Supporting engagement in education – enabling all students to thrive

Supporting engagement in education – enabling all students to thrive

There is a clear crisis in attendance in our UK schooling system, with a rise in absenteeism which has never returned to pre-pandemic levels.

But even among those who are in school, can we be sure they are switched on to learning – or are many just turning up but not tuning in? And what steps can we take to ensure children are engaged and prepared when they enter the world of work or apprenticeships?

Through our new education programme launching in September 2024, we would like to know what engages children in their learning. What develops in them a feeling that they can be successful as a learner? What needs to be done to help them ultimately move into the world of work, ensuring they are equipped with the knowledge they need and the necessary mindset to enjoy a successful, fulfilling career?

Education is a central theme in our grant-making, and we are looking for applications for projects which explore how to support engagement in education, not just with a view to improving attendance, but with a wider goal of engaging all children, enabling them to thrive, have a positive view of themselves as learners, and taking that attitude on into their working life.

Phil Avery is a Churchill Fellow and Director of Education for Bohunt Education Trust. Anna Morrison CBE is the founder and Director of Amazing Apprenticeships. Both are members of the Churchill Fellowship's Advisory Council.

Phil commented:

“There has always been a significant emphasis in education on driving attainment (getting higher grades). Importance is also placed on broader achievement, for example the Duke of Edinburgh awards and participation in the school show.

“But all this misses out an important element of education: how engaged children are. What we are trying to do in this programme is take a more holistic approach focused on the ‘how’ and look at what engages children and makes them feel like a successful learner.

“If we can understand what engages children in their learning and education, then that should improve attendance and wellbeing. But this programme is wider than simply addressing non-attendees, or those who are unwell; it is also about helping all children, including those who are in school and setting them all up for a positive future.”

Anna said:

“I come from a slightly different angle to Phil, as he works directly in education, and I work in the apprenticeship space. So, I am really interested in what is happening to young people in schools but also how that goes on to influence what they do.

“There are a number of areas we feel passionate about – whether that’s absenteeism, teacher retention, careers education – but we didn’t want to focus this programme on just one topic. We wanted something that was broad enough to capture as much as possible, without limiting ourselves.”

Both Phil and Anna are excited to see what projects are proposed, which explore interventions happening in other countries.

Phil said:

“What we are looking for are answers, questions and thoughtful research into the question, how do we work with students to provide an education that is really engaging for them in the moment and at the same time teach them ways of being and reflecting that allows for them to have success as they move into work?

“We are really interested in exploration of the community around the child, because there is a sense that everything isn’t joined up. This goes beyond teachers, parents, students and governors, and into, for example, mental health providers.

“We are realistic in that wholesale system change is unlikely to happen, but we can look at changes on a more granular level, such as more project-based assessment, and what the impact of that would be.

“I very much doubt there is a silver bullet out there, but what subtle changes could we make?

Anna added:

“I am particularly interested in careers within the curriculum, and how subjects are able to lean into what’s happening out there in industry to better prepare young people for the future and ensure they are equipped with all their options.

“I am extremely interested in transition points, at post 16 and post 18, and how we set young people up for what the workplace looks like. There is a massive disconnect post-pandemic, with employers going in one direction and young people wanting something different. Plus, we have a change in how we work, with the rise in working from home.

“The pandemic highlighted digital disadvantage for many young people and at the same time we have had huge advances in technology and AI.

“I am hoping to see projects that look at other countries, and what is happening at a national level, as well as spot what would work in a UK setting on a grassroots level.

Our Supporting engagement in education Fellowship programme will open for applications on 4 September 2024.


The views and opinions expressed by any Fellow are those of the Fellow and not of the Churchill Fellowship or its partners, which have no responsibility or liability for any part of them.


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