I was asked to speak on behalf of The 4WD Foundation with the wonderful Captain Sam Conniff of Livity at this Summer’s Channel 4 Education Conference on “What you really need to know, but never never learn at school“.

Sam and I combined our knowledge and experiences that have come from working with young people who aren’t in education, employment or training (NEET) to present the huge impact that educational irrelevance has on these young people. We also spoke about how unhelpful and isolating acronyms like ‘NEET’ are.

Here are some of the main insights that we shared:

The 4WD Insight

Education doesn’t teach students about the lifelong relevance and importance of information. Information is a basic component of knowledge (which is power) and therefore is a micro component of education.

In order to succeed in life, a young person needs to know: – how to initiate, develop and maintain a positive relationship with information They need to know:

– how best to analyse, critique, demand, exploit, interact with, source and value information This enables them to go on to live a life making positive informed life choices & decisions.

1 – Education does not teach the consequences of learning, and without understanding the consequences, we stop learning. Consequential learning can be positive as well as negative and when positive can show young people alternative options to those that they have been presented with socially. Consequential learning needs to become an integral part of education.

2- Social norms and informal education are extremely important to these young people and plays an intrinsic part in defining their personal identity. National curriculum discredits the significance of their informal education and undermines their upbringing and personal background’s importance leading to the individual feeling unrepresented and irrelevant to the system and vice versa. Education needs to credit and celebrate the informal education and social norms that provide the backbone to students’ personal identity.

3- Education conditions students to absorb formal (& often irrelevant) info in the short term for the short term gain (for example to pass exams). While life, on the other hand, needs us to be able to absorb informal complex info both the short and long term for the long term gain (eg to make informed decisions and creatively solve complex problems). These short term information loops limit students ability to think freely and creatively. And we know that young people are more receptive to learning more when engaged in creative activities. Therefore creativity and creative expression needs to become an integral part of education.

4- Education requires students to be followers and conformists whilst life needs leaders, individuals and innovators. Education often represses individuality and unconventional leaders. We all need to develop a sense of personal leadership and education needs to become better at facilitating this. There needs to be more focus peer to peer learning and encouraging leadership and autonomy over their own learning.

5- Through high stress life experience these young people often have a high level of resilience and this resilience is used to create defensive barriers and distance between themselves and their educational experiences. Individuals from this group often place less value on their personal safety due to societal norms and are more likely to be exposed to violence and danger than their peers. This negatively affects the value that they place on their life and the lives of others, and following on affects their views on life purpose and again reinforces the irrelevance of education. Bereavement specifically creates a huge number of barriers to learning and young people from this group are statistically more like to experience grief and bereavement during their educational journey. Aside from the obvious dangers that come with exposure to violence and the normalisation of death, within the education system there are not the processes in place to support young people through these fragile events. Education needs to become better at providing effective trauma management and support.

6 – Natural entrepreneurial spirit is often mis-diagnosed as tendency towards criminal behaviour, and this can go onto become a self fulfilling prophecy. with no other visible outlets. ‘Business, grind, hustle’ is every day life, doing what you have to do to survive. “Entrepreneurial” is a daft, damn long and very misleading word. Enterprise, financial literacy, project planning, understanding the role of (personal) economics are all crucial for success in the business world and legitimate entrepreneurial activity. Education needs to understand and encourage young people’s Entrepreneurial spirit.

7 – Young people have limitless potential. And all young people are responsive to hope and expectation, the level of hope and expectation that is placed on them in the educational environment can vary greatly and is largely dependent on the educational practitioner and their individual outlook, worldview and prejudices. Unfortunately expectations from teachers for this group are often limited and lower and so these limitations combined with societal norms of low educational / life success, are absorbed and manifested (cliché self fulfilling prophecy) in actual life long outcomes. Education and it’s practitioners need to confidently believe in their students Limitless Potential.

The conference’s theme was ‘What Does Learning Mean in the 21st Century‘ with a big focus on Technology’s role in Education today. There were some interesting views shared, especially the anti-tech opinions of the wonderfully entertaining Voldmort impersonator!

Here is a promo video featuring myself and a few other familiar faces from the day 🙂


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