Our CEO, Sally Melvin, was invited to give a speech at the Mayor’s Symposium for Sustainable Economic Growth today. Sally spoke to a wide audience including Council members, business leaders and representatives from other voluntary sector organisations.

The key points of her speech were:

  • Future sustainable economic growth needs to include engaging and motivating ALL young people in our region
  • There is an identified problem in the Bristol area. There is a divide and a disparity in HE progression. Data suggests that a young person’s postcode can directly affect their HE progression choices.
  • There is a danger that as the city’s economy grows these young people will continue to be left behand or be unable to benefit from this growth.
  • We all have a duty to address the inequality and inclusion problems this poses.
  • Young people face a series of issues
    • economic disadvantage
    • low aspiration
    • social and cultural barriers to HE progression
    • fear of the unknown
    • concerns about financial implications of HE
    • higher than average levels of disengagement pre16
  • Collaboration is vital to tackle these issues and break down the barriers
  • The economic growth and uplift of disadvantaged wards in Bristol will have a positive impact on the economic health and growth of the city as a whole
  • Business has a key role to play. The more businesses that are willing to be active partners and change makers in our fight for equality and social mobility the more we can achieve.

Full transcript of the speech

I am Sally Melvin, Chief Exec of Ablaze a charity that works with young people from 7 to 18 in the WoE region. We recruit businesses to work on programmes in schools to support young people in a variety of ways. Our aim is to facilitate social mobility by increasing confidence and self-belief and providing information and advice to enable young people to make informed choices about their future and crucially choices which match their potential.

I think future sustainable economic growth in Bristol needs to include us motivating and engaging all the young people in our city to become the workforce of the future.

There are many great initiatives happening in Bristol – today I’m going to focus on the challenges we face and one particular programme I am involved in that from my perspective is working to overcome these challenges to achieve a diverse and inclusive workforce.

Future Quest is a regional initiative, concentrated in Bristol and the surrounding areas, and is part of the National Collaborative Outreach Programme funded by Hefce, higher education funding council for england.

NCOP’s aims are to increase participation of students from disadvantaged backgrounds and the number of student from ethnic minority groups into HE.

FQ consortium is a partnership of both universities, FE colleges, the Learning City, the LEP and various not for profit and charitable organisations like Ablaze that work directly with schools and young people in the region.

NCOP has identified 26 wards in the Bristol region where progression to HE is low, less than 16%. The FQ programme is working with young people in all these wards with particular emphasis on those areas where participation is lower than expected given GCSE attainment rates.

FQ is working to tackle barriers to progression for young people, where attainment is not the key issue. We are focused on developing the skills and confidence in young people, providing them with the information, contacts and guidance that they will need, celebrating their successes and particularly involving their parents, families and communities in a dialogue about post 18 options.

So we know there is a problem in the Bristol area. There is a divide and a disparity in HE progression. Data suggests that a young person’s postcode can directly affect their HE progression choices. There is a danger that as the city’s economy grows these young people will continue to be left behand or be unable to benefit from this growth. We all have a duty to address the inequality and inclusion problems this poses.

Clearly there is a gap between aspiration and ability and a mindset of ‘not for people like me’ when it comes to making post18 choices for many young people.

So what are the issues?

Young people in the target wards face a variety of and in some cases all of these issues:-

  • economic disadvantage
  • low aspiration
  • social and cultural barriers to HE progression
  • fear of the unknown
  • concerns about financial implications of HE
  • higher than average levels of disengagemnt pre16 – this was highlighted in the recent research paper published by the CEC mapping disengagement across the country

Future Quest is working to break down these barriers and change attitudes among the young people, their communities and the schools they attend.

As a consortium we are trying to set aside differences, putting our common goal ahead of the strategic aims of our individual organisations and working collaboratively to tackle these issues together.

We know we have a steep hill to climb but there is no doubt that trying to address this inequality is vital to the stability and economic well being of Bristol in the future. I’m no economist but a couple of things seem clear to me

  • the economic growth and uplift of disadvantaged wards in Bristol, which will be supported by the increased participation of its younger population in HE, will have a positive impact on the economic health and growth of the city as a whole
  • there is a large pool of untapped talent in our city – Bristol has a great track record of attracting and retaining graduate talent but historically we have been less successful in identifying and nurturing potential future talent that is home grown

FQ is a collaboration of education providers and institutions and we can go a long way to support a change in outcomes for young people from disadvantaged areas of the city but there is also a key role that business can play in this process. The more businesses that are willing to be active partners and change makers in our fight for equality and social mobility the more we can achieve.