IN A CLASSROOM in Pewsey Vale School, Wiltshire, a group of Year 9 and 10 pupils are watching a PowerPoint presentation by Floyd Woodrow, former SAS Major, businessman and leadership coach.
But rather than seeing the break from usual lessons as an excuse to switch off or mess around, every one of them is listening raptly.
In front of each are hand-drawn maps showing their individual goals and ambitions, with targets, strategies and values highlighted… and each bears in its top right hand corner a compass symbol, with a star above the North cardinal.
These children are what Floyd calls “navigators”, and they are at the forefront of a bold new course aimed at helping schoolchildren by employing the same techniques Floyd has used to great effect with business leaders and sports coaches.
“What I’m doing is giving children a reason to be at school,” he says.
“I’m helping them see the benefits of it but I’m also giving them a better understanding of who they are as people, what their strengths are and how to better understand others too. I’m getting them to think about their personal aspirations, but also their responsibilities to the wider community.”
The course is called Compass For Life, and has been developed by Floyd along with educational professionals including Pewsey Vale Assistant Headteacher Chantal Dean.
It is centred around the idea of every pupil determining what their “super north star”, or ultimate goal, is and then visualising the means, values and methods they might need to realise that ambition.
It can be as grand as becoming prime minister or as simple as being the best friend they can be. Either way, the principle is the same.
Allied to the north star are the three other points of the compass: East representing “ethos”, or their values, behaviour and code of conduct; South symbolising “strategy”, or the plan they should follow to get there; and West for “Warrior”, for their strength of character and determination to do their best.
“The point about Compass For Life is it allows you to develop that incredibly basic core question: why are you at school?” explains Floyd.
Using the Compass For Life technique he admitted that his ambition was to be a Formula 1 driver and after realising that in order to do so he would need a grounding in maths and science, as well as developing leadership qualities, strength of character and coolness under pressure, the boy experienced a dramatic change in behaviour.
The formerly disruptive pupil became keen, motivated and a valuable member of the school community.
“You get this wonderful moment when a kid looks at you and says, yes, I could do this, I could become that,” says Floyd.
“Once they have visualised it all on a map you can point to it and say, great, this is where you want to be, how are you going to get there? What actions are you taking? And straight away you’ll see kids change their attitude.”
The system is the culmination of 10 years development by Floyd and his team but it could also be said to be the result of his whole adult life’s work.
After joining the Parachute Regiment aged 18 he became one of the youngest members of the SAS ever at 22, where he was awarded the UK’s second-highest award for gallantry, the Distinguished Conduct Medal, for his work in Iraq, and an MBE for his work in Afghanistan.
By the time he left the military in 2008 after 27 years service he had risen to the rank of Major and led the UK’s counter-terrorist wing.
During his time in the military he also studied law and psychology and wrote his first book Learning To Learn.
After the SAS he went into business, before applying the techniques he had learned in the SAS to coaching businesses and sports teams, including the Wales and Scotland rugby union teams, the English Cricket Board and the Great Britain Paralympics team.
“I’ve always been fascinated by leadership,” he explains.
“You are surrounded by leaders in the SAS, everyone’s a leader. What I wanted to do after I left the service was try to really condense down what that actually means. What does leadership look like in business? Or in sport? What makes different leadership styles work?”
And then one day he had a revelation. “I realised what I had was a compass,” he says.
“And the minute I saw that I knew the key to really boiling all this knowledge down into the simplest form was to use the four compass cardinals: what’s your super north star? What’s the strategy for getting there? What are your ethos and values? How do you unlock your warrior?
They have now developed a series of textbooks, teacher packs and online resources and hope to expand the course into part of the national curriculum.
It is still early days at Pewsey Vale but their plan is that as children progress through the school and the course, they in turn become mentors, or “navigators” to the younger pupils, until lessons in leadership, focus and team cohesion become as natural a part of the day as maths, English and science.
“It is great from the school’s point of view because it hits all the Ofsted requirements in terms of the social, moral and spiritual aspects of education, including the new directive to deliver on something called Fundamental British Values,” explains Chantal.
“So there is that curriculum aspect to it as well. It’s something a school can weave through that underpins everything else.
“It is about schools putting the children at the centre of everything, helping them find out where they want to go and what they want to be. We have had children dragging their parents in to show them what they have been doing.”
Both Floyd and Chantal are keen to point out the wider social values supporting the course: it is not simply about the children realising their own ambitions, but helping them grow into valuable members of society at large.
At another workshop three of the Year 9 “navigators” lead a group of 11-year-old pupils through a discussion on forgiveness, encouraging them to question their own attitudes and presenting a series of scenarios in which they might or might not forgive.
The workshop starts with simple situations such as bullying and ends with the children considering the case of Fusilier Lee Rigby, murdered by Islamic extremists in 2013.
“We are addressing ideas like tolerance and how we identify with other people,” explains Chantal.
“It is getting students from a young age to start to think about things that are really quite challenging and building those fundamental values that are going to be so important for the society of the future.”
Floyd is now in discussions with the Department for Education about rolling the scheme out nationwide, and confesses that, even with his SAS record and successes coaching businesses and sports teams, it is working with children that has become what he calls his “legacy”.
“This is hugely important to me,” he says.
“I have seen kids transformed in how they view the world, how they understand what is important to them. If you can get these core values, that social awareness, that wisdom into these kids, how can you not change society?