Primary pupils Learning to Lead

Written by: HTU | Published:

Learning to Lead is a pupil leadership project originally developed by two teachers in Somerset. Now in more than 100 schools, both secondary and primary, Sir Tim Brighouse recently visited participating primaries to find out more. Chairman of the scheme,

It has always seemed common sense to me that a service is likely to be more effective if those who are on the receiving end are genuinely engaged in what is provided and how.

I would argue that this is most important in education, as it is the best way of encouraging and enabling young people to become active citizens and to gain the skills and confidence they need.

Engaging pupils to work in teams to generate their own ideas for improving the life of their school and community is a beautifully simple idea – but one that requires a high degree of skilled facilitation, careful planning, humility and patience.

And that’s what Learning to Lead does. It exists to make it easy for schools – it provides them with the necessary structures, training, tools and on-going support (which have been developed and honed by teachers and students working together over the past 10 years). Ever anxious to gain other insights into the programme, we were delighted that Sir Tim Brighouse among other educationalists agreed to visit three Learning to Lead schools in Bath and North East Somerset recently.

These schools are in communities with very different socio-economic backgrounds. As Learning to Lead’s new chair it was also a wonderful opportunity for me to see what happened on the ground.

The primary school, St Nicholas CE, is situated in Radstock and had only started the programme nine months ago. Extraordinarily, every single child was already a member of a different Learning to Lead team, be it “art supplies”, “playground buddies” or the “tech team”.

The pupils were learning to work together to carry out their responsibilities, and each pupil knew they had an important role in the classroom. They weren’t just helping out, every individual decided what they wanted to do and teams then had to work out what and how best to manage things. The “fruit team” for example had to work out how many of what types of fruit to select for their class.

Headteacher Gill Sutcliffe explained: “The staff and children have really embraced Learning to Lead. It has transformed classrooms because it has enabled the children to have a voice in daily routines, decision-making and activities. It has also helped a number of children with low self-esteem – they have taken their role within their team very seriously and they have transferred their newly found confidence and organisational skills into their learning.”

How schools develop Learning to Lead differs and although activities can be on-going, many have an afternoon a week which is dedicated to developing team-work. Examples I have seen are diverse: from an inventive “maths team” running a workshop exploring aerodynamics by making paper aeroplanes to a recent outstanding Ofsted report which picked up on the increase in interest in reading at Bishop Sutton Primary School in North East Somerset following the creation of a “library team” (the pupil members of which seemed to know better what will attract their peers in and get them to read).

At Baltonsborough Primary School in Glastonbury, which has been involved since 2007, every classroom is now a Learning to Lead community classroom with teams of children responsible for all aspects of daily life and learning. This includes a rich and abundant garden, where there is a raised bed for every classroom’s “Growing Team”. The children grow the vegetables, which contribute to school lunches, and the children join in with the cooking.

Headteacher Lesley Fenwick talks about the deeper change that has happened for both the children and the staff: “There is an unspoken trust and expectation given to the children which encourages ever more responsibility and develops a sense of pride and ownership in all that is done. The children grow in stature and confidence about who they are and what they can do.”

After the day in Somerset, Sir Tim and his colleagues emerged positive and excited. As he later wrote: “I haven’t stopped talking about Learning to Lead since my visit. They really do seem to have taken student involvement and voice to a new level.” I am delighted that Sir Tim has agreed to be one of the first official Learning to Lead ambassadors.

Learning to Lead

Learning to Lead was born in 2002 after concern at the lack of opportunity for genuine student involvement in the life of school communities. Developed by two teachers and students from the Blue School, a state secondary in Wells, Somerset, the aim was to involve everyone, not just the brightest and most vocal, in identifying changes needed and then enabling student-led project teams to bring them about.

The outcomes saw students growing in confidence, self-esteem and ownership, and the whole culture of the school changing to one where everyone was “doing” rather than “being done to”.

The programme was gradually extended to other local schools and an evaluation carried out by Cambridge University found significant benefits, and the scheme has since grown organically, with 75 new schools joining in the past three years. Support for further national expansion is currently being provided by the Esmée Fairbairn Foundation.

Further information

• Andy Powell is chairman of Learning to Lead.

• For more primary education best practice and advisory articles from Headteacher Update, click here.

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