What makes students tick?

Scroll down to find out.

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8,000 British teenagers were asked what they thought about their education. What did they say?

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Girl holding sign, “My Education should prepare me for the future.”
  • Two girls holding signs, “My education is about experimenting and facing challenges. My education is the key to success. My education means I have a bright future ahead of me. My education means everything to me. My education is my future. My education helps me to achieve many stuff.”, and “My Education… is my future”
  • “I find it very important that the teacher is interested in their own subject. That way they get the students interested.”
  • Sticky note My opinion is important because…
    As a student, I don’t have complete control over my choices, and others need to know how to help me.
  • Boy holding sign, “My Education should focus and inform more young people on careers and the life of work…”
  • Sticky note The younger generation’s voice needs to be heard more. Young people are usually portrayed as people who aren’t well behaved so our voices are not cared about.
  • “Once we leave school we’ll need to be much more independent, so should learn things that will help us later on.”
  • Girl holding sign, “My Education – To reach my goals in the future my teachers have to be involved make a difference!”
  • Sticky note There is a difference between getting the right answer, knowing the right answer and understanding the right answer.
  • “Teachers shouldn’t just be at the front – they should interact in the classroom.”
  • Boy holding sign, “My Education is important as it will help me in the future. If we didn’t have education, we wouldn’t get anywhere in life.”
  • “Schools need to let us know more about the future, jobs, and help us to know more about careers, relating learning and work…”
Board full of ‘Your Future’ sticky notes.

How can your education help you to achieve your future hopes and dreams?

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Boy writing on sticky note, “My future ambition is to become something that is related to maths and possibly science. In my opinion I may… an engineer in… maybe becoming a…”

What would help you to achieve your future goals?*

  • High-quality qualifications that are respected by universities and employers
    Head icon55%
  • More work experience
    Head icon46%
  • Being taught life skills
    Head icon46%
  • Better careers advice
    Head icon42%
  • Exams that have the same value in other countries
    Head icon38%
  • Learning and support schemes
    Head icon26%

* Full question: Do you agree that each of the following factors is important in helping you to improve your learning and your chances of reaching your future goals? Proportion who strongly agree.

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Photo of Tite-Live Wasolua Kibeti on a notebook cover

Why do so many students give up on their dreams?

Youth Ambassador Tite-Live Wasolua Kibeti, 17

Photo of Tite-Live Wasolua Kibeti on an inside page of notebook

I never faltered – even though I wished to at times. My persistence made me consistent, and that is thanks to all the people who surrounded me as I grew up.

Other young people have dreamt of the same thing, but their passion and desire gradually died away. Some of my classmates decided to stop trying to get an education at a young age.

All the while, children around the globe are dying to get an education many of us take for granted. As a society that has so much to offer to its people, we must ask ourselves what is making children who have a much greater chance to achieve their dreams stop trying?

Youth Ambassador Tite-Live Wasolua Kibeti, 17

  • “I have never been asked about my hopes and dreams.”
  • “Teachers could make their classes more relevant to my future goals by asking what I wanted to do to in the future and help me try to achieve those targets by helping me in the areas I need help in.”
Magnifying glass icon

Our findings

Students taking part in the My Education debate groups often said it was difficult for them to connect the relevance of school and learning to their future work aims.

There appear to be three causes of the disconnection:

  1. One iconLittle association between lesson content and career preferences;
  2. Two iconTeachers not knowing their pupils’ hopes and dreams;
  3. Three iconInadequate opportunities to gain foundation ‘life’ skills.

Students expressed the need for learning that relates to their goals. They are hungry for that connection, and speak easily and specifically about what they want to do with their lives. Many aspire to go to university, and understand that means doing well in core subjects. But they also enjoy lessons that link clearly to their career ambitions.

Students around table

What makes an inspirational classroom?


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Photo of Cade Gannon on a notebook cover

Please give me a good environment to work in

Youth Ambassador Cade Gannon, 15

Photo of Cade Gannon on an inside page of a notebook

‘Bang!’ isn’t the sound you want to hear, ‘crash!’ isn’t the sound you want to hear.

With these noises going round on an infinite loop as if the class is on repeat, on full volume, how are we expected to learn?

The environment in which you learn has to have stability and a good friendly teacher, who builds a strong relationship with every student…so every student can feel confident speaking to their teacher to ask for help.

In this environment, I feel like I’m learning and enjoying education. I wish that every teacher could care about students and help us learn to achieve our full potential.

Youth Ambassador Cade Gannon, 15

What makes a lesson engaging and interesting?

  1. The teacher adapts the lesson to the class, teaching at the right speed and style for the students’ abilities.
    Chart icon84%
  2. I know that I’m learning the right things for my exams.
    Chart icon83%
  3. The lesson allows me and other students the time to voice our ideas and opinions
    Chart icon80%
  4. The lesson is interactive and involves me directly eg. through experiments
    Chart icon76%
  5. The teacher links the subject to real-life situations eg. managing personal finances
    Chart icon70%
  6. The lesson involves copying from a textbook or making notes from the classroom board
    Chart icon39%

* Full question: To what extent do you agree that each of the following factors is important in making a lesson engaging and interesting for you? Proportion who answered ‘strongly agree’ and ‘agree’.

Four students listening
  • “The way he speaks shows he is interested in the subject. You can tell he enjoys it, and that kind of goes into us. You can hear the excitement in the way he speaks and the way he moves around the classroom.”
  • “It is important for teachers to know me. I need that relationship to be my best.”
  • “If a teacher doesn’t enjoy the lesson, they just tell you what you need to know to pass the exam.”
  • “When the teachers are enthusiastic, it helps motivate me no matter what the subject.”
Magnifying glass icon

Our findings

Top teachers know their students and treat them as individuals, and great teaching is active, passionate and exciting.

Our evidence shows that teachers who exude true passion for their subject are the ones that fire students’ appetite for learning.

During the My Education debates, we repeatedly heard young people speak warmly about teachers who showed eagerness during lessons and clearly enjoyed sharing their knowledge. For them, a passionate teacher communicated the thrill of the topic in an original way.

Boy writing

Exam time


How should your skills and knowledge be assessed?

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Imagine you are in charge of the education system for the entire country…


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…To what extent do you agree that each of the following changes would have an impact in making sure that education helps all students achieve their goals?

  1. Change 1Encouraging exams that test the understanding of the subject rather than a ‘regurgitation of facts’ approach
    Strongly Agree Agree
    Pie chart47% Pie chart38%
  2. Change 2Ensuring that qualifications are accepted internationally if students want to work abroad
    Strongly Agree Agree
    Pie chart45% Pie chart42%
  3. Change 3Encouraging tougher discipline for students who misbehave
    Strongly Agree Agree
    Pie chart41% Pie chart36%
  4. Change 4Encouraging lessons which have more links to skills for the workplace
    Strongly Agree Agree
    Pie chart36% Pie chart46%
  5. Change 5Giving teachers more time to know their students as individuals and understand their goals
    Strongly Agree Agree
    Pie chart35% Pie chart46%
  6. Change 10Encouraging lessons that take place outside the classroom
    Strongly Agree Agree
    Pie chart24% Pie chart37%
  • “Aren’t exams testing your memory, not what you’ve learned”
  • “We are not robots. We need education that excites and challenges us.”
Photo of Haengeun Chi on a notebook cover

Robots – memorising formulas and regurgitating facts. Pretending that we understood when we didn’t have a clue.

Youth Ambassador Haengeun Chi, 19

Photo of Haengeun Chi on an inside page of notebook

That’s before we met Mr G…the one teacher who relished making you think, and not telling you the answer.

The one whose enthusiasm and passion was contagious. He challenged every student with his thought-provoking questions, showing us there was so much more to maths than just getting the ‘right’ answer. ‘Maths is life’, he would say, like Socrates.

Thanks to Mr G, I’ve been able to open my eyes to the beauty of mathematics. It upsets me to think there are so many young people missing out on education. Doesn’t it upset you to think that thousands of young people across the country grow up never getting a chance to realize their full potential?

Youth Ambassador Haengeun Chi, 19

Magnifying glass icon

Our findings

Throughout our My Education debates, students expressed strong opinions about end of year exams not being the best way to assess learning, and how there is relatively little opportunity to qualitatively measure ability. For formal examinations in particular, students felt their future rests arbitrarily on their performance on one given day.

When students talked about what assessment method worked best for them, most said they wanted confirmation they were learning the course material and staying on target. They consistently conveyed the need for feedback. Information about performance or progress carries greater value than grades or marks.

Boards full of sticky notes. Students at table in the background.

My voice.
My Education.


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Photo of Yasmin Rufo on a notebook cover

What say do students really have in their education system?

Youth Ambassador Yasmin Rufo, 15

Photo of Yasmin Rufo on an inside page of notebook

‘Do as you’re told and don’t question it.’ Words probably every child has heard from their parents at least once.

But when you’re told that by your headmaster when you question him about how many young people he consulted when he decided to change the rules and regulations of the school, it becomes a different matter.

That was the point where I realised that, for the past 10 years, I was never once asked my opinion or what I thought about the changes that were happening.

Student voice is lacking in this country. We are rarely consulted or asked our opinion, and when we are there is no outcome. No wonder students feel disengaged and unwilling to learn.

Youth Ambassador Yasmin Rufo, 15

Why do students feel that they don’t have sufficient opportunity to share their thoughts and opinions at school?

  • Pie chart57%
    Lessons are just about how to pass exams and therefore your opinion is not needed
  • Pie chart57%
    There aren’t many opportunities for me at school to speak out
  • Pie chart47%
    Teachers don’t value what I have to say
  • Pie chart41%
    Teachers are very busy so rarely get the time to listen to me
  • Pie chart23%
    I’m not confident enough
  • Pie chart22%
    I don’t think teachers will understand
  • Pie chart18%
    I’m worried about what people might think of my opinion
  • Pie chart8%
  • Pie chart1%
    None/ Don’t know

Everyone should have a voice

Students told us that when it comes to improving their education and their future, the chance to speak out, and have their opinions both heard and acted on, is crucial.

Yet while most My Education debate participants said this was what they wanted, many find themselves stifled by lack of opportunity or confidence.

Why My Education matters


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Our Youth Ambassadors on why it’s been important to start the ‘My Education’ conversation …


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  • Photo of Chadsley Atkins
    “…it allows us to hopefully give the students’ perspective of a better education system.”

    Chadsley Atkins

  • Photo of Haengeun Chi
    “…it’s provided a great opportunity for young people to have their say on what education means, and empower the voice of young people.”

    Haengeun Chi

  • Photo of Cade Gannon
    “…it lets students know how education is changing, that we have a voice and that this voice will be heard and taken into serious consideration.”

    Cade Gannon

  • Photo of Chelsea Goulding
    …it’s crucial to explore the issues that concern us as young people and the education system is one of these. Discussing the ideas we have should be an important part of the planning process.”

    Chelsea Goulding

  • Photo of Yasmin Rufo
    “…it has allowed young people to discuss the issues they are facing with the education system. It has also allowed young people to voice their opinions and have a direct impact on changing the face of education.”

    Yasmin Rufo

  • Photo of Tite-Leve Wasolua Kibeti
    “…young people can innovate learning in a way that greatly increases their potential. This conversation also places young people on an equal footing with adults, restoring trust in a system which has ignored their voices for so long.”

    Tite-Leve Wasolua Kibeti

Five main challenges:


  1. One iconTo ensure that education encourages the ambitions of the students, reflects the global competition they face, and gives them the support and advice they need to achieve their goals.
  2. Two iconTo assess students in a way that deepens their understanding, and rewards their creativity.
  3. Three iconTo create a classroom environment that engages all in learning, and allows everyone to contribute positively.
  4. Four iconTo develop the tools, and carve out the time, for teachers to interact with their students as individuals, and support their specific learning needs.
  5. Five iconTo recruit the minds of students to tackling these challenges. There are nearly 4 million secondary school students in the UK. Our small start through My Education has told us that learning will be at its most enjoyable, engaging and effective if we work with them.

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Birds eye view of classroom.

What happens next?


Our nine Youth Ambassadors are presenting the report findings to Parliament on the 5 November 2013.

The report will also be presented to key influencers and decision makers across the education sector. The My Education campaign has already inspired change within the two companies, Pearson and Teach First.


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“We’re introducing QISA’s iKnow My Class pupil survey. Offered to the students of more than 3,000 Teach First teachers, it will give them the chance to comment on their learning experiences, helping teachers understand what inspires them to succeed.

Teachers will use the survey results to monitor progress, and change or adapt their classroom methods based on their pupils’ experiences. We’ll use this alongside a new student attainment tracker to identify how each young person learns, and how teachers can make a tangible contribution to their achievement.”


Brett Wigdortz OBE,
Founder and Chief Executive Officer, Teach First

“When we develop our degree programmes, we involve students as ‘co-creators’ in both the design and evaluation. As a result of the My Education campaign, we’re going to be extending that principle of actively involving learners in development and feedback across everything we do – in schools, colleges, as part of our apprenticeships, and with universities too.”


Rod Bristow, President, Pearson UK

Get involved

What do you think about education in the UK?

Use the #aboutmyeducation hashtag to let us know.

You can also follow @TeachFirst and @Pearson_UK on Twitter, and join our Facebook page at

The My Education campaign is run by Pearson and Teach First.