Student Leadership

The world needs great and ethical leadership more than any other skill this century.  In the words of John Lennon “There are no problems, only solutions”, and leaders are those who, according to John Maxwell “know the way, go the way and show the way.”

Leadership badge starsI firmly agree with the massive majority of researchers in this field, that leaders are not born, they are made through a series of excellent opportunities and outstanding coaching.  It is a great irony that the key outcome of leadership is the ability to inspire others, but unlike the chicken and egg dilemma there is a clear starting point to this cycle: the moment when you decide that your school will actively support the development of leadership in both students and staff.

This section of the site is designed to help you set up such a scheme and continuously improve it until it becomes as core to what you do as literacy or numeracy.

Like all of this site the information is in a state of flux so please use what works for you.  Currently my thinking is to provide you with the following sections to help you.

  1. An off the shelf scheme you can start using today
  2. An explanation of what leadership is – in case there are people you need to convince for the sake of curriculum and funding
  3. Other ideas – tried and untried

Click on ‘What is Leadership’ if you would like to think about what leadership involves and what research has found about the development of leadership ability.

If you want to read more about what student leadership is and how to deliver it then continue to read below

With only minor changes, most schools can deliver all of the essential ‘SECRET’ skills up to level 4.  (Click here for concrete examples).

If students wish to evidence leadership skills then they really need to take an active role in leading a project or a task themselves.  I have led numerous leadership programmes for schools and in my view the most secure way of delivering a ‘curriculum of leadership opportunities’ is to provide challenges for students to respond to.

The key to the success of such an approach is to find a fair way of making sure that students attempt leadership challenges which strike just the right balance, making them achievable yet suitably challenging.

A model for student leadership in schools

It is possible to use rubrics such as the ones contained in the attached PowerPoint, to deliver teacher led opportunities to develop basic skills and understanding and then offer leadership challenges to those who ‘graduate’ this stage or are motivated to try.

Students who are successful at completing challenges independently can then be provided with opportunities that require them to coach and develop others and so on.  It is important to ensure that if students work in teams towards a qualification, all of the team members have been successful at a challenge on their own previously.  This is so that teams learn about the importance of collaboration in leadership and that it is not all about the leader.

Providing you record which level of challenge each student is on, you can just keep adding challenges as required.

SMART student led leadership programme

A student led team I have the privilege to work with are the SMART MAT Student Council.  This council is made up of the student representatives from three primary and three secondary schools.  The council meet every six to eight weeks.  Consistently high on their agenda has been to formulate a way of rewarding and developing leadership skills, hence I have worked together with them to formulate a student led model of leadership which is now well established. Visit the website they designed, in order to read more.


A Curriculum of Leadership Opportunities

Another approach commonly used, is for schools to publish sets of challenges and then children are free to download and try them.  This model has been much more effective in those schools where the tasks have been actively encouraged by staff because ultimately the children need encouragement and recognition for their achievements and require successively harder targets set.

When I set up a fully online marketplace for such challenges in which children at a higher level were automatically sent examples to assess from children trying to achieve lower levels called PbyP (Personalisation by Pieces) it grew to be successful with over 300,000 children using it and gained awards as a concept but even this was slowed to a halt when a child was in a school that didn’t formally recognise their achievements publically in a face to face way.

The following challenges are a collection from the days of PbyP.  Even without the online framework there are some engaging ideas for challenges you can use.

Level 4 Leadership Challenges

  • Self Management – Tight timescales to achieve a difficult task with failure built in.
  • Effective Participation – Political or local issues requiring commitment and passion
  • Creative Thinking – Producing something new or solving a problem that needs lateral thinking
  • Reflective Learning – Two projects, one builds on lessons learned from the first one.
  • Enquiry – Projects that require leaders to be well informed and give a balanced opinion
  • Team Working – Tasks that require you to bring on others and build up their skills too

Level 5 Leadership Challenges

In the PbyP project we recommended that students start at level 4 on the ladders and are set challenges in each of the SECRET skill areas.  I have included assessment examples so you can develop your own challenges and students can suggest new ones.  I don’t plan to add further examples to this set as I am now pursuing the model developed by the students at SMART described earlier.

If you wish to use the previous PbyP model, before setting up such a leadership scheme it is a good idea to decide beforehand if you require students to complete successful challenges in all SECRET skill areas or, say, half of them.  Also decide if they need to provide just one example or two in each.  The downloadable resources relate to a project we did which had the starting agreement that six skills in total would be evidenced.  This can be one from each skill area or two projects in each of 3 skills for example.

You can link the challenges you create for your leadership programme into a grid such as the one shown below if you find it helpful to provide such an overview.  This can be described as a ‘Curriculum of Opportunities’ for student leadership.

Jobs that require these forms of leadership Examples of activities that help develop these forms of leadership

Structured and
 led by 
the Teacher

Structured by
the teacher,
led by
the learner

Structured and
led by
the learner

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9

Sports coaches, high pressure tasks to deadlines, armed forces

Motivating a team through a tough challenge or motivating yourself through challenges that contain a high risk of failure


Campaigner, activist, politician, lawyer

Encouraging people to share opinions and build arguments to support things they are passionate about


Creative industries, leading creative teams, open ended new problems, PR, advertising

Open ended tasks that require creative problem solving and communicating


Facilitators, teachers, course designers, psychological support teams

Tasks that require presentation, peer teaching, running workshops, hosting activities


Researchers, reporters, UN observers, trusted advisors, consultants, reviewers, Scientist

Research tasks and building well structured arguments for a case or investigation, Science and Maths investigations


Organisers, managers, self managing teams, company directors

Provided with responsibility to ensure well structured tasks are done well and efficiently by involving the whole team to divide workload


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