Spotlight on: YoUFA – young people influencing UFA and making a difference




There are many aspects of UFA that make it a success, but one that’s truly worthy of its moment in the spotlight is YoUFA, our thriving network of young people. One of our key objectives is to give children and young people more of a say, so that they can make their own decisions and choose what they want to learn on their own terms. We work with schools and other organisations and seek to challenge them, raise their aspirations, and offer them the chance to have a voice. YoUFA supports those goals, but also gives participants further opportunities to be the adults they want to be – and can be –  making a real difference in their community.

YoUFA was launched and developed by a group of young people involved in a UFA programme back in 2009, who while on a residential, decided that a network of young decision-makers and leaders was needed within the organisation to drive progress and growth.  YoUFA is a network of young people, who as well as getting involved in various UFA projects and programmes, help steer the direction of the UFA through the YoUFA Board and representation on the UFA’s Board of Trustees.

YoUFA logo plain

This week, we say farewell to our brilliant YoUFA Youth Ambassador Leadh Woolley, who since June 2012 has helped to transform the lives of young people through her work with YoUFA. We wish Leadh all the best in her new role with Beatfreeks as their Regional Development Manager, but her work will very much live on through the YoUFA board, a dynamic group of young people who lead the network, making important decisions about its progress and growth.

“Thanks to the trust, belief and support of those at UFA, I’ve developed and enhanced so many skills, which have given me the confidence to move on to my next career pathway,” says Leadh. “I’ve been lucky to be involved in the development and co-ordination of a leadership programme and been able to meet and support so many inspiring and passionate young people. “When young people take part in a UFA programme, they are given the opportunity to join YoUFA under various levels of involvement. YoUFA is about taking the skills they’ve learned from UFA programmes and using their initiative to get involved in other youth organisations. YoUFA members represent the whole of the network and work to launch new programmes, pilot projects and develop new curriculums.”

The YoUFA network engages young people from across all of our programmes, including Step Up To Serve, the national campaign that aims to see 50% of all young people involved in social action by 2020. This, in addition to the National Citizen Service, and various ‘Lead It’ programmes such as Peer Tutoring and Young Researchers & Evaluators make UFA – and its YoUFA arm – an exciting place to be in 2015.

YoUFA board members
The YoUFA board, headed up by Rachel Clarke front, centre)

Rachel Clarke, Chair of the YoUFA Board, joined after a training as a Peer Tutor and then a Lead Learner through her school. She’s been a volunteer, a Team Leader and a Senior Team Leader on the UFA’s NCS programme and is passionate about giving young people a voice.

“It’s so important to have a board for YoUFA in order to get direct input straight from our young people,” she says. “It gives them the opportunity to make decisions on how things are run. My role has certainly helped me to grow as a person and it’s so great to see young people become leaders and finally have a voice in society. “There’s so much we want to achieve – and have already achieved. We make a real difference to young people’s lives, giving them a voice to change things around them.

“Young people who work with UFA and YoUFA take away increased confidence, a desire to make a difference, improved communication skills and perhaps most cherished of all – new friends.”


NCS – it all starts at YES – for young people AND their parents

When the National Citizen Service was launched in 2011, few could have anticipated the true value of the programme and its rewards for young people.

Initially billed as a ‘non-military national service’, its aim was to mix young people from different backgrounds and teach them what it means to be socially responsible. It was designed to inspire young people and provide them with invaluable opportunities as they embark on that all-important transition into adulthood. But in truth, it’s done so much more than that.

Today, NCS is continuing to grow, with more and more young people taking part every spring, summer and autumn.  To date it has helped more than 130,000 15 to 17-year-olds in the UK to grow their confidence, make new friends, develop desirable employment skills and secure a brilliant CV. And UFA has been a huge part of that process. As a local delivery partner, we run a series of fantastic NCS programmes in County Durham, Kirklees, Northamptonshire, Suffolk, Bedfordshire, Lancaster, Accrington and Milton Keynes and it’s one of the most rewarding things we do.   As with all of our other programmes, our delivery of NCS is underpinned by these 10 Learning Essentials, its one of the things that makes UFA NCS special.

Yet it’s easy to shine the spotlight on the teenagers and their testimonials of the programme, when in fact the success stories do not end with them.


Parents, guardians and teachers have also noticed that NCS has had a significant effect on their children and pupils, which is why in January this year, the NCS began placing more focus on raising awareness of the programme among adults, so they too can share in the positive results that the scheme has to offer.

Liz saw a dramatic change for the better in her son Jan after he took part in UFA NCS. It even resulted in him finding work, which she firmly believes wouldn’t have happened if it wasn’t for the programme.

She tells us: “Jan came home from school one day, after seeing a presentation about NCS, saying he wanted to get involved. My first thought was, ‘wow! What a big step forward!’ He’s had a tough time at school and lacks self-confidence as a result, so the easiest way, as with so many in his situation, was just to withdraw rather than engage. Even demonstrating that he wanted to be involved was huge for us.”

Liz goes on to explain that Jan had his reservations about attending the programme right up until the last minute, but after a day or two with the leaders and his new friends, he gradually came out of his shell. So much so, that he even scooped an award.

Liz adds: “I picked Jan up, and we chatted about his week. During the course of the conversation, he pulled out a medal, with a turtle on it. I asked him what it was for, and he told me it was recognition for being the person who came out of their shell the most during the week. Only a parent with a shy child can understand how thrilled that made me feel!

“After this, there has been no stopping him, and no problems with engagement with others. Jan loved the residential – in fact, I had to call him to find out what time he wanted picking up! The non-residential week went just as well, as did the community engagement projects. I spent the week dropping him off to do various tasks with the others – all with no qualms whatsoever, and the process has also given Jan the confidence to believe in himself more. He’s chosen a tougher route educationally than he could have done – opting to travel further away in order to do what he wants to do.

“He walked into a part-time job at Waitrose – something I firmly believe would not have happened without his new-found confidence and personal skills.”

Liza says: “I can’t thank NCS enough. I’ve seen a young man that physically grew in stature during this short space of time. And what it’s given him has altered the course of his life for the better. Probably forever.”

So, how does it work and what do parents need to know about the programme? It comes in three phases.

Phase 1: Adventure

They will live with their team at an outdoor activity centre, getting to know each other and experiencing the freedom of being away from home with new friends.

They are then placed in a group of 12-15 young people and together they’ll get the chance to take part in adrenaline-fuelled activities with team mates, such as: rock climbing, canoeing, hiking and archery.

Phase 2: Future

Living away from home in university style accommodation (summer only). They’ll be learning to cook for themselves while gaining valuable life skills that will make for a killer CV. All will learn about the issues facing them, as well as developing new personal skills (teamwork, leadership and communication).

Phase 3: Making A Difference

They will put all the skills and experiences they have learnt into practice as a team, agreeing on a social action project that will really make a mark on your local community.

This is their chance to be part of something amazing – plan their own project, fundraise for it and make it happen.  To see some of the fantastic Make a Difference projects from last year take a look at our Social Action newsletter.

To read more about NCS, visit For more on UFA, visit

We are recruiting! If you’re interested in working as an NCS Team Leader, Team Assistant or Volunteer with UFA, find out more here.


Helping young people develop leadership and character – what might a school look like?

Children at UFA - University of the First Age

The Department for Education has announced the school winners of the inaugural Character Awards – congratulations to all award winners and the national winner –the Leadership Academy.

Debate in the Twittersphere about the Awards has been fierce.  For some, the overwhelmingly traditional nature of the winners was a disappointment (army cadets, classical music, fencing, and a heavy focus on the extracurricular and those students who ‘do’).  For others, that character can be taught at all is controversial. For those who believe it can be taught, or at least learnt, the familiar debate begins about whether discrete lessons or embedding it across the wider curriculum is the best way forward.

Children at UFA - University of the First Age

UFA has been working for almost 20 years to develop leadership skills and characteristics in young people and we have worked with hundreds of schools during this time. So, as a charity looking to support schools, what do we believe are the key ingredients of a school that would successfully nurture in its students the leadership skills and attributes to enable them to be better learners and responsible citizens?

Here are our top 10*

1. Staff and young people realise that leadership (of self and others) is integral to learning.

2. The development of these characteristics is not left to chance. Work on leadership characteristics, and the skills that underpin them sit alongside academic qualifications as the way that the school values, measures, and promotes its success (regardless of what the current school accountability framework says).

3. The senior leadership team understands that power needs to be shared with young people and sees the value of doing this. The locus of control can be openly questioned.

4. Young people have voice and influence. This is evident both through meaningful leadership roles that are visible and powerful in the formal structures of the school but also in more informal day-to-day ways of working; the dialogue between students and staff reflects this.

5. Those working with children and young people model the leadership behaviours that they want them to develop.

6. School staff draw on the best available evidence and thinking about character and leadership, from within education and across other sectors. Critically, they do not only draw on published research but their own and colleagues’ action research.

7. The curriculum is developed, facilitated and evaluated by and with young people.

8. Everyone associated with the school is able to articulate the school’s vision for leadership in words that have meaning for them.

9. The development of leadership and work on character is considered an entitlement. It is delivered in a way that reaches all children and young people not just those identified as needing it and not only those who have parents and carers who are able to support their involvement in residentials and extracurricular events.

10. Know that no approach is ever perfect, and that while steps 1-9 are important there are other approaches that will work too. Openness, humility and a desire to learn from others are the trademark of a school modelling good leadership in practice.

*this is our thinking now… like all good learning organisations, these 10 are likely to develop over time and need to be challenged. We know that our own staff and the young people we work with will provide that challenge. We hope that the schools and other organisations we work with will help take our thinking forward too.

Children at UFA - University of the First Age

For schools wanting to develop this kind of work, our Learning Essentials might be of interest. These Learning Essentials underpin all of our programmes, which are one way for schools to work on the development of leadership and character through specific approaches such as peer tutoring, NCS, training students to be researchers, social action leaders, digital leaders and a whole range of other leadership roles.  We want all the young people we work with to develop the following skills and characteristics to be able to say ‘I can…’ and ‘I am…’

I can I am

As for the DfE Character Awards? We should all take a second look at the winners, because all have something to offer and all deserve huge credit for seeing the value in young people as leaders.

Something to be truly proud of – young people, social action and UFA


It’s all too easy to generalise about teenagers and talk about their dedication to Xboxes and smartphone screens, but those who make these sweeping statements are not only likely to be guilty of the same short attention spans – but they probably haven’t heard of the fantastic work many young people are doing for their communities through social action projects as part of the National Citizen Service programme.

The National Citizen Service (NCS) is a once-in-a-lifetime programme for 15 to 17-year-olds to make new friendships, share unforgettable memories and make a lasting impact on the world around them. UFA is one of the delivery organisations for NCS and we are proud of the high quality NCS programmes we are running across the UK. As with our other programmes for young people, our NCS delivery is underpinned by our 10 Learning Essentials.

Since 2012, we have worked with over 5,000 young people to help them achieve around 150,000 hours of social action in their communities across County Durham, Kirklees, Northamptonshire, Norfolk and Bedfordshire. We’re now extending our reach to work in Lancashire, Milton Keynes and Suffolk.

Young People are helping to change lives and creating social action projects that will inspire not only their peers, but generations to come. Participants spend a short time away from home learning to challenge themselves and each other, understanding what it means to work as part of a team. They then take these skills back to their communities and create social action projects that make a positive difference.

In teams of 12 to 15, the young people involved have embarked on various projects and challenges, which have included raising funds for local or international charities, renovating wildlife gardens and even refurbishing hospital wards.

They’ve revamped local parks, skate parks and wildlife parks. They’ve designed everything from leaflets and posters, to gardens and ponds. They’ve even hosted gigs, festivals and community events, made videos, written poetry and performed songs. As well as helping their community, they are developing valuable skills for work and life. And the feedback to date has been wonderful.

To give you a better understanding of its incredible value, let’s break it down.

There are six key principles that make up NCS and show just how much young people get out of the programme.

1. Social MixingThe programme provides young people with the opportunity to mix and build relationships with people from different social backgrounds.

2. Challenge!

We put young people through a series of challenging activities to take them out of their comfort zone and develop strength of character.

3. Increased responsibility and independence

We provide a progressive journey that hands over more responsibility to young people as the programme progresses and develops the leadership skills necessary to succeed in the workplace.

4. Reflection

Encourages young people to reflect, supporting them to learn from their experiences and become more resilient, confident and more effective in their decisions and relationships.

5. Social Action

Enables young people to connect with and get involved in their communities and develop skills that are useful for future employment.

6. Inspiration

Encourages young people to flourish after NCS – continuing to mix, contribute to their community and achieve personal goals.

Hearing the heart-warming stories from young people who have worked tirelessly on these projects and gained so much from them is testament to the programme’s success over the last few years.

Social action is one of many aspects of UFA that makes it one of the UK’s most exciting and powerful education charities. We have now worked with 50 local authority areas, over 2000 schools and youth organisations, while over 750,000 young people have participated in UFA activities.

2015 is going to be a great year for everyone involved… stay tuned.

For more information on the projects the teams have worked on, read the most recent social action newsletter here.

For more information on NCS, and how you can get involved, visit the NCS website.

Peer tutoring – a win/win/win

Peer Tutoring at UFA

Much has been made of the value of peer tutoring in accelerating academic progress. The EEF/Sutton Toolkit outlines that peer tutoring offers high impact at low cost and is expected to achieve six months of accelerated progress with each student.

However, an area that is less well researched is the impact of peer tutoring on the tutor. The toolkit makes some reference to tutor gains but although there is some research showing the impact of peer tutoring on the tutor (see this meta-analysis published in the 1980s) there is much less research in recent years on the academic and wider benefits for those volunteering for this role.

This is an area of particular interest to UFA as one of the lead proponents of peer tutoring in the UK. These Learning Essentials underpin all UFA work. One of these 10 Essentials is that ‘Each one should teach one’. UFA believes that leadership and learning are integral to each other and that authentic leadership opportunities provide a context within which young people can reflect, grow, change and build ‘character’.

Leadership begins with showing responsibility for oneself and our leadership programmes encourage self-reflection, creativity, innovation and enterprise. Crucially, we believe all young people can develop these skills and attributes.

Peer Tutoring at UFA

Through these leadership experiences we believe young people are better prepared for learning, for work and for life. Peer tutoring provides the opportunity for one such real-life leadership experience – the chance to take action to help lead and support another’s learning.

Anecdotal evidence and pre/post-evaluations suggest that the benefits of peer tutoring to the tutor include:

• Improved communication skills – “I had to really think how I was explaining things and to really listen to their answers”.

• Better understanding and manipulation of the subject content that they are teaching – (something we know impacts on attainment).

• Increased value placed on collaborative learning and learning with others.

• Being generous with time and recognising the importance of acting responsibly.

Students and teachers working with UFA

We also know that on average at least 75% of young people who have taken part in UFA Peer Tutor training score highly on Guy Claxton’s 4 Rs (resilience, resourcefulness, reflectiveness and reciprocity).

This evidence is valuable and the impact on individuals is marked. Still, further research is needed and at UFA we are committed to developing the evidence base, both for our work and for the wider system.

Over the coming year, we will be looking to:

• Further add to the evidence based of how peer tutoring impacts on progress and attainment for learners.

• Develop approaches to testing the impact of peer tutoring on academic attainment of tutors.

• Consider how we evaluate the impact of peer tutoring on those wider skills and attributes, some might call them ‘character’, that are so important for wider success in life e.g. curiosity, confidence, empathy and integrity.

For more information on peer tutoring, visit the blog from UFA’s Director of Learning, Sarah Burgess.

If this is something that you are interested in working with us on – or if you have evidence to share with us – please contact Sarah on Twitter @ufasarah, email: or contact the UFA office: or 0121 7668077.

Everything changes, but everything stays the same


As we start the year, UFA is operating in a world where education press releases and think tanks highlight how it is all about grit and character. Where leadership skills, resilience and communication are seen to be the essential skills mix to ensure our economy thrives. Where mental health and well-being of our young people is a concern and a priority.


After an increasingly narrow policy focus on academic attainment this broadening of what it means to receive an education is welcome.

But is it new?

The words change and different voices say them but for UFA and many others in education the development of ‘character’ attributes has ever been a core part of our work. Since 1996, UFA has worked in partnership with schools reaching over 750,000 young people with evidence led programmes that support the develop of – what might previously have been called – life skills, soft skills, work skills, etc.

We know – as do so many schools – that the development of leadership dispositions, behaviours and competencies supports rather than detracts from academic success. The young person who can lead their own learning, has good metacognition, can transfer learning approaches etc., is much more likely to engage with education and the links with attainment have been well evidenced. Peer support, for example, which we deliver in our structured Peer Tutoring programme, is rated by the Education Endowment Foundation as one of its high value approaches to narrowing the attainment gap.


And it is in the work of EEF and other research bodies that we might see something that is really ‘new’. The evidence base for this work is developing and with that its standing within the education community. UFA welcome the announcement this week that EEF are taking applications for organisations wishing to research the impact of ‘character education’ and we are interested in the work of organisations like the Jubilee Centre and others who are pulling together thinking on how best to measure progress.

As 2015 moves on, UFA expects to be at the centre of the character debate but also its implementation. We will be launching our Centre for Young People’s Leadership, increasing the reach of our National Citizenship Service Provision and working with schools to take Peer Tutoring and other leadership programmes into even more settings.

But most of all we will be lobbying to ensure that access to opportunities to develop ‘character’ is an entitlement for all young people and not just those able to access extra-curricular activity or to be fortunate enough to be in a school that does it well. Because whatever its name this year, the impact of this work on young people remains exceptional.