Our chosen area of work is the education sector, which many people say is failing our children. Currently, there is an inordinate focus on academic ability and getting good exam grades. Many feel children should be the central focus of the education system – not the chasing of exam grades and jostling for better positions in school league tables. Headteachers, school staff and pupils are all under severe pressure in a system driven by Government policy that is turning our schools into exam factories.
At the Social Enterprise Yorkshire and Humber Awards, where Evolve received the Social Enterprise of the Year title, I was struck by the strong representation of education. The excellent guest speaker was headteacher Nathan Atkinson, who started his Fuel for School initiative to feed hungry pupils breakfast so they had enough energy to learn. Elliot Turnbull, of The Works Skate Park in Leeds that supports disaffected youngsters, won the Social Entrepreneur title.
This strong education representation at the awards illustrates how the education system needs to be challenged and positively disrupted for the benefit of the next generation. Our society and education system are breeding despair in the next generation and fails those children who are not typically academic, which is the vast majority of children.
Innovative, holistic approaches are desperately needed – which is where highly motivated social enterprises come into their own. Inactivity and obesity are finally being addressed in a more positive way than just giving focus, and funding, to PE and school sport. The equally alarming issues around the mental health of children are only now being recognised. For boys aged nine to 15, suicide is now the second most common cause of death.
Almost 10 years ago Evolve created Project Hero (Health Engagement Real Outcomes) to specifically reduce the rise in obesity and inactivity levels among children. However, it became quickly apparent that these were part of a much bigger problem – the health, wellbeing and education of a generation. Hero has been evaluated by two independent sources – Leeds Beckett University and LKMco – confirming the programme is having positive impact on the emotional wellbeing of both children and teachers. There is a very strong case to say there should be at least one Evolve health mentor in every school.
Evolve health mentors are deployed by forward thinking headteachers as active, positive role models and develop a special rapport with their pupils and inspire them to a more positive outlook and better outcomes. Our health mentors deliver a unique menu of activities to help pupils develop socially, physically, emotionally and academically. Headteachers choose from the menu what will best solve the challenges that their school faces and progress is rigorously measured for impact. Evolve has expanded every year through the help of forward-thinking headteachers and the expertise and encouragement of our team; now more than 100-strong.
Unfortunately, the health and wellbeing of children has become something of a bandwagon, and a cash cow, for some companies. Expensive “fat camps”, often staffed by students and volunteers, are springing up and there are many commercial operators using poorly qualified and part-time staff on zero-hours contracts. Innovative social enterprise and impact companies are filling the gaps in an education system that prioritises data and academic success over putting children and their teachers first.
What kind of society puts such pressure on those who educate and nurture that they leave in droves and only values high achievers in the classroom?
As a nation, from Government down to every school and family, we need to accept that the health and wellbeing of all of our children must be our priority over the chase for exam grades for the academic minority. The fun has been taken out of childhood and too many children and young people feel they are failures, have no worth or value and do not see a positive future. This makes it vital that social enterprise continues to positively disrupt and challenge the status quo – not just in education. If not, our children, and indeed society, have a bleak future.
Graham Morgan is chairman of Keighley-based Evolve, a winner at the Social Enterprise of the Year awards.