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Nesta is an innovation foundation. For us, innovation means turning bold ideas into reality and changing lives for the better. We use our expertise, skills and funding in areas where there are big challenges facing society.

10 ways you can help improve young people's life chances

Pencils are sharp. Shoes are polished. Teachers are raring to go. It's back to school time for thousands of pupils across Britain.

Unless you’re a teacher or you’ve got a child in school, the start of the school year might not mean that much to you. But if you’re like a lot of people, you still care deeply about the fate of the education sector. Most will remember that teacher who inspired us, or perhaps look back at school or university and know the transformative power that education can have.

It might also be because of some of the deeply troubling trends in education that continue to stump policymakers. These include issues around social mobility, which for many represents one of the key purposes of education. The Education Policy Institute’s latest research shows that “the most disadvantaged pupils... are now on average over 2 full years of learning behind non-disadvantaged pupils by the end of secondary.”

Other well-publicised challenges include difficulties recruiting and retaining enough high quality teachers, while the school system, like much of the public sector, continues to grapple with issues around funding.

So what can you do to help?

Through our work to design more people-powered public services, Nesta has been backing a range of innovations that train skilled volunteers to support young people - in schools themselves, providing one-to-one support outside of schools, or through different forms of online support - whether that’s for an hour or two a week or full-time opportunities.

Here are ten practical ways you can get involved in a meaningful and effective way:

1.Mentor a young person

Mentoring can be an effective way of supporting a young person to grow their confidence and realise their innate potential. The Careers and Enterprise Company is a great place to look for a local mentoring programme in your area. Some of our favourites are One Million Mentors, which provides you with training and online support to become part of a national mentoring movement, or, if you’re over 50, why not become a Grandmentor and transform the life of a young person leaving care. If you’re a university student and enjoy debating, work with Debate Mate to bring debating clubs to schools and help students develop their confidence.

2. Tutor a pupil at your local school or online

There’s a wealth of evidence that shows children who receive tuition do better at school, particularly pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds. But private tutors are not always affordable for those who need them most. Help a bright student from a disadvantaged background improve their grades, beat the odds and get to a top university by becoming a volunteer tutor with charities like Action Tutoring, The Access Project, the Tutor Fair Foundation or Language Futures. Nesta has been supporting these charities to scale their work, including through the use of digital technology.

3. Volunteer an hour or two a week in a school

There are lots of things teachers and teaching assistants would love to be able to do but with their busy schedules simply don’t have the time. This is where you could come in and lend a hand. Volunteer with Transforming Lives for Good (TLG), a Christian charity that trains you to have a positive impact on primary aged children by building their confidence and helping tackle behavioural problems. Another great charity you can volunteer with is Beanstalk, which helps improve literacy through one-to-one reading lessons with kids in primary school who have fallen behind in their reading and struggle with self-esteem.

4. Give a ‘year of service’ in a disadvantaged school

If you’re a young person who’s passionate about tackling educational inequality, why not go a step further and sign-up for a year of full-time volunteering in a school with City Year UK. City Year UK puts teams of trained volunteers directly into schools in disadvantaged communities to help pupils succeed. As well as having a huge impact on children’s lives, it’s a chance for you to develop leadership skills and invest in your own future.

5. Be a role model and inspire students

Role models can have a powerful impact on how young people see themselves and what they think they can achieve. Why not head back to your old school, tell students your story and inspire them? Contact your school directly or sign up through platforms like Future First or Inspiring the Future to be matched to a school near you. Have a STEM background? Become a Stem Ambassador and engage the next generation of STEM professionals, or inspire young women to work in STEM fields with Stemettes.

6. Get your employer involved

Encouraging your organisation to provide work experience and job visits can make a big difference to what a young person ends up doing by exposing them to a range of employment possibilities. Create a work placement with In2ScienceUK to support kids from disadvantaged backgrounds become the next generation of scientists, engineers and innovators, sign up with Enabling Enterprise to help bring the world of work into the classroom, or provide large numbers of volunteers as a corporate partner of organisations like The Access Project.

7. Help kids learn tech skills for the future

Are you passionate about tech? You could help children learn vital skills for the future by volunteering to help kids learn coding with Code Club or with CoderDojo (you don’t need to be a coding genius), or help kids develop their own app products with Apps for Good - using your entrepreneurial or business skills.

8. Crowdfund access for kids to the latest tech in classrooms

There’s often a big divide between schools in terms of the technology kids have access to in their classrooms. To try to combat this Nesta has developed Rocket Fund, a crowdfunding platform to help more young people have access to the latest, most effective education technology. You can donate to a range of cool projects (or encourage a teacher friend to set up a project!)

9. Become a governor of your local school

Governors are one of the largest volunteer groups in the country, and play a vital role in ensuring schools deliver a high quality education for all students by providing strategic support and challenge to school leaders. Schools need governors with a range of skills and experiences - whatever your background, you can provide real value as a member of a governing body. Anyone over 18 can be a governor and you don’t have to be a parent: go to Governors for Schools or Inspiring Governance to find a governing position or contact your local school to find out if they have vacancies.

10. Teach!

And if you’re really keen... how about a career change? Now more than ever, we need talented individuals to train to become highly effective teachers. Recent analysis suggests we may need nearly 50,000 new secondary teachers by 2024! So head to Get into Teaching or Teach First to find out more.


Will Bibby

Will Bibby

Will Bibby

Senior Programme Manager, Government Innovation

Will was a Senior Programme Manager working on Nesta's people-powered public services and education programmes.

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Jed Cinnamon

Jed Cinnamon

Jed Cinnamon

Senior Programme Manager, A Fairer Start

Jed was a senior programme manager in the fairer start mission at Nesta.

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