Role Models

A peer-led project based on what university students wish they'd known when they were younger


The project aims to provide bespoke training to equip potential Role Models aged 16 to 25 with the skills and confidence to create and deliver creative, hour-long one-to-one participatory workshops for Year 9 and 10 learners. It was developed out of students’ own desire to offer comprehensive, inclusive and relatable PSHE education. The overarching aim of the participatory workshops is to create a new model of social pedagogy focused on listening to young people’s views, empowering them to be active agents in their choices and building their confidence and self-esteem.


The Role Models Project is currently delivered in four distinct strands:

  • The volunteer programme – runs at the University of Sussex Student Union and is open to 130 students per year.
  • The elective modules – three courses that can be taken by selected foundation, first and second-year students at the University of Sussex (70 students per year).  
  • The academy – after a successful pilot in 2017, a tailored programme is being developed to support sixth-form students to become Role Model mentors.
  • The consultancy – an offer to other universities in the region that are interested in setting up similar programmes.

The four to six-week training programme includes: participants’ reflection on their own experiences, strengths and values; creative facilitation techniques (modelled by the trainers); communication, storytelling and active listening: the power of questions and not having all the answers; recognising and meeting young people's needs; responding to different behaviours; and the safeguarding and boundaries involved in being a Role Model.

Pupil workshops, taking place over six weeks, are then created by the Role Models, starting with the question ‘what do you wish you’d known.’ Students on the elective modules (as opposed to the volunteering programme) undertake a more intense programme of four to six timetabled hours a week, including a two-hour seminar. All students are then guided through workshop creation, delivery and engaged reflection, helping them grow as facilitators and respond to the needs of each new group of young people.


  • Since 2015, the Role Models Project has worked with more than 1,250 young people, delivered 153 in-house training sessions and 150 workshops across seven local schools.
  • It has won and been nominated and shortlisted for multiple awards including winning the 2019 Better World Teaching Award, being nominated for the Community Heroes Awards with BBC Sussex and BBC Surrey, and shortlisted for the Pamela Sheridan Award for Innovation in provision of sex and relationship education.
  • The project has been recognised as a best practice model by leading PSHE educators (including BishUK and DO RE founder Justin Hancock and Brook’s Ester McGeeney).
  • School staff have fed back about the positive changes they have noticed in students. These include an increased sense of confidence and belonging, having a clearer image of what they want to do in the future, and becoming more self-aware as a result of PSHE being approached in a relatable way. Staff are clear that the Role Models Project gives pupils opportunities that they cannot provide and that pupils evidently benefit from it.
  • In relation to progression to higher education, school staff noted that meeting and forming bonds with current university students had a positive impact on students, ‘especially on their feeling that they could ‘fit in’ at university.’
  • 98% of school pupils who took part in the workshops said they enjoyed them, and, in particular, the relaxed participatory approach.
  • 80% of pupils felt they had gained or learnt something new, for example, knowledge around mental health, consent and the difference between healthy and unhealthy relationships.
  • Pupils also demonstrated a big shift in attitudes towards themselves and how they treat others. Their feedback also demonstrated how they had gained tools, understanding and resilience to enhance their wellbeing in the future.
  • 94% of the Role Models rated the training as good or excellent, and 98% said they felt fully supported in their role. 92% said that they had gained transferable skills that solidified or inspired their career choices. Many alumni, with jobs now in youth work and internships around the world, have quoted their experience with the Role Model Project as invaluable.
  • A powerful dual impact was created through both sets of young people benefitting from the opportunity to make positive connections, to learn from each other and to critically engage with PSHE topics relevant to their worlds.


During the pandemic, the Role Models team were keen to not let lockdown stop the valuable work they have been doing. Instead of meeting in person, volunteers from Sussex University have been communicating online to create activities for young people to try at home and have developed three activity books on Gender and Sexuality, Futures, and Covid-19 and Wellbeing. Going forward this is how the Role Models Project will be delivered, with the inclusion of films and resources to support teachers to deliver the project online or in person. A key benefit of remote delivery is that it has enabled the project to reach a greater number of students.




The PSHE Association is clear that PSHE is a distinct body of knowledge and a pedagogy, and that those charged with delivering it need to be properly trained. Successive reports, however, including the Department for Education’s 'Not Yet Good Enough', have found that too many schools are not delivering the high-quality PSHE that children need. Concerns related to this include that children may be left vulnerable to sexual exploitation as they lack the knowledge and language to understand or describe when it is taking place.


Started in 2015 and ongoing.


The University of Sussex, The Blagrave Trust and the University of Sussex Students’ Union

Funding source

NCOP, now Uni Connect