Is it possible for disadvantaged children to lead the public debate?


  • Picture of Solomon Elliott
    Solomon Elliott
  • Education
  • Schools
  • Skills
  • Vocational education
  • Accessibility & inclusion
  • Institutional reform
  • Social productivity
  • Fellowship
  • Youth engagement

Solomon Elliott FRSA is the founder of The Student View, an online publication written by young people in disadvantaged areas to help prepare and encourage them to become the next generation of leaders.

One Thursday afternoon in November 2014 I was in a University of London Union lecture room. Halfway during the Teach First English training session I was told that the best teachers were those who placed the perspectives of their students at the centre of their practice.

Enthused by this theory I immediately started mind-mapping for a pupil-led platform where students were given a chance to express themselves and be heard.

In conversations with friends who were on the Teach First Leadership Development Programme it was not uncommon to hear anecdotes about pupils who either did not recognise or interchangeably confused Ed Miliband, Nick Clegg and David Cameron.

Through no fault of their own, we felt that due to a variety of complex reasons this was reflective of a broader lack of interest in current affairs among the bright and sparky youngsters we taught.

Further research found that the most disadvantaged backgrounds faced the following socio-educational barriers:

  • “88% of young people feel that their voices are not being heard.” Sky News/Survation Poll, 2014

  • “English schoolchildren are amongst the unhappiest in the world.” The Children’s Society, 2015

  • “Children from disadvantaged backgrounds are more likely to have low-levels of self-belief and not feel in control of their success at school.” The Fair Education Alliance, 2014

I founded The Student View to inspire the next generation to feel comfortable comprehending the pillars of our democracy and feel encouraged to not only participate but prepare to lead its progress over the 21st century.

We at The Student View are dedicated to making the voices of England’s schoolchildren heard and in doing so aim to remove these brakes on social justice.

We are a permanent, powerful and not-for-profit online publication, written by the students, for the students. We use online journalism to give today’s youth a chance to share their world through words. Students from any background can contribute to The Student View with the approval of their schools and families. However, we work predominantly with schools located in our most deprived communities.

We aim to ensure that if students who are at risk of making below average progress in English are targeted, nurtured, praised and published on TSV platform, they will become more creative, resilient, confident and happy.

This theory of change is heavily influenced by the American educationalist Dr Marvin Berkowitz and in particular his call to give students clear and defined opportunities to develop their character. The Student View follows this line of thought with our values. We embed the values of truth, community, optimism, open-mindedness and balance in the discussion and writing practices of our students.

We offer a 28 week programme where journalists trained at Master’s level and above lead ten hour long online journalism enrichment sessions for students aged 11-16.

Working with a partner school we analysed the internal school data of a cohort of pupils by comparing the FSM intervention group against the rest of the FSM students in their year group.

We analysed their progress from before The Student View online journalism enrichment to the end of programme. We found that the intervention group made nearly two times the English progress of the FSM control group. The difference equated to more than two sub-levels of English progress across the term while students took part in the programme.

In accordance with the Fair Education Impact Goals we strive to “ensure young people develop key strengths, including character, wellbeing and mental health to support high aspirations.”

Our programme overlaps with the RSA’s focus on creative learning and development. Closing the ‘creativity gap’ is more urgent than ever.

The Sutton Trust’s Leading People 2016 report found that one in 5 leading print journalists were educated at comprehensive schools, even though comprehensive schools educate 88% of children in England. At The Student View we believe that we have the solution to combine improvements in English attainment, student wellbeing and news knowledge.

With Jeremy Corbyn and Tim Farron endorsing votes at 16 and with 16-year-old Scots voting in the 2015 independence referendum we are not light years from the prospect of another 1.6 million eligible voters.

On top of a rigorous citizenship curriculum we need a variety of creative extra-curricular programmes to ensure that England’s schoolchildren find the transition to adult citizenry smooth.

Analysis of the 2011 England riots found that 42% of those who were arrested were to be in receipt of free school meals and two-thirds had special educational needs.

Pitching our project at RSA Engage in May I came across a variety of enthusiastic Fellows who were excited at the prospect of challenging this stubborn and unjust reality. I am currently strategising the scaling of The Student View with two other Fellows whom I connected with at RSA Engage:

Owen Valentine Pringle FRSA is devising the digital strategy to maximise the reach of our online journalists across social media.

Dr Amitava Banerjee FRSA is a senior lecturer at UCL’s Farr Institute of Health Informatics, and is running a pilot scheme in collaboration with The Student View to promote our students’ understanding of public health issues. This pilot will run in ten schools and will reach 150 students if awarded RSA Catalyst funding.

We at The Student View are working towards a day when children from disadvantaged backgrounds will be a leading voice in the public realm.

If you would like to join this exciting journey feel free to contact me:

[email protected]

Follow us on Twitter:

Solomon Elliott FRSA is the Founder and CEO of The Student View.

Be the first to write a comment


Please login to post a comment or reply

Don't have an account? Click here to register.