How Bradford schools are empowering youth-led change

Bradford’s pupil voice summit offers more than the chance for students to air their priorities, write Carol Dewhurst and Esha Din Arbab. It is leading to real change

Bradford’s pupil voice summit offers more than the chance for students to air their priorities, write Carol Dewhurst and Esha Din Arbab. It is leading to real change

23 Apr 2023, 5:00

As an educator and leader, it is incredibly important to not only inspire young people to become leaders in their community, but to empower them to do so by building their voices, skills and confidence. At Bradford Diocesan Academies Trust (BDAT), we are committed to supporting our pupils to develop a strong understanding of the issues they are concerned about and encouraging them to drive forward meaningful change.

BDAT’s core vision centres around enabling confidence and competence in each of our pupils to allow them to thrive, laying the foundations to develop strong and thoughtful voices. We advocate for amplifying the ideas of young people who wish to see positive change in their communities. Our role is vital in ensuring they are equipped to use their voices safely and wisely, producing the greatest impacts possible.

To achieve this, we set up an annual Bradford Pupil Voice Summit organised in collaboration with Bradford Citizens, a branch of Citizens UK, and four other trusts: Dixons Academies Trust, Beckfoot Trust, Carlton Academy Trust and Exceed Academies Trust.

This summit provides a platform for pupils across Bradford to discuss their priorities for change in their communities and offers a wider forum to support young leaders to realise their goals.

But don’t take it from me. What better way to show the impact than to hand over this platform to Esha?

As a young person, it can sometimes be difficult to develop real-world skills and understanding while spending most of our time in the classroom. Through participation in the Bradford Pupil Voice Summit, many of my peers and I have been able to gain skills like public speaking and problem solving, while also leading on the issues that are most relevant to us. After all, if a resource or provision is designed for pupils, it should be led by pupils.  

If it’s for pupils, it should be led by pupils

Prior to the summit, each form group at my school and in 20 other schools across the five trusts were tasked with identifying three major issues facing the young people of Bradford today. This helped each school to determine the three issues it would present at the summit.

Many ideas and concerns were raised, so it was difficult to narrow to just three, but through our discussions we decided on mental health resources, racism and the cost-of-living crisis. These are not only timely but pressing.

Those of us who represented our peers at the summit learned a great deal from the experience. For example, before attending I knew about the major issues and their impacts, but hearing my peers speak out about their own stories and what others are facing was incredibly inspiring. It truly made me feel the weight of our power as young people and led me to realise that awareness is one of the most significant parts of the battle. We cannot focus on driving change without first shedding light on what needs to be addressed in our schools and communities.

We have already begun to raise that awareness through a local radio broadcast where we discussed the issues at the forefront of our minds, and the importance of addressing them. We also had the opportunity to present in front of our local city council, telling our stories and highlighting why our three key issues – and our views – are critical for them to consider. This step was especially big for two reasons: it laid the foundations for ongoing collaboration with local policymakers, and it emboldened us with confidence and public speaking skills we did not previously possess.

The impacts of the annual summit are already being seen across our community, from our work with the local NHS in designing a youth mental health resource to our collaboration with the police to develop anti-racism training in the workforce.

Ultimately, we will continue to push forward meaningful change while raising awareness, both to enlist help from the community and to encourage our peers to use the resources available to them to improve their lives.

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