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


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.


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.

From Special Measures to ‘phenomenal change’ in just six weeks – one school’s incredible story



As a national charity dedicated to young people’s learning, schools and their teaching staff are naturally at the heart of what we do. To date, we have trained 5,000 teachers and youth workers – a figure that is proudly etched on our latest impact report.

Of course, we know that schools are approached about hundreds of projects, programmes and initiatives every term, and we know that there is a bursting catalogue of fantastic organisations dedicated to closing the gap, supporting pupil premium, and managing the curriculum.

But it’s UFA’s successful Peer Tutoring programmes and our approach to Professional Development that are standing out amongst the crowd and making a real difference in schools. The feedback has, overwhelmingly, come from the staff room, but beyond, too – teachers, parents, pupils – and even Ofsted, are noticing a significant improvement as a direct result of our support in schools.

St Philip Howard School in Glossop is a fine example of how we implement change, ‘phenomenal’ change, in fact. And its story is one of immense importance.

Following an initial recommendation by Sally Fitton, his LA Education Advisor, Acting Head Teacher Mike Kays met with our team and agreed on a two-day training course, so he and his colleagues could fully understand how to train their pupils in Peer Tutoring. The school was already in Special Measures and was desperately seeking change.

The Peer Tutoring opportunity was then offered to Years 9 and 10, with 33 applicants signing up. These were trained and paired with tutees across Years 7 and 8, with a strong focus on homework completion, issue solving, relationship building and general engagement.

“I was hugely impressed with their history and obvious expertise, and have to say the changes already are phenomenal,” said Mike. “There’s been a massive impact on social skills, self-esteem and confidence. It’s already filtering through into the pupils’ grades.”

Using Guy Claxton’s ‘4Rs’ to evaluate training on ‘soft skills’, we saw a 10% increase in resilience, a 9% rise in resourcefulness, a 16% rise in reflectiveness and an incredible 32% increase in reciprocity, as a result of the training.

Margaret Hyde is a School Governor, and was Head of a primary feeder school to St Philip Howard…

She told us: “There was one Year 6 pupil we were particularly concerned about. He was in real danger of becoming a school refuser – withdrawn at school, in need of constant reassurance and dependent upon 1:1 help in most subjects.

“After I retired, I became school governor, so attended for Ofsted inspections. I was beyond staggered to see this particular pupil coming up the school path on his own, actually eager to get to class! He made eye contact, and came over to say hello – absolutely unheard of beforehand!

“I watched him fully participate in UFA’s activities that day – seeing him and the others working well together, and gelling as a team. His literacy and numeracy has improved, along with his confidence. For such a change in such a short space of time is nothing short of miraculous, and I fully credit the UFA Peer Tutoring programme for it.”

Pupils, meanwhile, fed back the following…

“I am better at science because of my Tutor”
“My mum has said that my social skills have improved. I think my confidence has as well.”

UFA is an organisation committed to learning. For more on our in-school programmes, visit www.ufa.org.uk/.

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 http://www.ncsyes.co.uk/about. For more on UFA, visit http://www.ufa.org.uk/

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.

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.