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.

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.