Having cut my public policy teeth on my local youth council, I’ve always taken giving a voice to young people very seriously.  Consulting with young people empowers them to be changemakers in their own right.

It is vital for young people to have a voice in the room on issues from electoral reform to migrants’ rights, but their voices should especially be encouraged on the issues that affect them most. This includes, of course, assessments and qualifications.

From working with young people across the country to discuss issues in the education policy sphere, I’ve learnt:

Young people have a highly honed sense of social justice.

Whenever I meet young people, I am always struck by their enormous appetite to bake equality, diversity and inclusion into the curriculum.  And this is true not just of the young people ‘effected’ by a lack of representation: white students want to see more black history taught; cis straight students want to see more LGBT visibility in literature.

Throughout the pandemic, when discussing the technology gap, I found students at well-equipped schools in affluent areas were highly aware of their privilege, and keen to know what was being done and what more could be done for students at schools where pastoral care had to come first and where young people had insufficient technology.

Young people tend to be pragmatic.

(Sometimes more so than professional commentators!)

In my experience, they see the value of exams, but they favour reforms here and there; for example, the reintroduction of more coursework or modularity, to measure a broader range of skills or reduce the stress of exam season. They are also on the fence about on-screen assessment, favouring the mode of exam matching the mode of classroom teaching.  This perhaps indicates that computer use will have to become ubiquitous throughout schooling, before they are ready for a near-full rollout of on-screen, high-stakes summative assessment.

What’s the key change young people want to see?

From my experience, young people want more opportunities to show off their ‘soft skills’, not as standalone qualifications but within existing ones. This was especially true of communication and oracy – not just as they will be using it in the workplace: one young person highlighted to me that political polarisation could be eased through using civil debate skills forming an assessment mode within appropriate subjects.

Student perspectives add so much value.

I believe young people can be invaluable as focus groups for research teams, think tanks and report commissions alike. It’s important to ensure young people are represented in the policymaking process and their insights make valuable contributions to informal chats with trade union members and written responses to government consultation. If you’re working in assessments and qualifications and not talking to young people already – why?

I have found that speaking to young people gives you insights you just can’t get from anywhere else. These are just my personal reflections, but if you’re looking for rich, recent and robust qualitative data, then you can’t go wrong speaking to the young people receiving their education right now.