Back in March 2013, Amma and I met at the launch of a report (by RSA, London) about the modern entrepreneur, she was a contributor to the report. Amma is an award winning social entrepreneur who believes that schools are great at providing young people with academic skills they need, but not always so good at providing other necessary life skills and knowledge. Beyond the classroom works with organisations and schools to complement academic learning with these essential skills through media, drama, dance and mentoring. Here is Amma’s story on how Beyond the classroom started… Read on and be inspired!

Please tell me about your background

I am a BSC Psychology graduate from the University of Birmingham, who has a serious addiction to stationary. My favourite colours are red and green (at least for now, this changes), which probably represent the two sides of my personality. And…I love life!

Please tell me about "beyond the classroom" and how did you get started?

I have always had a passion for youth development, and fed this interest by working in a number of educational settings. Including; Southwark councils school admissions department, mentoring in various schools and leading theatre in education (TIE) initiatives in an FE college. These experiences have helped me to identify areas of our national curriculum, which (in my opinion anyway!) could be further developed in order to better support young people’s journey into adulthood.

Beyond the Classroom (BTC) provides schools and youth organisations with theatre and mentoring based programmes; we aim to fill the gaps in curriculum learning with life skills and knowledge. For the past 18 months we have focused on our Girlhood to Womanhood programme. Exploring confidence, self-esteem and relationship education, to support sex education programmes in schools.

Sex and relationship education was a particular area of interest for me, as I remember being told at school to use contraception at 16 when I reached the age of consent. But never told that I had the choice not to even be sexually active at 16, or how I might know who to share my first time with. I wanted to present a more balanced view of intimate relationships and provide young people with the skills necessary to enter and maintain positive intimate relationships.

You have been involved in working with young people from different backgrounds, what challenges are the young men and women you work with facing?

I was a mentor on board the National Black Boys Can scheme, here I worked with some of the most intelligent and promising young men I have ever had the pleasure to meet. But for various reasons they were being held back from reaching their full potential. Some had extreme home/family issues, others were being pulled into crime. My role was to help them build the confidence they needed to make positive life decisions. It was a highly challenging but rewarding task but I am glad to say that I was able to impact these young lives in a positive way!

From doing this work and experiencing the emphasis which was being put on young men, it begged the question; “what is being done to support young women’s” journey into adulthood? Beyond the Classroom’s Girlhood to Womanhood programme is the answer! (well, at least part of the answer :D) Working with young women I have met girls suffering from Cancer, being used to carry drugs for their older boyfriends and girls who self-harm. There is no easy answer to supporting our young people with the wide variety of issues they face, but it is important that we acknowledge the importance of developing the life skills they will need to tackle challenges as they arise.

What do you think of the current education system and how can it be updated to meet today's needs?

Today’s education was built on yesterday’s world. The UK education system is indisputably one of the best in the world, but it needs to allow for the very different ways we all learn and express ourselves. It should understand the importance of life skills in a world dominated by the media, technology and the internet. We need to allow our young people the freedom to become self-accountable, responsible and innovative. For example; I recently heard of a college with an excellent enterprise ethos, they support their students in growing their own businesses and then hire their own students

If you want to know what young people need from their education, we should probably just ask them more often. And genuinely act on their responses.

Where do you see Beyond the Classroom in 5 years’ time?

In the next 5 years Beyond the Classroom will be doing the same stuff on a larger scale. Developing innovative solutions to our society’s problems and contributing to positive social change…I know it’s a bit of a ‘fluffy’ answer so just ask me again in 5 years and I will fill in the gaps! :D

You have received some awards, tell me about them?

I am the lucky winner of two Unltd (foundation for social entrepreneurs), awards. These include funding for Beyond the classroom, mentoring support but most importantly a powerful network of people who believe in positive social change. I cannot stress how important it is to speak to the right people. Beyond the Classroom also won the SFX Community Oscar last year. It was just a great thing to see that other people recognise the work we are doing as a good thing.

What advice do you have for other young people who would  like to follow a similar path as yourself?

If you can, get a job in the area/industry you are interested in and be paid to learn how it’s done! Take the skills, knowledge and contacts and apply them to your new venture. They say ‘if you don’t build your dreams, someone will hire you to build theirs’… How about you charge someone to help you build your own?