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YLYF gallery image 24

Some students feel alienated at school

Whilst over half of children in England enjoy their secondary school experiences, for nearly 1 in 2 young people aged 15-16, secondary school is not an enjoyable or meaningful experience.


Instead, it's something they feel they need to ‘get through’
because of its bearing on their futures. 

This was one of the main findings of our Schools for All? report, published in March 2023 in collaboration with the Edge Foundation. 

In 2015-16, the government introduced new GCSE qualifications in England: changes that have reinforced the heavy emphasis on academic subjects and knowledge. Our report draws from data from a national survey of over 10,000 young people conducted in summer 2021 and over 100 interviews with young people carried out in 2020-2022. These were the first cohort of young people who've spent their entire secondary school career in schools whose curriculum has been shaped by the 2015-16 reforms.

Here are some of the key findings from the report:

  • Many young people experience the narrow curriculum and largely didactic teaching methods they encounter at school as alienating and stressful, particularly those with creative and practical interests and those who have special educational needs and disabilities (SEND). 

  • Many young people feel unsupported by their teachers at school. This is most common among young people with SEND or from backgrounds of socioeconomic disadvantage. These are groups of young people who often require more support at school. Yet pressure on teachers to get students through exams, in a context of cuts to school budgets, is limiting the pastoral and additional educational support these young people can access.

  • Young people from low-income and minority ethnic backgrounds, those who identify as LGBT and/or nonbinary, young people with SEND and those who report lower levels of mental health and wellbeing are less likely to feel noticed or listened to by their teachers and are less likely to feel that their schools respect and value diversity. 

  • 24% of young people identifying as trans and 20% of those identifying with minority ethnicities reported experiencing unfair treatment by teachers because of their trans and skin colour or ethnicity respectively. 

  • 45% of young people identifying with minority sexuality categories and 39% of those identifying as trans report unfair treatment or bullying by peers based on their sexual orientation and trans status respectively. 

  • Almost one in every four young people report being treated unfairly by their peers because of their size or style (including how they look). 

  • The young people we interviewed who had left mainstream school for alternative education provision or vocational education and training were mostly thriving in these different educational settings, often for the first time. In these settings, they described having more meaningful and supportive relationships with teachers and a feeling of greater autonomy and choice over what and how they learned. 


More of our findings

The pandemic has significantly impacted young people’s lives and post-16 transitions.

The post-16 transitions through VET of the young people we are speaking with were often non-linear and disjointed.

Non-university routes into employment come with distinctive barriers or challenges.

Uneven quality and availability of careers information, advice and guidance.

Many young people turn to their family networks for careers support and/or work opportunities.

Young people who have migrated face additional challenges relating to their transitions.

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