived and obscured a number of changes in how young people are seen by governments and by society in general. Usually these changes are resource-driven and justified post hoc and ad nauseam, although in fairness they have occasionally resulted from prior thought.

So young people may be impressionable innocents, misunderstood deviants, fully-formed mini-citizens, social victims, claimants of rights or idealistic counterweights to adult cynicism, but so long as we "champion" them, preferably as indiscriminately as possible and without too many questions about what it is we're championing and why, we - and of course they -are just fine.

But right now I'm confused: I'm not sure whether being a Champion of Young People requires me to lament or to gloss over the fact that, of a pretty representative sample of 19 of them aged 14-16 on a residential trip this weekend, well over half couldn't identify even vaguely the location of Scotland and Wales on a simple map of Britain. Which means that they can't identify England with any certainty either.

After a somewhat stagey rant, an attention-seeking crawl under a desk, the application of salts and no little assistance with uncoiling from the foetal position, I was told not to worry because "History and Geography are only options at school".

Leaving aside the fact that we're almost daily asked to believe that education in England and Wales has never been better (why, look at the exam results!), I think that if people don't leave year 3 of primary school with a pretty good idea of which country they live in, where it is, who their neighbours are and what shape it is on a map, there's not much championing to be done about it and they'd damned well better be given no option about learning it when they start their GCSEs in year 10.

One of the key tests of a "young people's champion" over the years has been the belief that young people should get the vote at 16. And, for the first time in a national election in the UK, they will be eligible when the Scots vote on independence in the autumn.

Scotland has a different education system than we English. I hope for their and our sakes it's a better one.

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