Young people may be missing out because of home working, says Gillian Keegan

The Education Secretary is worried that some young people may be missing out on learning opportunities following the rise of working from home.

Gillian Keegan said young people starting out in their careers want to be going into the office for work but they report that there is “virtually nobody there” following the pandemic.

Speaking at an event run by Bright Blue think tank on Monday, Ms Keegan said employees learn a lot from their colleagues and from “seeing meetings, seeing how things are done”.

When asked whether she was worried about young people not engaging and not learning from their seniors because they’re working from home, Ms Keegan told the event at the Multiverse office: “I do worry about that. Although I think it is shifting a little bit back to an equilibrium.

“I worry about that because I know a lot of young people who are just starting out in the workplace and that’s what they say. You can go into an office like this and there’s virtually nobody there.”

Ms Keegan added: “I think you do learn a lot from other people. And I think one of the things that a lot of people say as well in terms of productivity, creativity, that sort of group dynamic you do kind of get to the answer, you get to solving problems quite often better with a group.

“Particularly if you’ve got a good diverse group coming from different angles, different experience, it really does make it better I think for those people starting in their career.

“And lots of people, if you speak to those young people, they’ll say, ‘you know, that’s what I want. I want to be going to the office. I want the sort of going out after work stuff as well’.

“So it’s a big part of the journey and again it’s a big part of starting work. I think we have to get the balance right though.”

At the event in London, the Education Secretary also said the Government was being “very cautious” over plans for digital GCSE exams amid possible risks.

A number of the UK’s major exam boards have taken steps towards digital qualifications which are subject to regulatory approval by Ofqual.

When asked by the PA news agency whether the Government supported the plans for digital GCSEs and whether it was worried about any risks they could pose – such as tech issues or cheating – Ms Keegan said: “I think being very cautious is actually the sort of short answer.”

She added that the Government will want to make sure that digital exams do not “lower the quality” of assessment.

Earlier this month, Pearson, which runs exam board Edexcel, announced plans to offer pupils a choice to be assessed digitally in their GCSE English exams from summer 2025.

Last month, exam board OCR announced it would offer a digitally assessed GCSE in computer science for pupils starting their course in 2025.

Another exam board, AQA, is aiming to roll out on-screen exams over a period of years and hopes students will sit at least one major subject digitally by 2030.

An Ofqual spokesman said: “Ofqual is committed to supporting well-evidenced innovation in how examinations are taken.  However, it is critical that examinations are both accessible and fair to all students taking them.

“We will evaluate in detail any proposals for on-screen exams when they are submitted for review.

“Our priority will be making sure any approach is fair to all students, whether they take their exam on-screen or continue to do so on paper.”