Three main factors have been central to the success of Learning Away partnership schools’ success:
- High quality training for student leaders.
- Ongoing support for young leaders from school staff.
- Clear expectations about staff and student leaders’ responsibilities.
For some students, the opportunity to share responsibility for the development and delivery of a residential visit is life changing. At the Learning Away partnership schools that explored the potential for student leadership, this approach is now thoroughly embedded in the planning cycle.
How student leaders benefit ^
The benefits to the student leaders themselves are diverse. Bulwell and Calderglen report that students relish the chance to work in partnership with school and venue staff. Assisting in the planning and delivery of a residential is a fantastic means for students to practise and develop their leadership skills in an exciting and rewarding way; students say that they gain additional satisfaction in participating in the residential’s activities when they themselves were instrumental in making them happen.
Tony McDaid, former Headteacher at Calderglen High School, suggests that opportunities and outcomes for student leaders also include:
- the development of a range of skills relevant to life, learning and work, including confidence, communication and problem solving
- enhanced relationships within the school community, including with staff and peers
- taking increased responsibility by working with younger pupils
- inclusion of their Learning Away leadership experience on a CV or UCAS personal statement – as well as in university or job interviews
- gaining relevant work-related experiences, which may lead to paid work
- making (and being seen to make) a positive and lasting contribution to the school community and beyond through volunteering.
Young people from Bulwell and Calderglen partnerships described their positive experiences as student leaders in post-residential evaluation groups, illustrating some of the opportunities and outcomes above:
“I think it’s made me more organised… when I’m doing a session now I know everything that I need, I know what I need to do, how I need to do it, how long I’ve got…Whereas when I started I just did it until I was told to stop…I think I’ve become my own type of boss…I work independently without any advice.”
“I think I’m a more mature person now…It’s like you’re growing up.”
“You can adapt easily, and like that can happen in your school work as well, and in school like being able to adapt it’s like a skill.”
Confidence and motivation ^
“I didn’t know any of the teachers, so it’s helped with my confidence going into the school and not knowing anyone and working with them”
“I’m a more motivated person now…I’ll literally do anything if it’ll improve me as a person…I’m a more open person than I was before.”
“You respect what the teachers do, it’s hard for them. They’re doing it day in day out and we’re doing it every couple of months…it changes the way you are…you don’t realise how much they do.”
The future ^
“It gets you set for the world because you’ve got to work with older people and other staff in other careers.”
“Some of the advice I get off the teachers [on residentials] helps me take a step back and look at my best options.”
At one student’s university interveiw, she was the only person who’d had this sort of experience: “I think it made me stand out more in my interview.”
Other leaders echoed this students’ thinking, with one saying that without his student leadership experience, he would not have applied to university at all:
“I think if I didn’t do the sports leadership I probably wouldn’t have tried to apply for uni, I don’t think I would have got in…whereas now I’ve had the get up and go attitude to say ‘look I do actually want to go to uni, I do actually want to make something of my career’…before I ‘d probably just think ‘I’m probably not going to get anywhere in life’.”
Students as leaders benefit the whole learning community ^
Where schools have introduced a culture of students working in partnership with staff, using the approach to plan and deliver residentials is a natural progression and offers students the chance to test their nascent leadership skills on ‘real life’ situations. By their very nature, residentials must encapsulate intensive learning, student welfare and recreation within a limited time frame and often in unfamiliar surroundings; the decision making process can be pressured and every decision counts. For student leaders, this offers a unique insight into the to way meaningful choices are debated and made, thereby increasing their range of positive learning experiences.
Supporting the development and delivery of brilliant residentials has the potential to be the core of a student leadership programme. In addition to acting as role models to peers and younger members of their school and community, a leadership role on a residential offers students opportunities for work experience and can also enable them to gain recognised accreditations. Students communicating formally with external providers – perhaps venues, other schools or private companies – shows the school and its students at their very best. Some of these relationships may continue to develop over a number of years – through future residentials, internships with providers or by encouraging students to share their new skills by volunteering within their local community.
Learning Away schools report that student leaders who play an integral role in residentials develop an increased sense of association and identity with their school and community and add that the fostering of relationships with other schools and organisations is a vital and much valued element of their student leadership programmes. Examples include students taking on assistant coaching roles in primary schools, supporting after-school clubs, planning fundraising events and participating in voluntary initiatives.
Learning Away partnerships also report impacts reaching even more widely than the local community. During the 2012 Olympic Games, young people from Calderglen High School were invited to develop and provide activities and sports demonstrations for visitors to the Olympic Park. Calderglen’s student leaders worked alongside student leaders from The Compton School in London to develop and deliver five days’ worth of activity plans for Olympic Park spectators. The young participants were selected because of the commitment, motivation and leadership skills they demonstrated on residentials, through their Sports Leadership Award programme and throughout the school as a whole. Read more about Calderglen students’ experiences at the Olympics, here.
“I like to think that some of the kids here are looking at us and thinking ‘I want to do that when I go to secondary school’.”
The effect on younger students ^
Younger students need not miss out on the leadership opportunities residentials provide. During the residential itself, there are tangible benefits for younger pupils; active and positive role modelling by older students provides younger children with an opportunity to experience student leadership, and observe teacher-student partnerships at first hand. Younger children report that when student leaders are participating in a residential, they tend to more frequently encounter and work alongside students from other year groups – a welcome spin off being the extension of their own friendship groups back in school.
For some younger children, a residential may be the first time they’ve really spent any meaningful time with older students, and this unpressured time away from school promotes the confidence and communication skills of student leaders and younger children alike.
“Not only does it build us [student leaders] as people, it builds them [primary pupils] as well.”
Student leader, Bulwell EAZ partnership
In this short film, staff involved in the student leadership programme at Bulwell describe its benefits for the young leaders themselves, the children they support and their schools.