11.03.2024 Educator Insights Student Success Story

Empowering Student Voices at Havant Academy 

First Give is a social action programme which empowers students across England and Wales to drive positive change in their communities. At Havant Academy, the First Give programme has become a key feature within the school’s PSHE curriculum since its introduction in 2021. 

First Give challenges students to research and advocate for a charity of their choice, culminating in a dynamic First Give School Final. At the Final, the students’ presentations are delivered to compete for a £1,000 First Give grant to support their selected charity. The programme not only develops essential skills such as teamwork, research, and project planning but also instils a sense of agency and purpose in participating students. Head of Year 8 at Havant Academy – Mr Rielly – led the programme this academic year, so we spoke to him about the impact the programme had on his students this year. 

At First Give, we hear from teachers about how students find the programme a safe space to talk about social issues they personally face, and how this often results in the class banding together to support a charity that helps, or will help, the student who spoke up. Meghan, a student at Havant, had this experience. Having received support from the services of The Elizabeth Foundation her whole life – a charity supporting those who are hard of hearing – Meghan had a deep connection to the charity. Through their social action and presentation, her class passionately advocated for the cause, also drawing from Meghan’s own life experiences. Likewise, the Havant branch of Motiv8, the winning classes’ charity, “is really local, so many of our students use their services too. That local connection is why they had respect for the charities and wanted to work for them.” Mr Rielly was delighted to tell me that

“every class picked local charities that were that were actually impacting their life and being used by students themselves, and they wanted to give back.” 

The programme’s emphasis on local impact is to ensure that the grant and fundraising efforts directly benefit the local community, amplifying the sense of fulfilment among students, and this is exactly what we have seen at Havant Academy. 

Mr. Rielly reflected on the meaningful impact of the First Give programme on student engagement and confidence, and shared inspiring anecdotes that highlight the experiences of individual students. One fantastic example is a student who has ADHD, who overcame personal challenges to deliver an exceptional presentation. Mr. Rielly remembered, “He really practiced his parts during the sessions to get it completely right, and then to stand up in front of everyone and present and stay so focused was phenomenal for us to see… you could see how impassioned the was and what he wanted to do for his class.” 

The First Give programme not only cultivates a sense of active citizenship, but it also develops essential life skills. The programme provides a platform for students to develop their public speaking and presentation skills. Many students, initially hesitant to speak in front of a larger audience, rose to the challenge, showing their newfound confidence and ability to be articulate. Mr. Rielly observed that

“in total, 12 (half) of the presenting students are those we absolutely wouldn’t have pitched to be people to take part at all as they’re either quite anxious, or don’t talk openly or offer answers in class. It’s the first time they’ve ever had to stand up in front of a group of people that was bigger than a class.” 

The impact of the First Give programme extends beyond individual growth to inspire teamworking among students and a strong independent learning experience. Mr. Rielly notes,

“They all worked really well together and all the charities they picked were ones they genuinely cared about… It was all directed by them – the teachers literally just facilitated it! The level of planning they went into was incredible and what they knew about all the charities was phenomenal.” 

Witnessing students overcome personal challenges and deliver passionate presentations left a lasting impression on the Headteacher (Ms Williams) and the Deputy Headteacher (Mr Gardner), as they expressed how impressed they were and their admiration for the students’ noticeable increase in confidence, dedication and their ability to push through barriers. 

The First Give programme at Havant Academy has been an exceptional example of what can happen when young people are empowered to have autonomy, share their opinions and experiences, and challenged to step outside their comfort zone. The students at Havant Academy have made a tangible difference to their community, and will truly reap what they’ve sown as their charities are so local and some students are beneficiaries.