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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Going back to the classroom – a fresh set of eyes on Peer Tutoring

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It’s been a long time since I have been in a classroom for any length of time, more than two decades in fact, but in my second week at UFA as Communications Manager, I went back to Junior School.

I was lucky enough to join a group of 20 nine and ten year olds on the first day of a Peer Tutoring course being delivered by the UFA team in a Derbyshire school.

With no experience of education beyond my own, having children of school age and a family that works in schools and colleges, my perception of what Peer Tutoring is was limited, to say the least.

Put simply, I thought it was about some of the cleverest, older children teaching younger children what they knew.

It was a preconception that quickly changed after seeing the programme in action, as Peer Tutoring can indeed be that simple – but it can also be so much more.

At the school I visited, the children were drawn from a mix of classes and year groups and had been encouraged to write about why they wanted to be a Peer Tutor. For many of those selected, the motivation to get involved was far more about building their confidence and it was a theme that echoed throughout the day.

Some of the children were painfully shy, others far more outgoing and quick to express their views, but the setup of the day and the close eyes of Lula and Neil – who were delivering that day’s training – meant that very quickly everyone got an opportunity to have their voice heard.

The session quickly moved out of the classroom and into a hall, where children were encouraged to physically walk the course to understand what they would be doing for the next two days.

A quick memory name game and a quiz soon broke the ice between the children and got them thinking about what learning meant to them.

It was this look at the Peer Tutors’ own learning preferences that formed much of the focus for the day and encouraged a degree of self-awareness in the children (which was obvious many of them had never had before).

This was quickly followed by a session discussing goals, intentions and fears for the day and it was evident from the sticky notes on the board that fear of failure and again, that lack of confidence, was high on the agenda for many of the pupils.

A personality quiz to map their intelligence profiles had many of the children discussing what they were good at, but also quickly establishing that it was OK to possess a range of strengths and for everyone to be different.

The energy throughout the day was maintained by the bite-size sessions of different activities, which gave the children the opportunity to get actively involved, moving round different spaces, doing very different things.

“It’s not like a normal school day ,Miss!” was one of the comments which came up several times.

By the end of the day, the children were far more attuned to their own learning and what it would mean to share that with someone. By the time they were asked to role play peer learning, they were already taking their insights from the day, and in many cases, changing or feeding back on another’s behaviour as a result.

Looking back at the end of the day, there were some great highlights. The first session involved making name badges, where children were asked to write down an ambition, a favourite activity and a holiday, as well as their name. This quickly initiated some brilliant discussions and debates (for me, too!)

The more physical sessions – which included creating a human bar chart – stimulated the children, refocused their interest quickly and effectively and gave an energy and pace to the day, which everyone enjoyed.

There was a great deal of discussion about feeding your brain and keeping it watered, which, combined with a conversation about exercise and sleep, helped the children to explore what they could change to help their brains.

But the biggest highlights for me were the insights the children gave into what they had learnt. What they had learnt about themselves – and how their tutees might be feeling.

“You’ve got to think about the other person’s point of view and how they might be feeling, because it can be a bit scary being in Year 3,” voiced one.

“It’s really hard putting up your hand and saying you don’t know something in front of the whole class, but I might be happier saying that one to one with someone my own age,” said another.

“You don’t do all your learning at school. The world is a much bigger place than school and you learn much, much more outside it.”

“You have to be nice all the time when you are a Peer Tutor. There’s no point in being nice when you are doing it, but then being horrible the rest of the time.”

It’s these insights that make Peer Tutoring so valuable to the tutors, as well as the tutees.

By the end of the day, there was a real empathy from the children for each other-  and for the children they would be working with. It’s more than just teaching someone what you know, it’s walking in their shoes for a while and the Peer Tutors in training I saw, grasped the value of that and started to put it into action on Day One.

For more on Peer Tutoring, visit www.ufa.org.uk.

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: sburgess@ufa.org.uk or contact the UFA office: admin@ufa.org.uk or 0121 7668077.

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.