Young people in Wales have more of a say in their lives than ever before – but many need the skills and confidence to make their voices heard, according to Estyn. The education and training inspectorate for Wales says that opportunities for participation have improved in recent years. But Estyn calls for more work to be done to help young people. It recommends that the Welsh Assembly Government provides more help and advice to education and training providers, and only funds youth projects if young people have a say in the decisions.
"Young people do not always develop the skills, knowledge or confidence to ensure that their voices are heard," said Susan Lewis, Chief Inspector for Education and Training in Wales. "Progress has been made over the last two years. Many young people feel that they are listened to in schools when they get involved with school councils."
Estyn says that opportunities for young people to make their voices heard have increased. Some local authorities have well-established youth forums or youth councils. In local authority youth services, youth offending teams and leaving care teams, there are some good examples of young people developing useful skills and becoming staff, senior members or volunteers. Most schools now have effective methods of involving young people in decisions that affect their lives. In the best cases, young people are involved in the development of innovative teaching and learning policies or how discipline is managed. In many more schools, children are involved in less important matters to do with school meals, break times and toilet facilities.
But there is still very little participation in decision-making by the 16 to 25-year-old age group. Estyn's report also points out that many education and training providers do not yet plan to include all young people in decision making. Few organisations include significant resources for participation work in their budgets.
The Healthy Schools scheme is an example of commitment – schools are only given funding if they involve pupils in making decisions.
Estyn recommends that education and training providers should:
In November last year Assembly Members voted to make school councils a statutory requirement. This means all state schools must now have councils which will allow pupils to influence governors and teachers. Education Minister Jane Davidson described it as "a piece of Welsh history". Speaking at the time she said, "This is another first for Wales. Only here will school councils be statutory because of this Assembly Government's commitment to participation.
"Establishing school councils in all maintained primary (except nursery and infant), secondary and special schools in Wales forms part of the Assembly's wider agenda to give children and young people a voice, enabling them to participate in decisions that affect them. School councils enable pupils to discuss matters relating to their school, their education and any other matters of concern or interest to them."
By Aled Blake
6 July 2006