August 2017


  • Leading thoughts
    Geoff Barton reflects on his journey meeting hundreds of school and college leaders since taking up the role of ASCL General Secretary three months ago. More
  • School heroes
    Character and resilience education helps pupils to develop important life skills says former Headteacher Ben Slade. Here he highlights a new programme being delivered by ex-service personnel in schools. More
  • Be prepared
    Recent incidents in Manchester and London affected everyone, including many of our own pupils and staff, says Headteacher Richard Sheriff. Here he highlights what leaders can do to prepare for such instances. More
  • Sense and accountability
    ASCL’s Primary and Governance Specialist Julie McCulloch on the current problems with primary assessment and the launch of a new ASCL-led independent review of primary accountability. More
  • Keeping your head
    Reassuringly, new research from the National Foundation for Educational Research (NFER) has found that retention of headteachers in the education system is about 90%. However, there is still work to be done, as this figure does appear to be declining over time says NFER’s Karen Wespieser. More
  • Education post-brexit
    What should education look like in a post-Brexit Britain? Here ASCL Director of Policy Leora Cruddas explores the future of our education system. More
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Character and resilience education helps pupils to develop important life skills says former Headteacher Ben Slade. Here he highlights a new programme being delivered by ex-service personnel in schools.

School heroes

It’s a sunny morning and groups of pupils are gathered on a school playing field in South Wales. They are being briefed by ex-service instructors to imagine that they are on an overnight hike. They are asked to build a tent with all but one member of the team wearing blindfolds to simulate darkness. The one member of the team without a blindfold directs the others.

These pupils are completing a ‘monster storm challenge’, one of the team-building exercises on the Prince William Award programme being delivered by our charity, SkillForce. On this occasion, pupils had a new recruit joining them in the exercise – the Duke of Cambridge Prince William, Royal Patron of the charity. He took part and listened intently to his team mates’ (the pupils’) instructions as he fixed a tent pole while blindfolded. The Duke’s participation marked the official launch of the new award programme, which will be delivered in primary and secondary schools from September.

SkillForce works in partnership with schools to provide character and resilience programmes with one morning, afternoon or after-school session being delivered each week throughout the school year. The Prince William Award is a new programme to help pupils build resilience, good character and inner strength to cope with life’s challenges and opportunities. The programme is for children and young people aged from 6 to 14 years. We believe that the earlier we can work with children on these vital attributes, the more likely we are to impact positively on their mental health.

Founded in the year 2000, SkillForce has been a registered charity since 2004 and since its inception, has supported more than 60,000 children and young people, many of whom were in receipt of free school meals and/or had additional educational needs.

Bringing out the best

SkillForce instructors, mainly ex-service personnel, are role models in schools and inspire pupils to be the best that they can be. They bring an incredible work ethic and skill set to the programme because of their military background and their unique experiences. They know all about teamwork, initiative and self-discipline, attributes that help pupils to raise their aspirations and stretch them.

The Prince William Award combines practical and reflective learning through classroom-based and outdoor activities. It covers personal development, relationships, working, community and environment. There are three levels for pupils to work their way through: Pioneer (from age 6), Explorer (from age 8) and Trailblazer (from age 12). The programme has been developed with specialist writers, headteachers and education professionals.

Commenting about the programme, Prince William, Duke of Cambridge, said: “The ability for a child to develop character, courage and resilience to overcome setbacks is something about which I care deeply. Over the years I have seen, time and again, how the development of personal skills puts a young person in better stead for education, future employment and for life.”

Making the right choices

Character and resilience education helps children and young people to develop positive personal traits and strengths and a practical wisdom that involves knowing how to choose the right course of action, including in difficult situations. Character is moulded by our experiences and the choices we make. The view that it can be taught within the curriculum underpins much of the work that SkillForce does.

The programme encourages discussion and practical exploration of values such as courage, respect, resilience and self-confidence, as well as promoting the importance of teamwork and problem solving. These could benefit academic performance, psychological wellbeing and the chances of future job success.

Last year, the charity conducted a year-long pilot of the Prince William Award at 37 primary and secondary schools in England, Scotland and Wales, involving more than 1,000 pupils. Participating schools have been positive about the programme, commenting on impressive levels of pupil engagement. Leaders and teachers at both primary and secondary schools, across all key stages and settings, have noticed substantial changes to behaviour, attitude and skills, in particular when it comes to confidence, communication and the ability to work with others.

Jon Murphy, Headteacher of Llanfoist Fawr Primary School in Monmouthshire, said: “Investment in the award has been rewarded with high-impact outcomes for all learners in their social, emotional, physical and academic development. It is rare and unique in that it challenges pupils of diversely varying abilities and delivers for all.”

Helen Watson, Headteacher of Wharton Primary School in Manchester, said: “We have seen the enormous benefits of SkillForce initiatives in our school. It has impacted significantly on pupils’ emotional and social development, enabling them to better understand and manage their own feelings and behaviour and to contribute more effectively in a group. The gains in self-confidence and self-belief have had a positive effect on their learning attitudes and on their resilience.”

And many of the children and young people who have taken part have spoken of the benefits. One of the schools to take part in the pilot was Caldicot School in Monmouthshire. Keaton Oliver, aged 12, a pupil at the school, said: “Doing the SkillForce activities has helped me become a better person, and they are really fun. I’ve learnt how to better cope with my feelings, and express myself. I feel more confident and resilient. I am okay about speaking up in a group now whereas before I used to be a bit shy of doing that.”

And 11 year-old Megan Connolly, also from Caldicot School, added: “It is really fun doing the SkillForce sessions and it was very exciting seeing Prince William. We do challenges where we have to work in teams and solve problems. I think the award is a good idea; it’s made me feel more confident.”

As a former Headteacher, I understand the pressures that school leaders face. It is one of the most demanding jobs you can possibly do. One minute you are designing the curriculum, and then calming a parent down and persuading governors to your way of thinking while meeting challenging targets and balancing the budget. SkillForce doesn’t pretend to provide all the answers, but genuine magic happens when we work in partnership with schools and, by working together, we get to see confident, happy and resilient children and young people who genuinely dare to be their best selves.

"The ability for a child to develop character, courage and resilience to overcome setbacks is something about which I care deeply." - The Duke of Cambridge Prince William, Royal Patron of SkillForce

Sign up your school

Schools can still sign up to the programme for this September. SkillForce works with each school to help select its cohort. During the pilot year, the charity delivered the programme to groups of 6 to 32 children and young people per school.

The full cost of the programme delivered once per week (morning, afternoon or after school) for a full academic year is £13,500. However, the charity fundraises more than 50%, reducing the cost to schools to £6,800, which works out at £175 per week per cohort and as little as £5.44 per pupil per week. SkillForce is offering a further 5% discount to ASCL members on production of their ASCL membership cards if schools sign up before 1 October 2017. In addition, SkillForce can support schools to approach local businesses for support, and there are opportunities for each school to fundraise for SkillForce and the funds to contribute to the delivery costs.

To find out more visit and call 01623 827651 and follow them on Twitter @SkillForceUK and on Facebook.

Watch the short videos about the Prince William Award online at:

Former Headteacher Ben Slade is Chief Executive of SkillForce.