Tag Archives: young people

How do young people experience the outdoors, and why does it matter?

By Jo Hickman Dunne, Loughborough University

Outdoor education is often considered to be a central tenant of a holistic and enriching curriculum. But is it always beneficial? What do young people really experience when they go ‘outward bound’?

Photo credit: Jo Hickman Dunne

We know that the Government is making a concerted effort to give young people a more rounded education. We can see it in the Education secretary Damian Hinds’ vision for character and resilience, laid out earlier this year. Hinds took the view that character and resilience are as crucial to young people’s future success as academic qualifications. This move goes hand-in-hand with changes to the way Ofsted will inspect schools from September 2019. The new inspection model will move Ofsted’s focus away from headline data (exam and grade outcomes) to assessing the substance of education (how schools achieve results and whether pupils are offered a broad curriculum). This is an acknowledgement that an inspection regime focussed on exam performance can result in perverse incentives and constrain what is taught in the classroom. For example, schools might feel pressured to ‘teach to the test’ and find it difficult to offer their pupils a broad and rich curriculum.

Changes to Ofsted include 3 newly formed inspection judgements for schools:

  • Personal development;
  • Behaviour and attitudes;
  • School’s leadership and managemen

Assessing how schools are delivering in these areas goes some way to answering a question laid out by Hinds in his February speech: “How do we instil this [character resilience] in young people, how do we make sure they are ready to make their way in the world as robust and confident individuals?”

Perhaps answering this question is even more pertinent in light of the current concerns around (lack of) social mobility. The recently released State of the Nation 2018 to 2019 report from The Social Mobility Commission makes clear the entrenched nature of inequality in British society. The Guardian highlights the “double disadvantages” of class, disability, ethnicity and gender discussed in the report, whereby those falling into more than one of these groups are more likely to experience serious life-long disadvantage.

Outdoor education is certainly a tool in the box of those looking to help young people overcome some of these disadvantages. It is seen as a means of equipping participants with a whole range of social and emotional skills to overcome setbacks and support them in education, life and work. My most recent paper for The Geographical Journal discusses young people’s experiences of an outdoor education programme. It offers a new perspective on what participants take away from their engagements with outdoor environments. In taking a geographical perspective, I move away from more classic outdoor learning research, which all too often focuses on outcomes to prove the value of this educational approach. My paper draws on detailed qualitative research with 44 young people (aged 11-14). It explores their physical encounters with ‘natural’ and ‘wild’ places during an Outward Bound Trust course. My paper illustrates how the young people mediate their experiences of outdoor learning and reflects on how they describe their feelings of empowerment, fun, disgust, and connection with the environment.

This research both complements and challenges understandings of the types of learning experiences that might take place in outdoor education settings. Firstly, I dispute the idea that using technology acts to undermine the ‘authenticity’ of outdoor learning. I show that in reality, particular technologies and material accessories become enablers in outdoor learning practice and enhance young people’s learning experiences. Secondly, I demonstrate that outdoor learning is not always positive and educational. For instance, one group of young people in the study certainly did not find pleasure in mud and dirt, and physically struggled walking on uneven and slippery surfaces, which detracted from what they took away from their week. Through this case study, I consider some of the challenges inherent to outdoor education associated with those ‘disadvantaged’ groups outlined in the State of the Nation report. For example, the report notes the importance of rich and diverse school experiences for promoting social mobility, whilst highlighting that a broader range of extra-curricular activities are available to more advantaged groups of young people. 

Through this paper I want to open up a more nuanced understanding of what outdoor education can offer young people. I move beyond the abstract learning experience, which is assumed to make young people more resilient, and consider how young people’s bodies and social identities interact with outdoor environments to impact on learning. In so doing we can start to pose some further questions: is outdoor education always positive? when might it be an opportunity (or not) for young people? How might we need to adapt it to ensure it is always an inclusive learning experience?

About the Author: Jo Hickman Dunne is a postgraduate research student at the department of Geography and Environment at Loughborough University. Jo’s article in The Geographical Journal is available from:

Hickman Dunne, J. (2018) Experiencing the outdoors: Embodied encounters in the Outward Bound Trust. The Geographical Journal. Advance online publication. 1-13. https://doi.org/10.1111/geoj.12288

Studying Abroad and the Neoliberal ‘Cult of Experience’ in the Youth Labour Market

By Ashley Crowson, King’s College London

Figures released this week have shown that more UK students than ever are travelling abroad as part of their degree programmes.

Last year, 15,566 UK students studied in another country as participants in the European Union’s Erasmus programme. This was a 115% increase in the number who took part in 2007, when the scheme was first extended to the UK. Large increases in students travelling to China, India and the USA have also been observed.

The figures were released ahead of the British Council’s annual ‘Going Global’ conference for leaders of international education. Professor Rebecca Hughes, British Council Director of Education, said, “This latest evidence confirms that a growing number of the UK’s students are recognising the huge value to be gained from international experience… The UK needs graduates who have the skills and confidence to compete globally, and can compete against foreign talent that may speak more languages, and have wider international experience.”

An Erasmus promotional video highlighting the professional benefits of studying abroad.

Clare Holdsworth addresses the seemingly uncontroversial nature of such statements in a recent article for Area. Holdsworth argues:

Young people are called upon to make themselves employable through engaging in a range of experiences that may include: volunteering, work experience, paid work, internships, travel, leisure and membership of organisations. This fetishizing of experience is becoming so normalised that it is rarely contested. It appears self-evident that in order to protect themselves against an absent future, young people need to not only complete more education and/or training, but they have to acquire experiences to stand out from the crowd.

Holdsworth takes issue with the commodification of experience, suggesting that experiences gained in order to guarantee a better future are ‘conventional and passive’, and have little to do with experimentation, creativity, exploration or learning. Holdworth’s main focus, however, is with the popular notion that the acquisition of experience is a solution to the difficulties of the current youth labour market:

The prevailing popular discourse of youth is one of failure against the need to do better. Thus if academic grades increase, this is because of grade inflation; if more young people are out of work, this is because they do not have the correct skills; if graduates cannot get jobs, this is because they have not acquired the right ‘experiences’… This failure to see beyond the supply side of the labour market is having profound effects on young people’s lives… Not only are young people still faced with the difficulty of finding a job, they are having to do so in direct competition with their peers in a ever-growing globalised labour supply… Thus programmes for work experience, placements, volunteering, internships etc. are rolled out in order to compel young people to invest in their own futures…The cult of experience reinforces this charging of responsibility and passes over other solutions that target the demand side of the youth labour market.

The article highlights the arms race-like nature of the neoliberal youth employment market: as experience is seen as increasingly necessary in order to compete with one’s peers, young people are compelled to engage in more and more homogenised ‘experiences’, effectively ‘running faster in order to stand still’. Invariably, those who win this experience arms race are those with the greatest financial means.

This article also raises important questions for university geography departments; fieldwork has long been seen as a crucial part of a geography degree, but how, in a neoliberal educational establishment, can the experience of fieldwork be elevated above that of a CV-enhancing commodity and turned into a ‘genuine’ learning experience, encouraging students to explore, experiment and consider their own subjectivity?

 Clare Holdsworth, 2015, The cult of experience: standing out from the crowd in an era of austerityArea, DOI: 10.1111/area.12201.

Young People, Immigration and Stereotypes

By Kate Botterill

A recent large-scale, attitudinal survey of young people, conducted by the National Foundation for Education Research (NFER) charity in over 35 countries, found that intolerance towards immigration among English teenagers is higher than the international average, particularly in relation to migrants from within Europe. A longitudinal survey was conducted among teenagers between the ages of 11 and 18 and found that attitudes to immigration ‘hardened’ with age.

Professor Kerr from the NFER declared that “they support notions of equality in gender and race in theory, but when it comes to actual immigration, they are less tolerant than young people in the other countries. It could be that we’re living in an increasingly competitive world and they are mainly worried for their own prospects.” I would argue that further research is needed to uncover the detailed reasons for this worrying growth in intolerance towards immigration with age. There is a value in complimenting the evidence gained through large scale longitudinal surveys with qualitative, in-depth research on the identities and subjectivities of young people.

The voices of young people are seldom heard in this way and much of the academic research on the identities and subjectivities of young people perform this function well. In a special issue of Area (vol. 42) this year a number of authors have offered contributions which place importance on young people as key actors in society. One such contribution comes from Caitlin Cahill (2010) who uses Participatory Action Research (PAR) to explore the emotional and economic impacts of immigrant stereotyping on young Latino immigrants living in Salt Lake City, Utah.

By exploring the everyday experiences of young people through an arts-based participatory project, Cahill seeks to ‘reframe’ immigration through the process of PAR. She discusses the geopolitical discourse of immigration in Utah – ‘one of the last white ‘frontiers’’ in the USA – and collaborates with young people to reveal counter-narratives of everyday experience and expressions of resistance that challenge dominant meta-narratives on immigration. Through the use of PAR in researching young people’s lives Cahill is unequivocally ‘acknowledging young people as transformative subjects, not passive victims or the collateral damage of the sweeping forces of globalisation’ (p.160).

Read Peter Walker’s article – ‘Teenagers harden views on immigration as they age’ in The Guardian

Read Cahill, C. (2010) ‘Why do they hate us?’ Reframing immigration through participatory action research. Area, 42(2) pp.152-161


The geographies of schools

By Rosa Mas Giralt

BBC2 is currently showing a number of documentaries and dramas under the banner of School Season. The programmes focus on the current education system in the UK and explore issues around schools, parents, teachers and pupils. So far, there have been very interesting contributions such as John Humphry’s documentary Unequal Opportunities examining the reasons why there continues to be great differences between the educational attainment of advantaged and disadvantaged pupils; although completely engaging and illuminating, the programme exposed once more that, without adequate resources and investment, improving the educational opportunities of children from disadvantaged backgrounds is very difficult to achieve. Another absorbing programme was the drama Excluded, which focused on an inner-city school and a pupil who faced exclusion for his disruptive behaviour, showing the complexity of issues that may affect a young person’s life and the difficult task of those in the teaching profession who need to make decisions which can be life-changing for pupils. The season continues and most of the programmes can be watched on the BBC website (for a limited number of days) or they can be downloaded from the BBC iPlayer.

The sub-discipline of children’s geographies has provided influential research aimed at deepening our understanding of the lives, experiences, identities and spaces/places of young people and has foregrounded their capabilities as social actors on their own right. A recent contribution to this scholarship is an article by Barker et al. (2010) in the current issue of Area. This paper explores a new internal space created in some schools in which pupils, who have been temporarily excluded (fix-term exclusions), can be confined, the so called “Seclusion Units”. Using a Foucauldian approach, the authors map these spaces, explore their surveillance and power structures and the possibilities for resistance which pupils have within them. Importantly, the authors find commonalities between the spatial practices of these units and those of other penal spaces such as prisons; this leads them to issue a call for a “moral debate about the desirability of these contemporary educational practices” (2010: 385), a debate which seems crucial.

 Visit the BBC’s School Season website to discover more about the programmes

 Read John Barker et al. (2010) “Pupils or prisoners? Institutional geographies and internal exclusion in UK secondary schools”. Area. 42(3): 378-386

Against stereotyping

By Rosa Mas Giralt

Yesterday evening, the BBC2 programme Newsnight featured an investigative report by Richard Watson. During this investigation, reporters managed to buy two faked offer letters to enrol in a college in Britain for £200 and £150 in each case. These invitation letters are essential for non-EU citizens to be able to apply for a student visa to enter the UK under the points system recently introduced. In a sense, what the programme unearthed was another example of how some people are using the migration system in the UK to exploit the situation of would be migrants.

Unfortunately, these types of criminal activities also exacerbate stereotypes and prejudices against migrants, who are portrayed as willing to break the law to enter the country surreptitiously and to take advantage of opportunities to improve their economic situation. It could be argued that the fraudsters exploit migrants in a twofold way, economically, but also symbolically, by reinforcing widely held stereotypes. Public perceptions, in turn, have material impacts on the everyday life and wellbeing of migrants.

In a forthcoming article for Area, Caitlin Cahill (2010) discusses a participatory action research project called “Dreaming of No Judgement”, which was conducted by the grassroots community initiative Mestizo Arts & Activism Collective based in Salt Lake City (US). Following a participatory methodology, the project was undertaken collaboratively by young Latino researchers and other members of the community group. As Cahill explains their “project draws connections between representations of immigrant communities and access to opportunities, by focusing upon the emotional and economic impacts of stereotyping” (2010: 7). By bringing to the fore and making visible everyday embodied experiences of the effects of stereotyping, projects such as this contribute to the long-term struggle for social justice.

Watch Richard Watson’s Newsnight report on the BBC iPlayer

Read Richard Watson’s article about the investigation on the BBC website

Read Caitlin Cahill (2010) “‘Why do they hate us?’ Reframing immigration through participatory action research”. Area. [Early View]

Visit the Mestizo Institute for Culture & Arts’ website

Young people’s political voices

Houseofcommons1851

By Rosa Mas Giralt

On 30th October 2009 the Houses of Parliament in the UK had youthful guests. Three hundred members of the UK Youth Parliament, ranging from 11 to 18 years of age, sat on the benches of the Commons to hold their annual debate and discuss issues such as lowering the voting age to 16, youth crime and how to tackle it, public transport for young people, jobs for young people and the economy and university fees. The UK Youth Parliament was established between 1999 and 2001 with the intention of providing youngsters with a forum to participate in politics and work for social change (see their website for details http://www.ukyouthparliament.org.uk).

The UK Youth Parliament is just one example of the importance of recognizing young people’s active social and political roles and their potential contribution to wider political debate. In a forthcoming article for Area, Tracey Skelton calls for Political Geography to recognize young people as full political actors and not only as “political subjects in waiting” and to “acknowledge that political policies, practices and discourses have direct impacts on young people and that young people do not accept these impacts passively but are actively engaged as political subjects and agents” (2009:2). Furthermore, she examines the division between ‘P’ politics (a formal and public understanding of institutional and macro politics) and ‘p’ politics (the informal, grass-roots, individual and micro politics) to illustrate how young people are ideally positioned to “perform, articulate and conceptualise a melded and blended P/politics”, to “go beyond the binary and create something potentially politically new” (Skelton, 2009: 6). In this sense, Political Geography can help to recognize the contributions that young people can make in changing the very nature of politics.

60% world Read about the UK Youth Parliament debate in the House of Commons on the UK Youth Parliament’s website

60% world Watch the UK Youth Parliament debate on the BBC iPlayer

60% world Read Tracey Skelton (2009) “Taking young people as political actors seriously: opening the borders of political geography”. Area. Forthcoming.