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Influencers have their say on education in Cardiff

A group of young people have been given a glimpse of the future of education in Cardiff – and a chance to put their own stamp on how it could look.

The Cardiff Young Influencers are an 18-strong group of 13- and 14-year-olds who volunteered to take part in a five-day School Organisation Planning summer school at County Hall.

The programme is designed to give young people a platform and the ability to give their opinions on key decisions on school organisation and investment strategy and how the authority will invest millions of pounds in Cardiff schools over the next 10 years.

During the programme, the Influencers, from all areas of the city and from a mixture of English- and Welsh-medium community and faith schools, enjoyed a series of team-building exercises, examined the factors involved in making planning decisions, took part in an interviewing workshop, examined current and progressive approaches to education and visited some high-profile city landmarks, including the new BBC studios and Cardiff City FC.

One of the highlights was a visit to the new Fitzalan School being built by Kier near to the Cardiff City stadium. Here, they saw how modern schools are being built in often radically different new ways as education practices are implemented and changes in society evolve.

At the end of the week, the Influencers put into practice all they had learnt during a series of interviews with Cllr Sarah Merry, the council’s deputy leader and the Cabinet Member for Education.

“For the team that put the week together it was a very successful exercise and very enjoyable,” said Michele Duddridge-Friedl, who devised and led the programme. “We explored lots of different approaches to education and it brought home to us the importance of digital learning to these students, how they would like more freedom and what and how they learn going forward.

“The Influencers were clear about the importance of schools as places to interact with their peers and how learning does not begin and end at the school gates. They shared their desire to benefit from a wider range of experiences both in and out of school along with a plea to further embrace the opportunities presented by digital and virtual learning as part of a wide education package that reflects how many industries have embraced technology and the swift progress made during the pandemic.

“It was especially eye-opening at the Fitzalan construction site where they could see how new approaches to education are shaping the way schools are built, and how the modern digital approaches adopted by the BBC in its new facilities have been designed to respond to the way people engage with visual content – they could see how the technological advances applied in the different contexts both have the potential to be transferable to how we could learn in the future.”

They also investigated the opportunities made possible by the internet, with one Influencer suggesting thought be given to the potential to allow pupils to learn at their own pace and develop their own interests through the use of algorithms.

She was encouraged that most of those on the summer school want to engage with the programme in the future, initially with another meeting in September and later giving their input into live proposals relating to education put before the council’s Cabinet.

“It was encouraging to hear that the Influencers know that as adults working to deliver change we are serious about giving them a voice and listening to their views about how our education infrastructure and provision evolves,” she said.

One of the Influencers, 13-year-old Isra Zaman, from Grangetown, said: “I’ve learned loads of things this week and it’s been fun as well. I could have been bored at home but here I’ve made new friends, I’ve learnt so much about our schools now and how much effort and money goes into changing them. I’ve had lots of different experiences, including a boat ride in the Bay, and seen things in a different way.”

Her friend, Ila Carroll, also 13, from Grangetown, said she had come to realise during the week that schools should be used more outside of the working day. “We think the council should let the community use schools to play sport, learn languages and use the facilities all year round,” she added.

Tyrese Attard, 13, from Cathays, said he couldn’t wait for more opportunities to make his voice heard. “It’s been really good fun,” he added, “and a good experience. I like how we’ve been taken seriously and been able to influence the future of education in Cardiff.”

Cllr Merry praised the youngsters for their enthusiasm and commitment to the programme, and they way they challenged her during the interviews. “I found them really thought-provoking as I was asked a wide spread of questions. The pupils were really passionate about how education can help tackle inequality and wanted to understand what motivated me.

“My parents left school when they were 14 and 15 and it marked them all the way through their lives in different ways. It is why I want every young person to get the best education but also to know there are always opportunities to learn even after they have left formal education.

“We also need to recognise all the barriers that pupils have to overcome outside of school too if we want them to achieve all that they can.

“It really came through too how keen they are to widen access to all the facilities that our new schools in particular have to offer.”

“The Cardiff Influencers programme is just one of the ways Cardiff Council is working to ensure every child and young person has their voice, needs and priorities heard by developing their skills, encouraging and supporting them to get involved in shaping the city and making sure people take their views seriously.

“Ensuring there is a wide range of opportunities for young people to engage with the key decisions that affect them is essential if we are to deliver services that genuinely reflect their needs and aspirations and is key to the council’s bid to become an internationally recognised Child-Friendly City.

“I look forward to working with them and their peers on how we take things forward.”