At the start of this section, it is important to set out the contexts in which the projects took place because context is the circumstance that forms the setting for an event, statement, or idea. In doing this it will help the reader to fully understand the circumstances in which the partners were working and how this shaped the content of and approaches to the missions.
Geographically each participating country forms part of the continent of Europe. While there are many similarities between the countries, within Europe there is also a diverse range of customs, practices and cultures that result in quite substantial differences. In an educational context, these differences relate to policy, system structures, political context, funding, teacher education and pedagogy. Each of these aspects can potentially have an impact on how schools and educators approach a mission.
Despite their different contexts, the young people in Open the Doors had one thing in common: they had disengaged with the mainstream school systems within each country. This common issue meant that participants embarked on the missions aiming for the same outcome – a re-engagement of the learner – but acknowledgement of the different contexts meant that while ideas could be shared, identical outcomes were not guaranteed. Crucially, the acknowledgement of the contextual differences offered participants an opportunity to critique their own cultural settings. They could then adopt and adapt ideas from the missions as appropriate or develop ideas within their own missions that took account of context.
Go Outside the School
In each project, success was achieved through moving the learning outside of the school to engage with local communities. In the case of Cancuni, this meant a gradual physical move out of the classroom to a market garden mission (See Annex A1) within the school grounds, to a temporary move into the local community for a one-off event mission (See Annex A1), and a shift completely out of school and into another town, where they met and worked with young people in public spaces (See Annex A1). For Matosinhos, this meant a mixture of working outside the school and also doing different things in the school (See Annex A2), whilst for Educa, Kontiki and School 5, there was a focus on encouraging young people to work in local contexts outside the school such as in catering, fabric, arts and music. In all cases, this was part of a shift away from a traditional, in-school context in which young people were supported through a traditional curriculum. Moving outside the school also discouraged a student perception that, regardless of how ‘different’ the work they are doing is from ‘normal’, it is still a school activity (See Annex A1). The physical shift of going outside the school assisted the conceptual, intellectual and emotional shifts that occurred in other parts of the experience of Open the Doors. Unfamiliar contexts challenged the identities that young people and adults begin with and help generate new identities through lived experiences. See sections on mindset, working with young people and working with the missions.
Relationships between adults and young people will/must change
Working outside of the classroom and the school encourages a different relationship between adults and young people. Responsibility for learning and behaviour becomes shared and is no longer the exclusive domain of the teacher (See Annex A1 & Annex A2). Even in fairly formal contexts, responsibility is shifted on to the young people in terms of getting themselves to their place of work/learning and how they conduct themselves there (see Annex A5). Through experiencing changing relationships, young people and adult workers begin to rethink their identities and the roles they play in each other’s lives. From that point, they think about and reconceptualise their relationships with others.
Take a holistic approach
Success in the missions entailed a change in the learning context from traditional subject-centred to a more holistic person-centred ethos. This can take the form of an interdisciplinary approach across a range of activities (See Annex A2), setting up an inclusion programme (See Annex A4), or a single activity such as School 5’s ‘Story of my life’, allowing the young people to explore themselves (See Annex A5). A holistic approach to learning encourages adults to see the young person in entirety and not just their faults. Similarly, for the young people, a holistic experience helps shift a focus on themselves from deficit to one in which they begin to realise that they have qualities, dispositions, skills and abilities that others appreciate and value.
Groups and group dynamics are significant
Young people working in a group was considered more effective than individual work (See Annex A1), although within groups, young people might have their own learning and development plan (see Annex A2). Group size and group dynamics are important and can shift and change, thereby requiring constant monitoring. Working in groups enhances learning and development as ideas will be questioned and challenged and will require justification. Working in groups also demands cooperation, planning and participation, sometimes with people or ideas whom/which they do not fully understand. This experience entails increasing respect for others and through that, respect for the self.
Linking with media gives young people and their actions a public profile. Being in the public eye through engagement with local radio, television and press, helps engender feelings of self-respect, self-efficacy and reciprocity with the local community (see Annex A2). Similarly, production of their own videos and social media results in feelings of achievement, success and pride (see Annex A2).
Engage with local and national policy
In addition to legal requirements in each country, engaging with local and national politicians and policy makers helps establish working with NEETs, particularly in the second chance school context, as a legitimate and worthwhile pursuit. A move out of school, therefore, entails not only young people and learning activities but school managers and other adults thinking beyond the school walls and advocating for their young people in the wider educational and social context. Just as the physical shift outside the schools benefits young people, so the intellectual agility required to engage at local and national levels enhances adults’ knowledge of the wider educational and political environment. Exploring, understanding and questioning policy deepens their understanding of how to be flexible, creative and innovative in their work with young people, whilst demonstrating that they and the young people form part of the national community, thereby enhancing the status of second chance education (see Annex A2).