According to Garth Stahl – an academic who spent three years researching why white working class boys were the worst performing ethnic group at school – boys across three schools in south London (aged between 14-16 and of mixed academic ability) all wanted to do well… but not too well. Peer acceptance was important but equally they didn’t want to fail.
What was interesting was that this attitude was at odds with the school’s ‘learn equals earn’ motto that had been adopted to try and encourage and raise the aspirations of its students. ‘Learn equals earn’ plays on the idea that our future selves want to earn a good salary when actually, the students interviewed had a far more egalitarian view of the world. Learn to earn did not understand the mindset of the very people it was trying to target. Clearly if the students had been interviewed before the marketing motto was rolled out then a more effective set of quotes and materials could have been designed.
This is another example of ‘the system’ not understanding and getting to grips with the behaviours and values of those it is trying to help. iMPOWER uses behavioural insight approaches in the areas of health, social care and wider council services. But what this article also shows is that there is a great opportunity to use this approach within the skills and education system (where the take up seems slow compared to other policy areas).
The skills and education system (like many public services) is pretty complex and in need of an overhaul. Behaviour change is by no means the solution, but understanding pupils and their aspirations to ‘nudge’ them to make better choices (and in particular, choices where the demand for work is high but the supply of skills is low) would be a good place to start.