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Helping young people 'be all they can be'

Nine out of 10 pupils who took part in a leadership programme on the Isle of Skye said it had a positive impact on their attitude to school and school work.

Columba 1400's Ambassadors' Leadership Academies bring together pupils and staff in a six-day leadership development experience, focused on the future of their school.

According to Nicola Richards, Columba 1400's chief executive, the research shows the academies help young people "be all they can be".

The academies give them powerful life skills which will be useful for anything they tackle later on in life, from raising a family to having a job," she said.

The first 12 schools in the Columba 1400 2006-07 programme were included in the evaluation and the findings were based on interviews with more than 175 people, including nine headteachers, 31 teachers, senior managers and guidance staff, and 135 students who graduated from Columba 1400.

Staff reported that, upon returning to school, they had seen positive impacts in about four-fifths of the students they had been with on the residential. These ranged from them being more aware of their potential to improved relationships - but, most of all, in levels of confidence.

For the staff, seeing the potential in the young people was the biggest impact of the academies.

One teacher said: "I had my eyes opened to the potential of the pupils, even the 'problem' pupils."

Teachers also reported a growth in self-confidence and self-belief. And frequently, according to researchers, the experience prompted them to apply for promotion.

However, 7 per cent of pupils had not achieved the commitments they made to themselves on Skye when they took part. And around half of the staff who participated in the report had also failed to do so, citing the pressures of the job as the main obstacle.

The success of Ambassadors' Leadership Academies, according to Mark Bitel, of Partners in Evaluation, was dependent on the school environment participants returned to. Support from other staff, particularly the headteacher, is critical if Columba graduates are to make things happen following their experience, he said.

"Something that came through very strongly was that Columba 1400 gave staff and pupils confidence and belief in themselves," said Mr Bitel.

If the school was supportive, the report found that pupils took control, organising everything from presentations about their Columba experience for their peers to lessons in PSE to delivering football coaching and doing charity work.

The report said: "There is powerful evidence that Columba 1400 ALAs help graduates to become successful learners and confident individuals, two of the key aims of A Curriculum for Excellence."

Last week, Fiona Hyslop, the Education Secretary, and Graham Donaldson, the senior chief inspector of education, visited Columba 1400 and met teachers and young people who have graduated from the leadership academies.

"It was funny to see young people explaining what leadership is to the chief inspector," said Dr Richards.

Moving up the ranks

An evaluation of Ambassadors' Leadership Academies, carried out by Partners in Evaluation and Columba 1400, has found that at least four months after visiting Skye, 91 per cent of pupils who participated said the experience had improved their (in rank order):

- motivation to work harder in order to have a better future;

- relationships with staff;

- willingness to speak out, answer questions or ask for help;

- attitudes about coming to school;

- behaviour.

On the home front, things were also found to be on the up. Some 79 per cent reported (in rank order):

- having an improved relationship with their parents;

- being more confident, responsible and happier;

- getting on better with their siblings;

- widening their circle of friends.

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