To celebrate and explore the potential of student leadership, Teach For All is collecting and sharing stories from across the network and around the globe. When students LEAD, we all LEARN.

Teach First

Autistic student helps younger students understand Autism

Student Leaders
Adult Supporter
Rebecca Cramer
Age of Students
15 years old

Please describe how your students exercised their leadership and the impact they had.

Joshua is in Year 10 at Reach Academy Feltham, on the outskirts of London. Joshua has autism. He is part of our frontier cohort of students and in the four years that he has been at the school Joshua has changed from a timid, fretful boy into an exceptional young man. He has a strong moral compass and is proud of who he is. Joshua wants to work in International Relations and has already started attending University Open Days in order to take ownership over his pathway to success. This example of Joshua's leadership is just one of many examples I could give of his excellence in bringing important issues to the fore:

A few weeks ago Joshua discovered that a younger pupil in the school with autism had been having some hurtful comments directed at him by other pupils who didn't understand what it meant to have autism. Joshua suggested to his teachers that he go and talk to the boy's teammates about what it means to have autism and what impact their words could be having on their teammate. Having studied it lowered down the school himself, Joshua was also aware that the class were currently reading The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime in which the main character is a young boy with autism.

The outcome of Joshua's talk was that the boy felt supported and included in his team better. He now knows that there are other, successful people out there who understand some of the things he is going through. He knows he can turn to Joshua as a buddy (mentor) in the future.

The boy's teammates now understand better some of his behaviours. They are able to be tolerant and understanding. This in turn will enable them to have more tolerance and understanding in their lives more broadly. Finally, all of the pupils now have a deeper understanding of the main character in the text they are studying, which in turn will lead to better academic outcomes for all.

What role did you play in supporting your students’ leadership?

Joshua received very little adult support in this undertaking. He is self-motivated and always seeks to help others to make better choices. A member of staff informed Joshua of the difficulties that the younger boy was having and later that day Joshua approached them and suggested he go and talk to the whole class to increase their awareness of the challenges this boy may be facing, the reasons behind some of his behaviours and how they could all get along better together as a team.

Joshua planned and delivered the session entirely independently. Joshua has had practice at talking to groups of pupils because he has previously run an afterschool drumming club for his peers. Sometimes Joshua discovered that he needed to plan sessions more thoroughly and think about the audience carefully. This experience and the feedback he received at the time has meant that he is now able to proactively take on leadership activities such as the one in this example.

What did you and your students learn in this activity that will endure beyond today?

As staff at the school we learnt that the experiences we are giving our pupils, the character guidance they are receiving and the strong moral compass we are trying to instill is working! Our pupils are caring, thoughtful and able to guide each other. Joshua was proactive in seeking a way to make not only this young boy's experience of school better, but also making all of the pupil's teammates more informed and tolerant.

Joshua himself learns every day that his autism is not something that will hold him back or that will prevent him from working successfully with and in time influencing others. He is learning to be proud of who he is.

The other pupils, both the younger ones and Joshua's peers, have a role model in Josh that will encourage them to take similar action on issues they believe are important.