Blog: UN SDG 4: Quality Education

Date Posted:31/07/2022

As we focused on United Nations Sustainability Development Goal 4 over July, I wanted to reflect on the pandemic and highlight the importance of the factors impacting students’ ability to get the best out of their education.

Schools and other educational establishments do so much for our local communities and have a large impact on developing the whole student and not just their academic success. However, for children to really get the best out of their education, they rely on many additional factors which have truly been exposed throughout the pandemic. Schools stayed open for children of key workers, donated their science equipment to the National Health Service for Personal Protective Equipment, created sports and well-being resources for students, arranged well-being doorstop visits and delivered food parcels and laptops to the communities most vulnerable. 

Despite schools going above and beyond and being a core element of our communities, with limited funding and resources, there is only so much they can do and we have seen the real impact that a lack of in-school learning has had on children’s ability to get the best out of their education.

First and foremost students must have their basic needs met in order to focus on anything else. Students who are hungry do not have the right fuel to concentrate, students who are living in poverty do not have the right equipment to access a fair education and without good health and well-being they are not in the right mental state to get the best out of their education.

Students also need equal opportunities and universal value regardless of their gender, race, religious beliefs or economic status. They need a peaceful and inclusive society in safe and sustainable cities and communities with decent training and employment opportunities.

With school closures during the pandemic, students experienced increased mental health issues and anxiety, feelings of isolation and digital isolation and it the Education Policy Institute predicts that each student will also face an estimated lost lifetime earnings of between £46,000 and £80,000 in their Education, Recovery and Resilience Report. And now many of these same students have to encounter increased poverty due to the cost-of-living crisis.

Thankfully across Northamptonshire, we have some amazing local charities and community groups providing a variety of support services to ensure our young people get the best possible access to their education. Below I have outlined just a few of these organisations.

The McCarthy-Dixon Foundation (TMDF)

TMDF was launched during the Covid-19 pandemic to help alleviate hunger and provide essential supplies to those in need in Northampton. Since March 2020, the Food Bank evolved into a fully functioning registered charity that aims to enhance well-being and improve standard of living for Northamptonshire residents, particularly those who are faced with sudden and unexpected hardship.

The Foundation's Food Bank supports over 50 schools throughout Northamptonshire with food packages over half terms and school holidays as well as with emergency food parcels as and when needed. It also provides schools with monthly Breakfast Boxes. Each of these boxes contain a monthly supply of nutritious breakfast items such as dried fruit, snack bars, fruit juices. These items are small enough to be kept in the classroom and discreetly given out by the teachers to those children who missed breakfast at home.

“The feedback from schools is very positive regarding the breakfast boxes as there are numerous children who go to school regularly without having anything to eat for breakfast. If they didn’t have these snacks, the children wouldn’t have any time to eat until lunchtime. Skipping breakfast in the morning effects the children’s general health and well-being, concentration and their ability to learn.

“We have learnt from some of the schools that we support that children who regularly attended school without having anything for breakfast at home and struggled with the morning routine in school, now enjoy a small ‘breakfast club’ before their first lesson and the time they need to settle in to class in the morning has significantly decreased.”

Fermynwoods Contemporary Art Limited

Fermynwoods Contemporary Art Limited is an educational charity, who have a long successful history of working with young people in alternative provision. They have previously been funded through Northamptonshire Community Foundation’s Friends of the Foundation Fund to provide a new programme of artist led workshops and learning experiences for children and young people who cannot attend mainstream school due to diagnosed complex medical and/or mental health conditions. Activities took place at Hospital and Outreach Education Learning Centres around the county and within Fermynwoods, and included diverse activity such as digital drawing and animation, sound sampling, costume design and robotics, each led by a Professional contemporary artist.

They have most recently been funded through the Leslie Church Memorial Fund to help primary schools in Corby reconnect with nature. Since the pandemic disrupted the education system, schools are faced with the need to prioritise literacy and numeracy targets and feel that they are now missing the lack of subject specialist knowledge in the arts to engage students in the exciting and transformative ways. Through a special artist led project, Fermynwoods Contemporary Art Limited, hopes to support local school children to discover and celebrate the beauty and biological wealth of forgotten plants in their neighbourhoods by creating billboard based "plant propaganda" posters and a local herbarium publication, through a series of free, fun arts based participatory activities.

The Lowdown

The Lowdown is a voluntary Mental Health charity, providing free and confidential counselling, emotional well-being, sexual health and LGBTQ support services for 11-25 year olds.  The Lowdown receive on average 20 referals a month for one to one counselling for 19-25 year olds in Northampton. Many who access their counselling are feeling suicidal or self-harming and some have either planned to end their life or already made an attempt. This has increased during the pandemic.
The Lowdown have recently been provided with a grant through the Constance Travis Endowment Fund – the Global Goals which has allowed them to provide a free accessible drop-in session alongside other organisations supporting young people in the Youth Hub at Northampton Library. Here, these 19-25 year olds are able to explore and express their feelings, gain support, guidance, and coping strategies to build their confidence and changes on their journey towards emotional health and empower them to make positive well-being. This can in turn make a huge difference to their family life, relationships, education, work life and more.

I feel that partnership (the overarching sustainable development goal) is the key to how we can provide our young people with the tools need for their education. By working together to ensure students have all of their needs met, I feel we can provide them with the best chance of success.

This month, Youth Skills Day has also taken place. Originally set up in 2014 to celebrate the strategic importance of equipping young people with skills for employment, decent work and entrepreneurship. This year the themes have included climate change, conflict, persisting poverty, rising inequality, rapid technological change and demographic transition echoing the importance of these factors that impact on a student’s ability to get the best out of their education!