In 2018, 18% of all school leavers, left education at 18 without basic qualifications. That is one in five children in England. They will have spent 14 years of their lives in compulsory education, yet leave the school system without any substantive evidence of their abilities and, as such, at a disadvantage when it comes to finding a job or apprenticeship.
Many of these young people will be the pupils that are known as ‘the trouble makers’. They will be the ones that are seen to not be engaging in lessons as fully as many of their peers; they might be late for class and not turn in homework. They will be inconvenient ‘disruptive influences’ and, all too often, they will be excluded from education; kept apart from the group, sent into isolation as punishment, and made to catch up on missed lessons in their own time. They will fall behind. They are some of the forgotten children.
Why we need to be mentoring these ‘forgotten children’
In an education system where teachers are under pressure to support huge classes of children all with different needs, abilities and strengths, those who present additional challenges, are the ones that are frequently pushed aside. Many young people have undiagnosed Special Educational Needs and Disabilities (SEND) and, like myself, it will not be until much later in life that they receive an appropriate diagnosis. In the meantime, they are just labelled as the naughty ones with a strong likelihood that they will leave the school system without passing any exams. Often, the root causes of these behaviours can, generally speaking, be linked to either family and home environments and circumstances, or special educational needs that are undiagnosed and unsupported or are inadequately supported.
Over the years that I have worked as a coach and mentor for disengaged young people, I have seen how these so-called ‘challenging children’ have so much energy and potential to offer the world. It is through circumstances or situations that are not their fault that they find themselves caught up in a system that quite simply is not right for them. Packed classrooms where so many other young people are jostling for position is never going to be the right environment for everybody. Here, some children are going to fall by the way-side and their true potential snuffed out like a candle.
Everyone wants purpose in life, but not everyone is helped to be purposeful. When a young person sees that they are pushed aside, that they are different from their peers and not ‘worthy’ of time, effort and support, feelings of anger and resentment can set in and there is often a cycle of destruction that will perpetuate at least until they are of an age that they can leave the education system, but more likely the cycle will continue far beyond.
Continue to tell someone they’re a failure and they will always believe they’re a failure. Listen to them, invest in them and they have a chance to turn their lives around.
Diversity of traits and approaches that are good for business
In my experience as a mentor for disengaged young people, all too often these ‘challenging’ individuals are the very brightest ones in the room. They have untapped energy that isn’t channelled in a constructive way because they haven’t had anyone to help them do that. If there is a lack of support at home and then a lack of support and resource at school, what is that young person to do? How can they help themselves?
The sad fact is that our schools are filled with children like this, but there is little that is robust and long-term to help them. Whilst I am proud to have worked closely with inspirational organisations such as GRIT and SEMLEP, the regional support they are able to provide is a drop in the ocean compared to what is needed nationally.
It has been asked whether I dislike schools. I don’t. What I dislike is an education system that is not fit for the individual. I really value education, but I appreciate and advocate that there are many young people who simply can’t learn through traditional methods. What works for one person does not work for all.
Knowing first-hand what it is like to be an at-risk ‘disengaged youth’, I am passionate about helping young people today. My life could have been so very different to what it is if it wasn’t for one person showing me ‘the other way’. In the end, it took just one person to believe in me, help me believe in myself, and take the time to show me how to turn my life around.
Now, working as a trained life coach, mentor and governor for young people, I am able to help people who are where I was all those years ago. Working in mainstream schools, and supporting The Careers & Enterprise Company, I help each individual to overcome their limiting beliefs and find their purpose. I help them to look beyond their current life in the classroom, own their situation, focus on what they truly want for their future, then help them to align themselves with how they are going to achieve it. The answers are always within them, but the answer is not always the first thing they say. My role is not about helping the school, or the parents, it is all about helping the young person realise their current and future potential.
What I often discover, are similarities to my own business story. The excesses of energy, ideas and enthusiasm that have been quashed for years and treated as ‘bad traits’ are exactly the personal qualities that are invaluable in business and enterprise. The people who challenge the status quo, push boundaries, ask difficult questions, are exactly the sort of people that you want to have in your business.
As a business owner, I like to be challenged, I like people around me to look for alternative options and I often say to my team that if I’m not challenged, I will think I am right, and I have been around long enough to know that is not always the case! It’s by asking those difficult questions and coming up with new methods and approaches that we move upwards.
Young people aren’t born disengaged. They become disengaged when the system is broken for them. They disengage with the process if it isn’t right for them. Sometimes, all that is needed is a helping hand, time and coaching to help them channel their exceptional energy and enthusiasm in a constructive way. We have the ability to help the next generation of business leaders, and they may not always be who you expect them to be.
Richard Osborne is an award-winning entrepreneur, founder of the UK’s largest online community for small business owners, UK Business Forums, and champion of the SME sector. He is also a trained life coach for young people and a self-appointed ambassador for young people with SEND and those disengaged with education and society.
In this article, you learned that:
- In 2018, 18% of all school leavers left education at 18 without basic qualifications
- Traditionally ‘bad traits’ like excesses of energy, ideas and enthusiasm are invaluable in business
- Leaders need to be challenged with different opinions as they are not always right