United Learning’s Primary Student Leadership Programme
The event was the culmination of months of work as part of United Learning’s Primary Student Leadership Programme, which was developed and is run in partnership with WE. The schools taking part represented a broad spectrum of the Group’s primaries, including schools from the state and independent sectors all the way from Yorkshire to Surrey.
Now in its second year, the programme kicked off with a Training Day in November 2016 which involved a series of workshops run by WE facilitators on leadership, teamwork and social change. Following this, pupils went back to their own schools and devised and carried out a social action project of their choice, with a view to supporting an issue that especially resonated with them.
The graduation ceremony was a chance for all the pupils involved to meet up again and share what they had achieved, learnt and enjoyed about the process. Each school group gave a presentation on their social action project and received their graduation certificate – topics ranged from refugees and homelessness to respect and cultural diversity. They also took part in a workshop reflecting on the leadership and teamwork skills they had all learnt, as well as being treated to performances by empowering poet-singer Lara Lee.
Pupils’ presentations demonstrated the breadth of issues that they had taken an interest in and supported, as well as their creativity – several schools wrote poems to describe their social action initiatives!
The schools’ awareness and fund raising activities included:
- Food collections and bake sales at Cravenwood Primary Academy and High Hazels Academy;
- Animal-themed mufti days at Grange Primary Academy and Rowan Preparatory School;
- A cultural diversity celebration day at Surbiton High Girls’ Prep School;
- A sponsored walk for Unicef at Greenacre School;
- A mini funfair at Kettering Buccleuch Academy;
- Sponsored ‘sleep rough’ events at Timbertree Academy and Hull Collegiate Prep School;
- A Christmas collection at Guildford High Junior School;
- Termly ‘clean-up’ days to tackle litter at Abbey Hey Primary Academy;
- An afternoon tea event for elderly people from the local community at AKS School;
- A book collection at Wilberforce Primary to benefit children in Zambia;
- A 'non-stop wheelie day' at Corngreaves Academy;
- Surbiton High Boys’ Prep School explored respect and how they could encourage their fellow students to demonstrate respect for each other and their environment.
Vikki Russell-Robbins, Enrichment Lead at United Learning, said of the programme:
"We are really proud to see our second cohort of pupils graduate from the programme and even more so to hear about all the impressive, impactful social action work they have been doing in their schools and local communities since November. The presentations and feedback today help illustrate why an initiative like this aimed at our younger pupils is so valuable – not only in the fundraising and awareness projects that they have developed but in the confidence, teamwork and leadership that they have all shown along the way."
Billie Dunne, a representative from WE who led the workshop with pupils at the graduation, said:
"While we go into a lot of individual schools across the UK and run social action projects, it’s great to see United Learning as a group of schools bringing everyone together for a programme like this. I think children get a lot of confidence from the experience and it gives them the space to share their ideas in a way that they may not always have the opportunity to do in normal lessons. It also gives teachers the added time to discuss social issues that might be affecting pupils and their local communities.
"I have been absolutely astounded by the quality of discussion that pupils have been having and staff have been really positive about it too – they didn’t realise how aware their pupils were. The children are also gaining useful skills out of the experience; building confidence through public speaking is really important, as is the peer-to-peer learning element of the programme."
Timbertree Academy raising awareness of homelessness
Pupils Maisie and James from Timbertree Academy were part of a group whose project was dedicated to raising awareness of homelessness – one of the problems they had noticed in their local area. They decided to hold a sponsored 'sleep rough' event at their school in which 28 Year 5 and 6 children took part.
James, said that the event had:
"helped us understand a bit better what it was like to be homeless but it still wasn’t the same".
The pupils said that it hadn’t been very difficult to organise as everyone got involved to see the idea through – but they did have to persuade their headteacher!
Emma Rudd, head teacher, explained:
"The paperwork was a bit of a challenge! The event was classed as a residential so we had to have all the relevant risk assessments and paperwork in order. But they had a really good time so it was worth it."
The event raised £1,250, which was enough to split between four charities: Shelter, Crisis, The Salvation Army and a local soup kitchen.
But, as Maisie said, this wasn’t the end of their plans:
"In a few weeks, we’re going to ask people to bring in clothes that they don’t need any more and we’re going to have a stand in the playground at school to collect them. We’re going to donate them to Cash 4 Clothes."
Wilberforce Primary supporting literacy in Zambia
Pupils from Wilberforce Primary chose to centre their project around the charity Shine, whose mission is to help alleviate poverty by tackling one of its root causes – illiteracy – among children in some of the poorest parts of Africa. One of the ways they do this is by setting up literacy schools for orphans and vulnerable children.
Badam, pupil from Wilberforce Primary, said of their project:
"We chose to support Shine because we think that, in our community, in our country, there are more schools and more people that have an education. In Zambia, people are more worried about other things and they don’t always have the money to go to school. We thought that it would be nice to help them because every child in the world deserves an education."
The group decided to collect books, pencils and educational resources for Shine’s literacy schools. In particular, they arranged a collection to tie in with World Book Day, where pupils brought in their favourite book to send to children in Zambia.
Rowan Preparatory School supporting endangered animals
Pupils from Rowan Preparatory School chose to base their social action project on supporting endangered animals around the world. Two pupils from the school, Phoebe and Lottie, explained:
"We chose the charity WWF straight away because it’s well known and we know what it does to support endangered animals."
"We’ve done lots of events – for one event, we had a movie day and watched educational movie clips about animals. If you brought in £1 you could buy a pot of ice cream and for our lower school you could buy a pot of popcorn."
"After school one day, we had a massive bake sale for everyone with photo booths. We made leaflets for it and raised £1,343 for WWF."
In addition to this, they have organised an animal-themed own clothes day and each class at Rowan is adopting an endangered animal of their choice through WWF. This will mean that they each get regular newsletter updates and a stuffed toy to remind them of the important work the charity does.
"Our class adopted a penguin. But there were lots of different options – there were snow leopards, tigers, rhinos and elephants."
Phoebe’s class chose to adopt an orangutan. She said that the Primary Student Leadership Programme had been a lot of fun and that next year’s pupils should be really excited about taking part, "because it changes your whole view on fundraising and helping animals or anything like that."
How would they sum up the experience?
"Fun, enjoyable and good for learning."
Their teacher Lauren Parcell added:
"The experience is something that the girls are really going to keep forever – it has really set them up for senior school. We supported them with the process but at the same time we wanted them to have responsibility and ownership over it and they’ve done amazingly well. It has shown another side of them – taking the lead, thinking outside of the box.
"The programme is absolutely something that we want to continue to do with subsequent year groups as it’s extra time to develop their sense of responsibility and think about social change. It’s also really nice for them to have opportunities to spend time with pupils from different primary schools across United Learning and to work with them. They get to see what other schools have done and learnt."