There is a tide of challenges working against children.
Poverty and widening inequalities in society are exacerbated by insufficient support for increasing health issues and poor transition between services for young people.
Ongoing funding challenges for schools and the impact of Covid lockdowns have added to the strain.
Figures from the Royal Foundation suggest as many as four out of ten children arrive at school with below the expected levels of development.
This can’t go on.
Making a difference to the lives of children is a subject that staff and students at the University of Leeds’ School of Education are passionate about.
Watch our students, alumni, staff and partners talk about how collaboration can help to improve the future for children.
The Centre for Early Childhood research shows that seven out of ten people agree that the development of children in early childhood should be more of a priority for wider society.
Changing the future for children and young people is a topic that the School of Education’s academics and students have been passionately driving forwards through research, influencing policy makers, charity engagement, conducting research in schools and – importantly – collaboration with partners.
“We know that collaboration is incredibly important in any of the fields or sectors that work with children and young people, that contact across parts of the different workforce is incredibly important to ensure the best outcomes for children, whether they be educational, or social or economic,” says Lucy Taylor, a lecturer at the School of Education.
Our students have a real interest in children’s rights, social justice and the desire to make a difference.
And one of the School’s most high-profile collaborations happened in early 2023 – when the University of Leeds welcomed HRH Princess of Wales, whose work to raise awareness of the importance of Early Years has attracted headlines around the world since she convened a steering group in 2018. The steering group looks at what could be done to bring about long-lasting change to the lives of children by focusing on their earliest stage of life from 0–5 years.
The Royal Foundation Centre for Early Childhood aims to build a supportive, nurturing world around children and those caring for them, to impact the physical and mental health, and happiness, of generations to come – a message which echoes the work at the School of Education.
The passion and desire to affect change that the Princess of Wales saw during her visit is something tutors at the School of Education recognise in many of their students.
Lucy says: “Our students have a real interest in children’s rights, social justice and the desire to make a difference.
“We hope our graduates will be change makers. Whether that be influencing policy, whether that be making change by being teachers themselves, that they will build on what they’ve learnt and go on to make things better for children and young people in the UK.”
Lizzie Fussey, who graduated in 2020 and now works as a Policy Manager for Child Protection and Ethics at the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health, embodies this commitment. She says: “I’m most engaged at work when I feel like the work I’m doing is fighting for children, making sure that something that isn’t right is going to be put right, or is going to protect them in the future.”
In return for this commitment, students can expect a supportive, collaborative environment where tutors believe in them and their individual interests, while helping them to achieve their goals.
You feel really supported to grow in the areas you’re passionate about
Lizzie explains: “I think something that the School gets right is that it feels like a community.
“It felt like such a blessing in being on a small course with so much one-to-one time and tailored guidance.
“I was able to grow so much, to understand that together, everybody’s niches can come together to make quite a big force for change and difference.
“I felt really supported to pursue what was interesting to me, and that facilitates you being good at it.
“You can bring your whole self and individualities, and it’s an environment to shape and flourish these individualities, rather than to learn how to be a certain way or a certain person. You get to come as yourself and leave as a ‘more’ version of yourself, and you feel really supported to grow in the areas you’re passionate about.”
Hongqin You, who graduated in 2023 adds: “The best thing about the School of Education is our tutors.”
In order to have real impact in such a significant and multi-faceted area, the School recognises that collaboration is key – across faculties in the University, and also with partners in the wider community.
It’s through this collaborative work that a real difference can be made – echoing the University’s academic strategy ‘Universal Values, Global Change’ – by taking research and innovation and applying it to make a difference to society.
“The School of Education is quite an interdisciplinary place,” says Lucy Taylor.
“We’re interested in the practice of what happens in schools but also thinking about childhood in the much broader sense. So, thinking about the sociology of childhood, child development and the psychology of childhood and all sorts of approaches to teaching and learning that might have an impact on children’s lives.
“We’ve got some really great work going on in the School of Education and we welcome collaboration whether that be academics or charitable organisations, we’re excited to do research with other fields.
“It’s no point anyone working on their own, we need to know what other things are happening in children’s lives and how working with other professionals in the field can make things better.”
The University’s focus on collaboration has developed relationships with partners like Child Friendly Leeds, an initiative from Leeds City Council which aims for Leeds to be the best city for children and young people to grow up in. Child Friendly Leeds has 12 wishes, which reflect the voices and views of children and young people who are at the heart of making Leeds a child friendly city.
Councillor Fiona Venner, Executive Member for Children’s Social Care and Health Partnerships, said: "Partnership working in Leeds has been transformational for children.
“Child Friendly Leeds, launched by Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II in 2012, has been central to this. Over 750 businesses, organisations and individuals have united behind our drive to create a Child Friendly City.
“Our passionate ambassadors span businesses, charities, schools and other public sector bodies, including the fantastic University of Leeds. Ambassadors champion our 12 child friendly wishes and create a variety of opportunities for children and young people.
“These partnerships make a real difference to the lives of vulnerable children, children in care and care leavers. They provide access to cultural events, sports, and meaningful projects, and support our Christmas gifting initiative which brings festive joy to hundreds of children and young people every year.
“In Leeds, our child friendly partnerships reflect our dedication to placing children at the heart of everything we do.”
We feel really fortunate to collaborate with people from all walks of life to help make change happen.
The collaboration across Leeds impressed during the Princess of Wales’ visit. Sarah McMullen, Associate Director of Research and Policy at the Royal Foundation Centre for Early Childhood, says: “We were really inspired by how Leeds is putting children at the heart of city life, listening to children and trying to make it one of the best places for children to live and learn and grow.
“We really recognise that to tackle society’s greatest issues, and we see transforming childhood as one of these, can only happen by bringing people together and inspiring action and impact.
“We feel really fortunate to collaborate with people from all walks of life to help make change happen. One of the things that was so inspiring and energising at the University of Leeds was seeing young people really leaning into this and seeing themselves as part of that future.
“As a charity we’re trying to raise awareness at national level and it was so brilliant to connect with people at local level, to see how this is all translating into action. We can learn lots that we can take back to national level and spread the word.”
The School of Education also collaborates with partners such as Careers Teachers and Red Kite Teacher Training to help its students take advantage of placements, where they can learn more about childcare settings and find the path they are passionate about. For example, students can participate in a placement with the on-campus nursery and partner Bright Beginnings.
Both Red Kite and the University of Leeds are passionate about social justice and the ability of educators to empower individuals and communities – the power of our partnership is our collective ability to make a difference and change lives
These placements allow students to make connections between the academic work they do – the theories, concepts and research in their studies – with a practical experience and what works in a real-world setting.
Victoria Lickley, Director of Red Kite Teacher Training, said: “The partnership between the University of Leeds and Red Kite Teacher Training has wide-ranging impacts at school and community levels.
“Since we began to work together to deliver teacher training in North and West Yorkshire in 2016, we have built a strong programme that aims to train evidence-informed, professional and inclusive teachers who can meet the challenges of the future and lead learning in our diverse educational landscape. The university-based elements of the programme provide a robust academic underpinning of theory and research, whilst the school-based training immerses trainees in practice pedagogy and the professional life of a teacher.
“By working together, we provide high quality training at scale whilst maintaining a focus on the individuality of schools and the importance of a supportive community. The schools within our partnership are at the heart of everything we do. We value the expertise and commitment of school colleagues; our ultimate aim is to ensure that children and young people in our region benefit from excellent teachers who provide the best possible education.
“Both Red Kite and the University of Leeds are passionate about social justice and the ability of educators to empower individuals and communities – the power of our partnership is our collective ability to make a difference and change lives.”
Students are encouraged and supported, throughout their time at the School, to explore what areas interest them, and what career options these interests could feed into.
“It's about the difference they can make, the difference they can see teachers or early years practitioners are making, and the way that it helps them to think about their own future. And the way them can see themselves as able to make a difference to children and to the wider community,” Lucy explains.
And in turn, often students go on to careers at schools and settings in the local community.
Niamh Johnson studied Psychology and Education before successfully completing her Initial Teacher Training with Red Kite, where she gained practical experience through two school placements in Leeds.
“My first placement really gave me an insight into really wanting to be a teacher,” she said.
“It gave me a deep insight into how to be a really good teacher.
“The combination of theory and practice was brilliant because everything I had learnt before in the lecturers and seminars could be put into practice when I was in a classroom setting.”
“Seeing the classroom, interacting with children, being able to have that relationship was really important for me and that was when I decided to apply for the Red Kite course. It was brilliant because Red Kite were the only ones who did special educational needs training so that was what I chose to do.”
Lucy adds: “One of the things about working in the city you live in, you can see potentially making a difference to the city in which the university exists.
“Because we in our school we train people to become teachers and go into the workforce, we’re quite closely integrated with schools and nurseries and other organisations in the city.
“For me, that’s the thing that really makes a difference as an academic. Of course, my academic work is important… but it’s the fact that I can see that as a University we can have an impact in the community, in the city, and raising aspiration for children and young people around us.”
The impact in the city of Leeds can be seen after graduation where students from the School of Education go on to make a difference to children in a huge range of workplaces, including teaching, policy, research, family support and child protection.
I can see that as a University we can have an impact in the community, in the city, and raising aspiration for children and young people around us.
Professor Jeff Grabill, Deputy Vice-Chancellor: Student Education, says: “Here at Leeds, we know we have done our jobs when our graduates leave us full of energy, passion and commitment to make a difference in their communities and this world.”
Again, this ethos echoes the Royal Foundation Centre’s Shaping Us campaign, which inspired students from the School of Education to consider how they could make a difference.
Emma Joynes, who met the Princess of Wales during her visit, says: “Her visit inspired me to be a childhood family support worker as I would really like to make a difference to the 0-5 years age group. The visit really highlighted the importance of how 0-5 years old shapes the rest of your life and are the building blocks of your entire life. The early years are pivotal.”
Lizzie wouldn’t be where she is now had it not been for her experience at the School of Education. Throughout her studies she says she was supported to engage in what would be her career “rather than getting to the end and it being a sort of cliff edge”.
She adds: “I’ve got a career I really enjoy, it’s really interesting and I wouldn’t have got there if I had forged my way without this course.”