In 2018, Participation People partnered with the Southern Universities Network (SUN) to tackle the challenge of raising attainment at GCSE level across Dorset, Hampshire, and the Isle of Wight. Through our collaboration, we empowered young people to lead the research on improving communication strategies in higher education, creating actionable insights and recommendations from our carefully selected team of Young Researchers.

Their key findings showed a stark need for wellbeing support, creative outlets and sports engagement. Learn how our team of Young Researchers combined statistical data with personal experiences to ignite educational change amongst key decision-makers within the Southern Universities Network!

Young Researcher Recruitment and Training:

To kick-start the project, we recruited nine Young Researchers between November and December 2022, providing training in research methodologies during weekly online sessions throughout January 2023. This included a day-long boot camp in Bournemouth, where our Young Researchers worked with SUN to design a survey tailored to capture the perspectives of their peers at GCSE level across Dorset, Hampshire, and the Isle of Wight.

The Young Researchers project gave me confidence!  Lots of people say ‘have confidence’ but nothing gives you confidence like presenting to a room full of decision-makers!”

 – Evie, Young Researcher, age 15

Data Collection and Survey Analysis:

Through targeted promotion in schools, on social media, and via personal networks, our Young Researchers gained widespread survey participation. And, after launching the survey for eight weeks in March 2023, a total of 2551 young people shared their insights to form the foundation of our key findings.

During weekly sessions, the Young Researchers meticulously analysed the data, identifying key trends and themes. Our approach was not just statistical but also personal, with our Young Researchers reflecting on how the findings resonated with their own experiences as young people navigating the education system.


Our Key Findings and Recommendations:

Armed with compelling data, we presented our findings to decision-makers from SUN universities, schools, and local authorities across three meetings, co-producing actionable recommendations for improving communication strategies in higher education. Our key findings of student experiences and aspirations included:

  • Students are often taught in their preferred learning style (27% most of the time, 65% sometimes and 8% none of the time). 
  • For Special Educational Needs and Disabilities (SEND) students, the amount who say they’re taught in their preferred learning style none of the time goes up to 15%.
  • The preferred learning method was learning by doing (60%), followed by listening (55%) and visually learning (50%).
  • 70% of students felt they had the academic skills to support them with their learning, whilst 63% felt they had the academic skills to succeed in exams. Confidence in academic skills also went up with age.
  • When asked what extra support students would like to prepare for exams, students asked for more of a focus on exam prep, exam questions and papers in lessons, and more time doing mock exams (particularly after the Covid pandemic). 
  • They also wanted more wellbeing support, which became a consistent theme throughout our findings.
  • Students rated their general wellbeing as 5/10. The standard deviation on this question was very high and on average, girls were one point (10%) lower than boys. 
  • Those with SEND rated their general wellbeing at an average of around 4.13/10, which was concerning.
  • Young people want more creative activities (57%) and sports (45%) to help them support their wellbeing. This was significantly higher than mental health services (30%).

Our Impact

By empowering young people to take ownership of the research process, our SUN Young Researchers project not only yielded valuable insights but also fostered a sense of agency and advocacy among the next generation. Moving forward, the recommendations outlined in the report provide a roadmap for stakeholders to create more inclusive, supportive, and effective educational environments across Dorset, Hampshire, and the Isle of Wight. As we continue to champion youth voices, we pave the way for a brighter, more equitable future.

To read our full 2023 SUN Young Researchers Report, click here. PLUS, get in touch to learn how we can capture youth voice to help inform communication strategies in higher education and improve your institution’s organisation, processes and approach!


“My experience working with Participation People since 2018 has been transformative. Their involvement, particularly through the SUN Young Researchers programme, has revolutionised how we engage with and listen to young people, ensuring their voices are not just heard but are central to our decision-making process.

The keynote delivered by Participation People at our SUN Practitioners Conference showcased the meaningful and effective ways in which youth engagement can enhance organisational goals and outcomes. Their work goes beyond tokenistic involvement, fostering genuine connections and insights that drive our programme’s success.

Participation People’s expertise in authentic youth engagement, their innovative approach to incorporating student voices into strategic planning, and their commitment to making a real difference in the lives of young individuals are unparalleled. They are not just consultants, they are change-makers who have significantly contributed to our programme’s impact and success.”


  • Claire O’Neill, Chief Executive of the Southern Universities Network