Some of the young people I have worked with in my research projects appear to be unsure of their futures and generally emit a sense of confusion and disillusionment. Yes I know they are teenagers so what’s new (cue canned laughter), but as young people (and adults), we can develop a number of identities which fit with how we feel we should be seen in the world and in no case is this more important than when thinking about our education and projected future careers. What are you going to make of yourself? How are you going to succeed in life?
A few key theorists (Ulrich Beck especially) have claimed that young people’s lives are becoming more individualised, in a world full of risk that has somehow made them more of a discerning and informed consumer of goods, including education. Quite rightly, a number of other academics have feverishly knocked this theory out of the door and down the street, and then some. Although education is now marketised and there are (arguably) more academic and vocational options available at 14-19, inequalities are still reproduced for young people at a healthy rate.
Classed, gendered and racialised experiences impact on the extent to which young people: a) feel there is more than one choice available to them in furthering their education; and b) have enough confidence to discover for themselves what’s out there. Places and spaces are also widely overlooked when considering ‘choice’. Young people’s geographies can physically limit their movement and geographical mobility especially in areas of deprivation, even when they are well informed and know where they want to go for further study or training. Researchers and policy makers should be looking beyond what is within the remits of curriculum and careers and exploring how young people can be restricted and even prevented from accessing these opportunities. Only then we will be able to understand how best to improve choices for this age group.