03Policy priority 3: Ensure that young people have the necessary skills to benefit from the existing economy, in which Bristol city centre plays a pivotal role.

  • Promote extracurricular activities for young people. The mayor should champion the expansion of initiatives like the Children’s University, which has proved effective.
  • Target and support young people at risk of not participating in education and training post-16. New interventions should be based on the outcomes of the existing Realising Talent pilot programme.
  • Help maximise the take-up of existing active labour market policies with a ‘skills compact’. Policies like the Kickstart scheme should be rolled out with local stakeholders.

WECA’s existing high-productivity economy requires a skilled labour force, but Bristol’s school pupils are currently underperforming their peers nationally, and so stand to miss out on the prosperity of the local economy. While the mayor has few formal powers in this area, they do have influence and can use their role to champion learning and to help ensure that young people benefit from the city region’s prosperity through accessing well-paid employment opportunities.

The next mayor should build a network of extracurricular activities for young people, by promoting the expansion of the existing Children’s University project.17 In 2019, 59.9 per cent students got good GCSEs in Bristol local authority, compared with 64.9 per cent nationally. While the mayor will not have powers over schools, they will be able to support extracurricular activities to help children succeed.

In the same year, 200 pupils graduated from Children’s University in Bristol and South Gloucestershire– a programme that targets five-to-14-year-olds and promotes extracurricular activities like playing board games and physical activities. The mayor must make efforts to expand the number of children participating in the scheme. Empirical evidence from this programme shows a link between participation and academic performance, especially for pupils from deprived backgrounds. 18 The mayor should adopt Sheffield City Region’s commitment to expand the Children’s University to the whole combined authority area.

In the next five years, the existing support to students at risk of not participating in education and training post-16 must be expanded. Despite education being compulsory up until the age of 18, some young people still unfortunately drop out of education and training after turning 16. The existing WECA-funded Realising Talent pilot project aims to provide free support to targeted 14- to 16-year-old students to encourage them to continue their studies post-GCSE.19 The two-year programme includes mentoring sessions and it may provide placements opportunities. If the results from the pilot are positive, this scheme should be made permanent.

The mayor should create a ‘skills compact’ to co-ordinate skills provision and need across local providers and employees and launch a skills audit. The What Works Centre for Local Economic Growth has shown that active labour market policies, like training and subsidised employment, tend to have positive long-term effects in employability, especially during recessions. They also found that providing information and assistance regarding education programmes increases their take-up levels.20 Establishing a skills compact with local firms and education providers to coordinate local activities and to integrate central government strategies focused on understanding local skills need and provision, should be the next step for the mayor, to create a strong culture of adult learning.21