Youth social action: 3 steps to engage pupils – Clone testing for excerpt

In the first of a two-part series for TES magazine, Ormiston Trust CEO James Murray explains how schools and trusts can embrace the power of youth social action projects.


Since 2017, Ormiston Trust has funded and supported hundreds of youth social action (YSA) projects as part of our #WeWill programme – which is match-funded with the National Lottery Community Fund.

To date, in excess of 10,000 young people in more than 150 schools have been involved – both those in Ormiston Academies Trust and in partner schools – on projects ranging from pupils at Gateway Learning Community hosting a summer arts festival for their local community to students at Ormiston Park Academy campaigning to end single-use plastic.

As well as working with schools directly, we provide resources and a free step-by-step guide aimed at supporting schools to embed high-quality YSA programmes at scale. Having refined these over several years, we will be making them freely available for all from February.

Our hope is that it will inspire more schools, trusts and education groups to instigate YSA projects around the country, based on a five-step model, the first three stages of which are detailed below.

Step 1: Inspire

The first step is to inspire students by providing an awareness of YSA and social issues, conducting light-touch skills training, undertaking some initial basic reflection on goals, and ensuring there is an overall clarity to your YSA plans.

We would recommend using ready-to-deliver assembly material and lesson plans to explain challenges and what others have done to make a positive impact.

Once staff and young people understand what YSA involves, students are able to take a lead and will be encouraged, initially, to think about the world around them and issues they care about.

School staff can then run a series of skill-building activities that provide a foundational level of training, and students can complete journals or passports that capture what they hope to achieve by engaging in the process, using these documents to track progress.

Step 2: Explore

The second step is for students to think about issues they want to support, and to learn from others.

This can be done over the next two to five sessions of a YSA programme to explore social issues and solutions. From this, staff can then encourage students to think about the specific issues they would like to address.

Wider external stakeholders – charities, businesses and/or community members – can also be brought in to provide additional details about social challenges as young people conduct research. These stakeholders can, if interested, get involved in helping students to plan and deliver their action.

Agency is a key pillar on which social action should be built. Empowering young people to take their ideas forward will develop their sense of control and engagement in the project so it is essential that as many students as possible take the lead during the process and that schools spend some time collating ideas.

When engaging whole year groups, decisions about which causes students might wish to address could involve completing a short survey to find the most popular cause for each class.

Where a school is working across year groups or with smaller cohorts, students can convene and agree on issues in other ways as appropriate.

Step 3: Plan

Before students take action, the third stage involves detailed planning and budgeting. While students will have covered, to a degree, some ideas for action, they need to confirm exactly what they will do.

Young people can then organise themselves into teams and take on key roles to create elements of the plan, including those that look at delivery methods, costs, partners, communications and fundraising.

Schools should ideally set aside specific sessions for students, with teacher support to create a working plan for the project. Students can then think about how they can maximise the impact of their project by considering wider examples.

During this stage, you can encourage students to think more widely about any potential hurdles they might face. If planning a fundraiser, for example, will they need to find volunteers? Or if planning to support the school in reducing single-use plastic, who are the key people to speak to?

These steps support students in developing critical thinking skills, as they are encouraged to think laterally about their projects and create well-thought-out implementation plans.

Overall, the initial stages of implementing a YSA programme in your school are crucial for engaging students and developing their skills, and then providing the foundations for the ideas to take flight. Next month, we will look at the final two steps: “Act” and “Reflect”.

We are also showcasing our resource platform at the Bett Show in late January and have a current grant programme available, which you can access here, for schools looking to find out more.

James Murray, CEO of Ormiston Trust.


James is the Chief Executive officer of Ormiston Trust. He has worked as an organisation advisor in the private, public and voluntary sectors, helping organisations to grow sustainably over the medium to long term. He has helped charities for over 20 years in the fields of strategic development, partnership setup, programme and project delivery.

Poppy is the Youth Engagement and Partnership Officer at Ormiston Trust, responsible for coordinating our team of Young Advisors and developing effective working relationships with external organisations. She is currently studying ‘Politics, International Studies and Global Sustainable Development’ at Warwick University and previously worked as Board Advisor for a non-profit youth-focused organisation in Croydon. She has experience in activism work – attending COP26 with environmental education company Force of Nature and had been a member of the UK Youth Parliament for many years, speaking on environmental issues in the House of Commons for its ‘Make Your Mark’ campaign.

Tom heads up Comms and Youth Engagement here at Ormiston Trust. His role focuses mainly on helping run the Youth Advisory Council, as well as heading up our social media accounts and planning events. His creative roots lie in journalism, music and theatre as well as horticulture and creative producing, having been involved in a variety of workshops and projects. Tom is passionate about the environment and politics and received his undergraduate degree from the University of Birmingham in International Relations.

Fiona is the Grants Assistant at Ormiston Trust and in her role she supports the Grants team. Previously, she worked in the City for 10 years, firstly as a dealer on the floor of the London Stock Exchange and then as an equity salestrader.  

Samia is a business and ICT Teacher with over 20 years of leadership experience in Education, working with leaders from Key Stage 1 to Key Stage 5. Her experience has ranged from working as an Acting Head Teacher to a Deputy for an Education Trust. Some of the key highlights from her education career have included building schools and setting up education provisions, including a teaching school, and winning several National awards. Samia is passionate about ensuring the young people in her care have the best possible experience and has always led by example by sending her own children to the schools she has been a part of.

Ray leads the youth engagement, partnerships and fundraising work streams at Ormiston Trust, in particular having strategic oversight of how we as an organisation can embed the voices of our young people in everything we do, and how we can work with partner organisations to maximise shared outcomes and opportunities.

His background is in community project development and funding, having worked with charities, schools, and local authorities in East Anglia to develop a plethora of projects including primary-secondary school transition, award-winning youth amateur theatre, social prescribing in rural GP practices, and youth commissioning boards, for which he was recognised as a Prime Minister’s Point of Light.

Ray is a global health and medicine graduate, alongside his work at Ormiston, he is a hospital doctor and public health academic. He is also an #iWill Ambassador and national #iWill Partnership Board member.

Anne is Finance Manager at Ormiston Trust and has worked for Ormiston Trust for over 30 years, overseeing the property portfolio and asset management. She combines her work at the Trust with voluntary community work and has raised thousands of pounds to enhance leisure and education opportunities for young people in disadvantaged communities. 

Karlene is Finance Manager at Ormiston Trust and has been handling the Financial Management of Ormiston Trust since 2014. Her background is in Financial Services with 20 years working in the industry and she has a passion for systems, processes and spreadsheets to enable good finance management. 

Aneela is the Head of Education at Ormiston Trust. Prior to joining Ormiston Trust, she was Head of Professional Development and School Improvement at Beaconhouse Group, overseeing the professional development of over 8000 teachers and implementing systems for school improvement across 200 international schools, in the Southeast region. Prior to this, she worked at Universities in the UAE, where she taught on the Bachelor of Education and Diploma programmes, and previous to this she was a Lead Advisor for Nord Anglia Education services, working with head teachers and principals to raise educational standards across schools in Abu Dhabi.

Melissa is a Programme Management Officer at Ormiston Trust. In her role she supports the #WeWill programme management, and works closely with the monitoring & evaluation, social action toolkit & skills, and youth engagement teams. She completed her undergraduate degree in International Development at the University of Sussex, and her postgraduate degree in Global Health and Development at UCL. Over the last eight years, she has dedicated much of her time to working with non-profit organisations in the UK, Nigeria, China, and Tanzania.