‘Opportunities Without Limits’

IMG_3720Tonight Dame Christine Braddock, Chairman of Birmingham Children’s Hospital NHS Foundation Trust, opened the first ever Aspire@BCH Star Awards.  The awards celebrate the contribution young people and staff have made in providing ‘opportunities without limits’ in the many inspiring projects run under the banner of Aspire@BCH.

I feel privileged to have been part of Aspire’s journey since it was a glimmer in the eye of the Education Team at Birmingham Children’s Hospital. In just 18 months it has grown into an established part of BCH offering support for young people to help them gain the skills, knowledge and confidence to enter the world of work via a range of innovative programmes and opportunities.

IMG_3730UFA have been involved in several projects with BCH over the last 5 years ranging from facilitating staff training, running the annual Challenge Week for apprentices, interns and trainees and working with their Young People’s Advisory Group to train them up to be researchers. Several groups of young people have also been part of our UFA Step Up To Serve programme devising and running social action projects in and around the hospital.  So, we were delighted to be able to sponsor and present the award for Young Leader of the Year tonight at the inaugural Aspire@BCH Star Awards Ceremony.

Of course we’d like to make special mention of the 3 nominees for the UFA Young Leader award and the winner Lisa Lee. Congratulations to you all!

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There were so many worthy winners and nominees in the spotlight tonight, including staff who have been great Youth Ambassadors and gone out of their way to support young people in their departments, fantastic mentors, managers, apprentices and graduate interns.  Special mention should also go to the winners of the Chairman’s Award for ‘innovation and working with young people in a remarkable and ground breaking way’ which went to Calthorpe Vocational Centre who have worked with BCH to provide learning experiences that develop key employability and supported living skills for students with moderate/severe and ASD needs.  This is a fitting tribute to the great work Calthorpe do.

If you’re a school in the West Midlands or an NHS Trust from further afield, get in touch and check out Aspire’s website – it’s a fantastic way to engage a wide range of young people and schools in exciting work-related learning.


Sarah Burgess,

Director of Learning, UFA & rather proud Steering Group member of Aspire@BCH


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.