The importance of Character Education in schools cannot be underestimated. There have been multiple research papers and surveys published that show how disillusioned society has become regarding the curriculum taught in schools: ‘44% of employers do not think young people are leaving education ‘work ready’’ (CBI/Pearson Education and Skills survey report 2019) and ‘more than a quarter of young people, 26%, feel unable to cope with life.’ (Princes Trust Youth Index 2021)
In recent years, pre and post pandemic, there has been a focus on delivering a ‘broad and balanced curriculum’, ‘educating the whole child’ and ensuring young people leave education ‘work ready’: A recent survey stated that ‘wider character behaviors and attributes are the most important consideration when employers are recruiting a school or college leaver’ (CBI/Pearson Education and Skills Survey report 2021). Parents and guardians also strongly advocate that the focus of education should not be solely academic with ‘88% of parents agreeing that a good education for their child goes beyond exam results’ (Parentkind Annual Parent Survey 2021)
Essa Academy in Greater Manchester runs the Young Leaders at KS3 and KS4 as part of their Character Development programme. The Young Leaders Award is taught by teachers within the classroom setting and encourages students to take an active role in their communities and to ‘be the change they want to see’ by completing action projects. The Award inspires students to take a proactive approach to what is happening in their communities by setting challenges that can be completed individually or in groups, enabling them to advocate and promote issues they are personally passionate about.
We recently visited Essa Academy to find out what impact the Young Leaders Award was having on the students and teachers. We spoke to several Year 9 students, who had completed the KS3 award and were now working on the KS4 Award (all students at Essa complete the KS3 award and they then have the option of taking part in the KS4 as part of the KS4 Character Development programme).
Some of the action projects the students have been involved with include: reading to KS2 children for World Book Day, making and delivering hampers to teacher and staff around school and organizing and publicizing a clothes collection for a local charity. The pupils have also been involved in trying raise awareness of several environmental and social issues including, racism in sport (focusing on the Euros 2021), the impact of fast fashion on the environment and the rise in knife crime in the Greater Manchester area. But the students haven’t stopped there. They have ambitions to advocate for a zebra crossing outside school. This is a project close to their hearts as a student had been hit by a car crossing the road.
‘We would need to use our negotiating skills to speak to the head teacher and would also need permission from the local council. We could ask all the parents to sign a petition or write a letter, the more support we get, the better chance we have to succeed!’ Year 9 pupil
The students were also very keen to explain what it meant to them to be able to take part in the Young Leaders Award. They spoke about becoming more confident, improving their communication and team working skills and also helping with problem solving.
‘In the Young Leaders Award, you can’t just sit quietly and not get involved. Young Leaders helps you to think about what you can do to fix a problem.’ Year 9 pupil
One student said taking part in the Young Leaders Award had helped developed their core values and made them a better person.
‘You become more compassionate and begin to spread hope to those around you. You become kinder to others, developing empathy and putting yourself in someone else’s shoes.’ Year 9 pupil
The teachers at Essa also recognise the benefits of their students taking part in the Young Leaders Award.
‘The Award encourages independent leadership, building students’ confidence to suggest their own ideas and strategies to solve issues. It improves their negotiation skills, builds initiative and helps to develop a positive growth mindset for GCSEs, especially resilience and determination.’ Young Leaders Award teacher
The staff strongly believed that taking part in a character education program, such as the Young Leaders Award, is crucial to the students’ education and could have a huge impact on future society.
‘Future generations would become servant leaders: leading by making a difference and setting a good example. Society would be more compassionate and understanding of different issues that people face.’ Young Leaders Award teacher
The final statement goes to one of the students who was asked how they would respond to someone who said teenagers were too young to be leaders and change things. The response:
‘Who is better to lead in the present than someone who was born into it.’ Year 9 pupil
To find out more about the Young Leaders Award, click here.