The Disraeli Room

The Disraeli Room

Blog Post

A Department for Education and Leadership

16th December 2014

If there is just one character trait that pupils should leave school accomplished in, it should be that embodied by a one Mahatma Gandhi: “Be the change that you wish to see in the world.”

Top marks then to Nicky Morgan who last week announced a string of new policies to stamp her mark on the education brief. These included a new £5m fund to help build pupils’ resilience, launching a college for teaching giving teachers professional equality with doctors and lawyers and giving employers the lead, plus £20m funding, to start a new careers body to broker links between schools and businesses.

With Labour’s education spokesman Tristram Hunt inching into what should be conservative territory in his Churchillian call for schools to ‘build British spirit’, Morgan is right to start to carve out a new direction of travel for education policy, building on Gove’s reforms. Her focus on empowering the teaching profession and developing in pupils the “character skills we all need to get on in life – resilience, grit, self-esteem, self-confidence” is welcome, particularly as British businesses continue to lobby the Government to do more to ensure that young adults leave school with the right life and interpersonal skills required to get on in the world of work.

As a small business owner myself I personally prefer the term ‘leadership’ as a more tangible skillset that encompasses character and self-confidence. In training a young person in leadership they have a tangible result to go with it (e.g. setting up a club or after school activity); they have the hard evidence and results that tell them they are proficient in leading their own life and leading to others.

As we define it in our own training programmes, “leadership is causing another to go beyond their real or perceived limitations. It’s causing a big gap, a chasm, by example and by enrolment for others to follow. Leadership also causes you to have ruthless compassion: being ruthless with people you are causing to go beyond their real or perceived limitations and having a total compassion for what it is like for them to do that because you’ve done it yourself.”

Think back to the subject you enjoyed and excelled at the most (your current career will likely be correlated to it in some way). It was not the size of the class or the quality of the teaching materials that made the impact, although of course they mattered. It was the visionary at the front for the room and their stand for you doing more than you thought possible.

They were the embodiment of leadership and demonstrated ruthless compassion to you and your classmates.

These are the very skills we should be looking to develop in our children and young people, and, crucially, their families too. A culture of leadership and character building should not be restricted to the classroom; it should pervade all aspects of Government policy that interact with children and families.

Two specific policy areas for development are firstly bringing the distinct qualities of youth work and coaching into the classroom. The Targeted Mental Health in Schools (TaMHS) programme has been successful at training teachers to spot the early signs of emotional wellbeing difficulties in pupils and supporting them to get early help. A similar model could be adopted with youth service providers and local businesses collaborating with schools to support teachers unlock pupils’ potential.

Secondly, adopting what works in the independent sector and higher education. In the independent sector it is the offer of extra-curricular activities, including sport, music, outdoor recreation, leisure and art, that are key to developing pupils’ resilience, character and leadership skills. And at University it is the skills developed by running societies and organising events that equips students for the world of work. We need to look at how we bring this extra-curricular offer earlier into state sector schooling – and crucially put pupils in charge of it supported by youth workers. For example, schools should look carefully at their offer between the hours of 4 o’clock and 6 o’clock, and explore opening up their buildings, perhaps even free of charge, to groups that provide constructive activities for young people.

In a utopian world, pupils are empowered to be both ‘the master of their fate, and the captain of their soul’ to paraphrase William Ernest Henley’s famous lines from Invictus. Academic attainment and life leadership hand in hand, from cradle to adulthood. A mission worthy of any aspiring Secretary of State for Education and Leadership.


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