Over half (54%) of young people (aged 14-18 years old) believe that the COVID-19 pandemic will still be having a significant impact on their daily lives in one to two years’ time, according to new research released today from the British Science Association (BSA). The BSA warns that with the latest lockdown measures coming into force in England today, young people’s concerns about their futures need to be urgently addressed, with the Government being seen to have done little to support them over the last nine months.  

The research, conducted in collaboration with One Poll, using a nationally representative sample of 1,000 14-to-18-year olds across the UK, revealed that the top fear amongst young people is the impact of COVID-19 on their education, exams and qualifications, with 81% being very or somewhat concerned. This was echoed by fears about their prospective jobs, with almost three-quarters of young people (73%) expressing concerns about the impact that COVID-19 will have on their future career.

Earlier this year, the BSA ran a similar survey which revealed that 79% of young people were very or somewhat concerned about the impact COVID-19 would have on their education. The latest research has shown these fears are still prevalent amongst young people, despite schools re-opening and a guarantee from the Government that exams in England and Wales will take place next summer.

Alarmingly, education and future careers are not the only fears amongst 14-18-year olds, with 67% of young people concerned about the impact that the pandemic is having on their mental health and wellbeing. Moreover, almost a quarter of young people (24%) want more advice on how to stay mentally healthy and their mental wellbeing. With another national lockdown commencing, these concerns and the need for expert advice, are likely to be exacerbated.

The BSA is calling on the Government and other commentators to proactively address the fears and concerns that young people have, and to ensure that they are not left out of the COVID-19 conversation. Young people have many of the same pandemic-induced concerns that adults do, their lives and futures are hugely affected by the lockdown restrictions, but the Government does not appear to be tailoring its approach and subsequent messaging for them.

According to the British Science Association’s Chief Executive, Katherine Mathieson: “The COVID-19 pandemic has touched every part of our lives and every part of society. As attention turns to the second national lockdown, we must revisit the concerns expressed by parts of society previously forgotten, ensuring young people’s views are taken into consideration. Unless lessons are learned from the last lockdown, we risk alienating a whole generation of young people from our politics, our science and how they interweave with wider society.

“In April, when we first ran this survey, we raised our concerns about how many young people felt their views were not being listened to by the Government. But it is thoroughly disheartening to see that this has not improved in the last six months.

“What I find particularly alarming is that young people’s concerns about their education have remained consistently high since April, despite the steps taken to return schools back to ‘normal’. If concerns continue to rise, this may catastrophically hinder young people to successfully move on to the next stage of their lives.”

These findings from the BSA echo a recent report from the ASPIRES 3 research team at UCL Institute of Education, which found that 87% of young people were experiencing negative impacts as a result of the pandemic, including but not limited to feelings of stress, anxiety and sadness; and concerns about housing and jobs in the future. With over 80% of the ASPIRES 3 participants currently in higher education or at the point of graduating, they are an older cohort to those that took part in the BSA’s poll. However, with negative impacts listed such as struggling to maintain motivation and concentration; the loss of interactive learning opportunities and; missing key learning experiences and opportunities, this points to a much wider issue that many young people, across different age brackets, are currently facing.

Professor Louise Archer, Karl Mannheim Professor of Sociology of Education at UCL Institute of Education who led the ASPIRES 3 research said, “The COVID-19 pandemic and lockdown has impacted everyone, but the ASPIRES 3 report highlights the specific experiences of GenZ young people – whose voices are often not heard within policy circles. 

“We were struck not only by the eloquence with which they described both negative and positive experiences – but also their clear ideas and recommendations for change. As the next generation who are now emerging into adulthood, we think that government, universities and employers could all usefully learn from what GenZ have to say."

Young people’s trust in politicians and experts woefully low

Last April, the BSA ran an initial poll with 1,000 14-to-18 year olds across the UK, revealing almost nine in ten respondents thought that scientists (89%) and politicians (92%) were not talking directly to them when discussing COVID-19. The BSA warned that the ongoing lockdown in the UK at the time, could have serious ramifications if young people felt left out or frustrated by the Government’s failure to engage them in its guidance. Despite early warnings, the situation continues to remain bleak, with the comparison data released today indicating young people are still feeling left out of the conversation. According to the results, 90% of young people feel scientists and politicians are still not addressing young people when discussing COVID-19 – a non-existent shift from the results seen earlier in the year.  

Not only do young people feel left out of the conversation, young people’s trust levels on who is telling the truth regarding COVID-19 have continued to plummet since April. Just 6% of the young people surveyed said that they would generally trust politicians to tell the truth about COVID-19 (compared to 9% in April). And we’ve seen similar dips in trust for other groups too – just 35% of young people would trust professional scientists to tell the truth on COVID-19 (down from 41% in April) and 21% (previously 27%) would trust teachers to tell the truth about COVID-19. Without swift action to engage and listen to the fears of young people, the BSA warns that young people’s trust in adults and institutions could be irreparably damaged.

Katherine Mathieson, Chief Executive of the BSA, said: “As we approach a second lockdown, it is essential that young people feel the advice and information they are given on COVID-19 from politicians, scientists and teachers is tailored, practical, easy to understand and trustworthy.

“The plummeting levels of trust from young people reported in our survey, indicates clear issues with how these messages were received amidst the first lockdown back in March and April. Addressing everyone the same, means that some groups, such as young people, will evidently be left behind and may even dismiss Government advice as not for them; a ‘one-size fits all’ approach does not provide true equity or fairness.

“Young people felt left out of the national conversation back in the spring and were then (in our view, unfairly) blamed for the spike in cases at the end of the summer. We need the Government to reset its approach and start relaying messages and advice to young people in ways they can connect with, to enable a two-way conversation and make them feel included in the ‘national effort’ around the pandemic.”