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Blog from Paul Evans, Chief Executive of the University of the First Age – 1 Year On…

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We rise by lifting others.” ~ Robert Ingersoll

This simple quote and guiding principle has underpinned all developments I’ve led since joining UFA a year ago. It is what led me to wanting to join the organisation following the leadership positions I’d enjoyed so much in previous roles and which I continue to believe passionately in as so important to improving the quality of life for those most vulnerable in society. It is also something I fundamentally believe.

I am just about to complete my first year as CEO, and as they say, time flies when you’re having fun! I’d be lying if I said that every moment of the last year has been fun. Organisational change can be demanding on yourself and those around you. The impact of restructures on colleagues, the psychological loss that can be felt and the period of uncertainly felt during the time waiting for the new CEO to start can all take a personal and professional toll on everyone. However, like any Chief Executive leading change for the benefit of the organisation and its beneficiaries, I recognise during the challenging times that the most enduring and meaningful impact often means discomfort. In the short to medium term at least.

With the right team and a commitment to a vision for positive change anything is possible! And we have such a great combination here at UFA.

UFA’s vision is a big one. A world where all young people flourish. We truly believe in the power of linking school, home and communities. A longstanding point we’ve made is that this is important because between birth and the age of 16 a child only spends 15% of their time in school. We have made massive strides to ensure that the remaining 85% of a child’s time and the potential for learning in homes and community settings that this brings is fully optimised!

And the exciting news is, this is just the start! UFA – with our established reputation and visionary thinking – is well positioned to develop our existing range of programmes and adapt them, linking with partner organisations as required, to ensure our offer is as responsive as possible to the emerging needs of children and young people of our generation at any given time. After all, the beneficial impact of a commitment to whole education, student leadership and compassion in schools is timeless.

I am so thankful to the trustees at UFA and my great colleagues that have supported me and taken my ideas on board since I joined UFA. Also, I am particularly thankful to the children and young people we work with at UFA for the things we learn from them every day – about our successes as well as where we can improve in the future.

I continue to encourage a culture of reflection and transparency, where we are honest with ourselves about areas for improvement and prepared to take feedback on board. After all, we can only develop our potential leaders of the future by modelling good practice ourselves as an organisation in the way we offer opportunities and respond to challenges.

That means, for example, demonstrating resilience in a tough external climate that espouses valuing improving outcomes for children and young people but doesn’t always reflect this in policy decisions or levels of investment. However, the story at UFA is a very inspiring one that I plan to make even clearer to decision-makers to show how such approaches are successful to improve the infamous basket of outcomes we so often hear about.

In the truest sense it is clear from the impact of the last year since I joined UFA that we have led by example with the ethos and principles that led UFA to come into existence over 20 years ago.

That is, overall, to unlock the opportunity for every child to succeed and flourish, particularly those who face additional challenges. We continue to transform learning through leadership – with the science of learning, the art of teaching and the ethos of youth work. By the end of this financial year we will have worked with over 4000 young people and 200 schools through our National Citizen Service (NCS), provision our school improvement programmes and our private tuition company, Top Tutors. I am really proud of this achievement and our amazing staff who made this happen.

As an organisation, however, we must not be complacent. As we constantly remind the children and young people accessing the wide variety of programmes we offer, we need to adapt and be resilient – and this is important for us as an organisation too. I look forward to continuing in the privilege of leading the remarkable organisation that is UFA and the further impact we will have shown, with the support of research partners, over the coming year. I look forward to sharing interim progress with you through future blogs as well as other key reports that will be made available through our website at ufa.org.uk

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