Why is it so important for us to develop leadership skills in young people?

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Type the word ‘leadership’ into an internet search engine, and you will be faced with 469 million results on what it means to be a leader, what defines a leader, famous leaders throughout time – in addition to thousands of quotes, tips and comments on leadership skills, and why it’s important to possess them.

Yet there is little to explain leadership to young people and why it’s so important for schools and organisations such as ourselves to develop leadership skills in young people.

We believe that leadership is about learning to lead yourself, as well as leading others. In fact, at UFA, we stress that learning to lead yourself is the basis for leading others.

We encourage young leaders to take responsibility for their own learning. They can then develop a sense of responsibility, self efficacy, and a positive mindset, coupled with planning and organisational skills, which enable them to become better learners, therefore gaining higher attainment.

Young people in today’s schools will be the next generation of leaders in the workplace, in our communities and in their families.  Because genuine leadership opportunities support transition into adulthood, foster the skills and character to be responsible citizens, and promote social and emotional well-being.

So, how do we do it?

We help young people to develop leadership skills and character by providing real-life opportunities to practice – where successes and failures are equally valuable and time is spent on self-reflection with coaching feedback from adults and other young people alike.

Understanding the process involved in leading oneself and others enables young people to be confident in their roles and to navigate their own path.

And so, young people and those who support them must be prepared for their leadership responsibilities.

We have seen so many grow in confidence and become fantastic role models for others. And they understand the responsibility this brings. They grow through their ability to transfer this learning to other experiences and it deepens their learning when they lead.

When young people in leadership roles are trained as evaluators and researchers, and they gather and analyse data about their school, everyone learns.

Our Peer Tutors and Lead Learners are equipped to co-construct learning with teachers, and as a result, we have seen teaching and learning change.

When young people are trained as Students of Today, Leaders of Tomorrow and become part of school councils and contribute to senior leadership decisions, we see school culture change.

When young people’s leadership is proactively planned and embedded as part of the school vision, valued and articulated by young people and adults alike, then it becomes part of a journey to whole school improvement, and a better place to be.

The Oxford Dictionary defines leadership as ‘The action of leading a group of people or an organisation, or the ability to do this’. At UFA, we believe every young person has the ability to lead.

They may just need a little help from us along the way…

For more on leadership skills and our Peer Tutoring programmes, visit ufa.org.uk.

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Everything changes, but everything stays the same

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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.

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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.

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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.