Improving pupils’ leadership skills can have a positive impact on many areas of school life and PESS provides a key opportunity to develop, hone and improves them, explains Jill Wyatt

The long-term health benefits of physical activity for children during their school years are undisputed. What is not always so widely recognised is the significant role that PE and sport can play in helping children to develop their leadership skills. According to the QCA, the PE and school sport strategies will be most effective when “they form part of a whole school approach to improving leadership skills”. That, in turn, means ensuring that all staff, helpers and pupils know and understand what leadership roles, responsibilities and skills are expected of pupils. The suggested starting point for work in this area is to analyse which leadership skills are already well developed among your pupils and which need further development – know where you are and what you want to achieve.

Some of the questions to ask might include:

  • Do pupils with good leadership skills focus on organising the group they are leading and make sure they have enough space and equipment?
  • Do they have a clear plan of activities and a view of the outcomes to be achieved?
  • Do they communicate instructions clearly and encourage those they lead?
  • Do they relate well to those they are leading and do they make sure they encourage and support them well?
  • Do they communicate well, giving clear instructions and feedback?
  • Are the pupils they are leading motivated, concentrating well and making progress?

It’s also worth looking at whether there are certain year groups that have more good leaders and when in the school pupils are given opportunities to demonstrate their leadership skills.

The next step is to set specific objectives:

  • identify the pupils or groups of pupils whose leadership skills you most want to improve
  • decide whether you want to have more pupils actively involved in leadership activities or if you want to give those pupils who are already young leaders the chance to lead in a more complex context and improve their leadership skills
  • determine and record your specific objectives for improving pupils’ leadership skills. These might include, for example, increasing the number of pupils who actively help others to make progress in PE or getting a target group of Year 11 pupils to lead and encourage their peers to get involved in PE and school sport.

For each of your specific objectives, write down what you will see pupils doing and hear them saying when their leadership skills have improved – visualise the signs of success. These might include witnessing leaders organising sports competitions or Year 11 pupils seeking permission to use the sports facilities out of school to set up new clubs, etc.

It is important to identify strategies that will work in improving pupils’ leadership skills and some of the approaches that have been used successfully in schools include:

  • offering pupils a range of leadership roles, such as supervising and managing activities; supporting other pupils in their play; acting as mentors or play/sport buddies; organising festivals and activities; and assisting teachers and coaches in running clubs and teams
  • providing leadership courses – make sure that any courses you run lead to an application of the knowledge, skills and understanding in a valuable and authentic context
  • giving pupils opportunities to continue developing their skills – provide a range of leadership opportunities that progress in challenge and complexity. The degree and type of responsibility that pupils take needs to develop so that pupils have something to aspire to and can make progress
  • recognising leaders – consider giving pupils who take on roles and responsibilities that benefit other pupils some form of uniform, such as a cap or top. Some schools give leaders log books so that they can track their own experience and progress.

Once you have decided which pupils you are going to target and what you are going to do, it’s important to establish a baseline and record it in writing. Setting a clear picture of how well your targeted pupils lead at the moment means that you can look back in the future to see how and where you have made a difference.

To implement your strategies effectively, make sure that you have a clear plan that sets out the steps you are going to take and appoint someone to take responsibility for this initiative. Don’t forget to:

  • talk with pupils and involve them in decision making
  • train and support staff and pupils
  • buy and allocate enough resources, time and equipment.

It is also essential to have faith and confidence in your pupils – show them that you believe they can improve their leadership skills. And don’t forget to reward improvement and give more responsibility to successful pupils. It’s worth looking back on a regular basis at the baseline you took at the start of the work and seeing how much progress you’re making – measure the difference. Use the same processes that you used when you took your baseline to track any changes. In the light of what you discover, ask yourself whether you need to change the strategies and approaches that you are using.

The final step in the process to improve leadership skills through PE and school sport is to start again. Analyse your successes and then look at the areas where there is room for further improvement.

Top tips – what works and why

Providing leadership courses as part of the PE programme
Pupils benefit from structures that enable them to plan, organise, manage and evaluate the session they lead. Courses which provide this give them a knowledge and experience base that they can then draw upon to help them carry out leadership roles.

Offering opportunities for continuous development
PE teachers looking to help pupils develop their leadership skills need to explore the ways in which they can increase their motivation to learn, make progress and stay involved in leadership. Giving them leadership pathways to follow provides them with a good view of what they need to achieve in the short, medium and long term.

Recognising achievement
An effective way of increasing pupils’ commitment to carrying out leadership roles is to recognise what they do and how well they do it. Finding a way of doing this – perhaps in the form of a certificate or something similar – will confirm their leadership role, give them valuable kudos in the eyes of their peers and increase their self-esteem and confidence.

Case studies – leadership in action The QCA website provides examples of how six schools involved in the PESS investigation have used high quality PE and school sport to develop leadership skills. Although this is a primary school, the principles behind the initiative are relevant to secondary schools.  Langer Primary School in Suffolk developed Year 6 pupils’ skills by asking them to run playground activities for Year 2 pupils. They trained the pupils as playground activity leaders (PALs) so that they were able to organise rotas, allocate Year 2 pupils to different activities, check and locate equipment and manage the playground space. The success of this initiative was measured by carrying out baseline testing of skills, looking at records of physical activity, asking pupils to attend attitudinal questionnaires and videotaping pupils taking part in break time and lunch time activities. The results included:

  • a decrease of a third in negative behaviour at break times and lunch times
  • an increase in pupils’ self-esteem and confidence
  • many more pupils taking part in out-of-school sports
  • improved skills levels, tactical understanding and application of skills in games.

To find out more visit the QCA website