Just over a week ago we invited 40 student leaders from the schools in the RSA Family of Academies to come to the RSA to discuss student leadership and enrichment. We asked the students to prepare for the event by reflecting on what they thought student leadership was for, why it is important, and how it could be improved in their schools; and we asked them to do the same with regard to enrichment. Then at the event we mixed the students up so that they were all working with students from the four different schools – schools in Tipton, Coventry, Lambeth and Redditch – and asked them to draw on their thinking in order to discuss student leadership and enrichment. And, most importantly, to start to design innovative solutions to various student leadership and enrichment challenges. In fact, the main task for the students on the day was to design an innovative new enrichment activity that could be introduced in or across their school(s).
The event links to RSA Education’s three core themes: social justice, democracy, and innovation. We are determined to make sure that, regardless of the fact that schools in the RSA Family of Academies serve communities with above average levels of disadvantage, all of the students have access to worthwhile enrichment activities. We also want these activities to be as innovative as possible and one way to achieve this aim is to give the students themselves a say in how they are designed.
The event was a real success and the students engaged in some genuinely interesting discussions around what it means to be a student leader and what the point of doing enrichment activities is. They also came up with some great ideas for enrichment activities which could be introduced in the Family of Academies, and each school is currently in the process of selecting those which they would most like to lead on. I can’t divulge exactly what those ideas are because I wouldn’t want to pre-empt the result of the schools’ decision process, and, to be honest, the students made me take an oath of secrecy. But I can offer some reflections on what I think both the students and the RSA took away from the event.
Enrichment activities are those activities and experiences that students enjoy outside of the classroom which broaden horizons, develop new skills, and contribute to personal and social development. Part of the point of the event was to emphasise to the students that these activities can make a great deal of difference to their prospects and opportunities after school. The teamwork, creative, and project planning skills that you get from helping to direct your school play; the confidence, communication and public speaking skills you get from participating in a debating competition; or the spark of inspiration that you get from doing work experience at a law firm or going to visit an exhibition. All of these enrichment activities have the potential to be life-changing for young people. We wanted to make sure that the students understood this. Furthermore, we want the students at the schools in our Family to have access to innovative, exciting and challenging enrichment activities and the opportunity to contribute to their design.
We also wanted to make sure that the students understood how important it is to be a student leader and that there are ways to be a student leader outside of your student council. This is why we invited social entrepreneur and RSA Fellow Matt Kepple to speak to the students (read more about this here). Most importantly, we wanted to emphasise that student leadership is itself an enrichment activity and so the students should see the event as an experience designed to broaden horizons, develop new skills, and contribute to personal and social development. This is why the theme of the event was ‘Enrichment Though Student Leadership’: student leaders coming to the RSA to discuss enrichment and help to design new enrichment activities, gaining and developing new skills along the way.
One of the key things that we learnt from the students on the day is just how eager they are to engage with each other, not simply as students from different schools, but as fellow members of the RSA Family of Academies. Part of the aim of this event was to create this atmosphere of community and collaboration across the schools, but we did not anticipate that this would strike such a chord with the students. Almost all of the new enrichment activities that they designed involved the schools in the Family engaging with each other in some or other interesting way. It is clear that the students are keen to learn from and about each other. And it is clear that they can sense the great potential in bringing different schools with different strengths and weaknesses to work together – so can we.