Bulwell student leaders – students who really make a difference

Key features

  • Student leaders supporting residentials
  • Raising aspiration and creating employment opportunities
  • Primary and secondary schools working together

One of the core elements of the programme in the Bulwell EAZ Learning Away partnership is training young leaders so that they gain the confidence and skills to design and lead activities within local schools, at after-school and holiday clubs and on school residentials. Jake and Chris, two ex-Bulwell students now both at university, have been involved in many activities as student leaders with Bulwell EAZ over a number of years. This case study sets out the story of their development within the Bulwell community and celebrates the achievement of just two of our outstanding team of young leaders.

Background

Bulwell EAZ is a partnership of six primary schools and one secondary school in North Nottingham working to raise standards and improve outcomes for children, young people and families. Based at Bulwell Academy, it is part of the city-wide EIP Strategy and benefits from working closely with a range of local and national organisations. The EAZ is led by a management group consisting of the headteachers of all schools in the partnership. The group takes shared responsibility for the young people in the Bulwell area and have signed a partnership agreement to formalise this arrangement

Learning outside the classroom is an area of work that has grown through Learning Away to support curriculum development across the EAZ. Critical to its success is the partnership with Nottingham City Council Sport, Outdoor Learning and Sustainability team, who have worked with the EAZ throughout the Learning Away programme.

Starting out in leadership

Both Jake and Chris were members of Bulwell EAZ’s Student Council when they were at local primary schools. The Council meets several times a year and includes representatives from all the schools in Bulwell from Years 1 to 11. Jake and Chris showed leadership skills at an early age, representing their schools at many Student Council events. Jake became a member of the Council in Year 4; Chris was head boy at his primary school and came onto the Council as a Year 6 pupil.

The Bulwell leadership pathway

When two local secondary schools closed and Bulwell Academy opened in September 2009, a pathway was developed to create a structure for development of young sports leaders. This meant that from Year 7 students could choose to start leadership training. Jake and Chris, with ambitions already for a career in sport and early experiences of leadership, quickly took up every training opportunity available.

One such opportunity is our annual Sports Festivals. These take place within curriculum time; primary pupils come onto the Bulwell Academy site to try out a variety of different sports and feel comfortable within a large secondary school setting. Both Jake and Chris regularly worked with our School Sports Coordinator to help organise and run these Sports Festivals and, as their experience grew, they helped to train other young leaders.

When Bulwell EAZ became part of the Learning Away programme additional possibilities arose – through residentials – for young leaders to further develop their skills.

Leadership through residentials

Hartington Hall

One such residential involved taking 90 young people from Years 5 and 7 across the EAZ to Hartington Hall Youth Hostel in Derbyshire, supported by primary and secondary staff and 12 young leaders. The leaders designed and delivered a range of team-building activities and supported staff with group activities over the course of the three-day residential. Jake and Chris were part of the young leader team two years running, whilst they were in Year 11 and Year 12 (2010 and 2011); they also mentored less experienced young leaders in their second year of leading. The young leaders’ delivery was praised by primary staff, who described them as excellent role models for younger students. These staff also noted a difference in the confidence of the more experienced leaders as the residential was repeated.

Bulwell Academy Camps

As the Learning Away programme developed in Bulwell it became apparent that we needed to address the challenge of sustainability. Many of the residentials were heavily reliant on external funding and, given the economic circumstances of our local community, it was not viable to put additional financial pressure on families to pay larger amounts for their children to attend residentials such as Hartington. We also wanted to increase the number of children who could attend residentials, making them part of a child’s entitlement in Bulwell schools, so needed to develop something more local and lower cost.

As a response to sustainability, in Autumn 2011 we began three one-night camps on the Bulwell Academy site. Different holiday patterns for our primary schools and the Academy meant that the camps could have sole occupancy of the site, which has good facilities and is totally secure. Jake and Chris were very keen to become involved with the camps and being on ‘their’ site they were invaluable in the planning and delivery of the camps. As the camps were in Jake and Chris’ holiday times, the EAZ was able to offer them paid employment as young leaders throughout the three camps. Their role included:

  • providing continuity as different primary schools came to and left the camp
  • setting up and running a range of team-building activities (e.g. orienteering, den building, sports activities)
  • familiarising campers with camp procedures and facilities (e.g. setting up and putting away of tents, mats and sleeping bags; eating arrangements, washing facilities, etc.)
  • reinforcing camp safety guidelines with the children, ensuring they could enjoy themselves in a safe, happy and carefree environment.

A range of staff from different primary schools attended the camps. Jake and Chris showed great maturity in gauging appropriate relationships with the various staff, giving support and leading activities with enthusiasm.

Wollaton Hall and Newstead Abbey

Since this first camp, Jake, Chris and other young leaders who have come up through the Bulwell leadership pathway have been instrumental in the success of the Academy Camps and have increasingly taken on responsibility for setting up and running the camp. We have also extended the leadership development programme to include our Year 2 camp at Wollaton Hall and our Year 5 camp at Newstead Abbey. Four years on, Jake and Chris are still involved as paid camp leaders.

Beyond residentials: accreditation, employment opportunities and aspiration

Through the Academy Camps we have been able to extend our leadership pathway to paid work, helping young leaders both financially and acting as a stepping stone to other paid employment and further education.

Bulwell EAZ is also part of a Community Sport partnership funded through Sport England and works with other school partnerships in Nottingham. Both Jake and Chris realised the potential of becoming qualified leaders and took up the Level 2, then Level 3 Sports Leader course. The increased confidence the accreditation provided enabled them to engage in a wide range of volunteering and paid opportunities across the Academy. This is what the Headteacher at Bulwell Academy said of Jake and Chris at the time:

“I believe they are the trailblazers and many other Bulwell Academy students will follow the same successful path to leadership which will result in them opening many doors for them in their future pathways.”

Opportunities for further work for Jake and Chris came not just from within Bulwell Academy, but from across the community and Nottingham City. By being reliable and enthusiastic, and by developing positive relationships with managers of various projects has opened up many new and exciting opportunities for them.

For example, in partnership with other organisations, Bulwell EAZ organises a range of holiday clubs in the community. Jake and Chris began volunteering at the clubs run by a local organisation called My Community Sport to give them valuable work experience whilst studying for their Level 2 sport leader qualification. It quickly became apparent they were very popular with the children attending the clubs. They both showed a natural ability to engage groups in a range of activities an they were sensitive to any children who had additional needs and were able to adapt and include all those in a group. They showed a great maturity but were also able to have fun with the children, quickly building up a level of trust and respect in various holiday club settings. Once they qualified, My Community Sport started to employ Jake and Chris to support extended school activities in Bulwell and across the city. The manager of the local My Community Sport project said of these two young leaders in 2011:

“Chris is an excellent communicator, who’s confidence has grown throughout the last three years and is an asset to the school and My Community Sport Team.”

“Jake displays a huge amount of commitment evident through his volunteer work, this coupled with his knowledge, dedication to personal development and maturity, has given Jake an excellent foundation for developing his work experience portfolio. Jake is a fantastic sports leader, and is an asset to any activity staff team, He is a credit to the community of Bulwell and is an excellent role model to younger generations.”

Both Jake and Chris left Bulwell Academy to study sports at university one year early. They were able to use their experience as young leaders to help gain their places at university, and have continued their work within the EAZ since this time.

Jake and Chris’ views of the young leader pathway

“It gave me a great experience to work with a wide range of children and adults with new activities. Working out of my comfort zone in new sports also gave me a boost in confidence and seeing the younger children enjoy those new activities is an achievement for myself and the project.”

“As a leader it allowed me to gain new skills and qualities that gave me confidence within this area. As an overall experience it allowed me to express my knowledge within different areas and develop further.”

Impact of young leaders on the Bulwell residential programme

Over time, as the partnership’s confidence in young leaders such as Jake and Chris has grown and, as the leaders themselves have grown in confidence, their impact on Bulwell’s residential programme has increased.

Trust has been the crucial factor that has allowed this growth. As primary staff could see the leaders taking initiative, acting responsibly and delivering quality activities, they were able to relax with them and increase their expectations of activities they might deliver. With young leaders taking on responsibility for part of the residentials’ activities, staff were able to focus on specific activities that needed more expertise and planning, improving the quality of what the residentials offered young people as well as the breadth of the activities.

In focus groups staff commented on how much easier the residentials became with the young leaders, saying that their involvement “took the pressure off” in terms of having to organise absolutely everything. This reduced pressure allowed staff to step back and observe the primary children on the residential, enabling them to learn a lot more about them. It also helped staff to evaluate the residential’s structure more effectively, helping to improve subsequent residentials. For Linda Abbott, the Learning Away Coordinator, having experienced young leaders such as Jake and Chris to set up the physical aspects of the Academy Camps in particular enabled her to concentrate on making sure that everything else was in place to make sure the residentials ran smoothly.

For the children on residentials, having the young leaders around was also beneficial. They bonded quickly with them and felt comfortable asking them for help around the camp. As well as helping with taking pressure off staff, this also meant that when it came to doing something children weren’t sure about, the young leaders were able to model the activity and support them through it, increasing their confidence further.

In summary

There is often a preconception that it can be difficult to engage young people to participate in positive activities. Jake and Chris are outstanding examples of what young people can achieve given the right support, guidance and opportunities. They are still very ambitious for themselves, the Bulwell Academy and the local community. They proactively seek out chances to get involved in activities and are looked up to by both younger students and peers.

Being well known and respected within the community, parents and families trust them and welcome their involvement, seeing future development for their own children.

Given the employment and economic challenges that our community face we see the young leaders pathway as a significant development that continues to, support our students in whichever future they choose.