Leader magazineASCL - Association of School and College Leaders

Sound out your student 'voices'

Hand holding microphone

I've joined the leadership team this year and I have responsibility for 'student voice'. What kind of things should I be doing in the role?

Student voice is not necessarily a helpful term. It should be about how we involve students in the school, giving them a say in improvement and harnessing their opinions about what's good and not good in school life.

Student voice means something rather different than 'school council', the extent of whose voice has in the past sometimes been little more than requesting a new school uniform or complaining that there's not enough toilet paper or soap in the loos.

I'd suggest student voice should be telling us more about what it's like to be a student in our schools. What is it like to be taught here? What do teachers do that help you to learn well? What could we do more of (and less of)?

These are, of course, often uncomfortable questions, but they are central to recent work on assessment for learning, the Ofsted letter to students, and an increased realisation that schools exist for rather than despite students.

So I'd recommend a fairly bold approach which uses student questionnaires, meetings, focus groups, visits to other schools by students, development of student action groups (eg a media team who make podcasts and videos to show in assemblies, on the website and at parents' evenings).

Your long-term aim might be that students run a session at a staff training day, or are more centrally involved in feeding their insights into the school's review processes.

None of this is simply about seeing students as 'customers' in a narrow and mechanistic way. It's about seeing things through their eyes, being intolerant of mediocrity, and in the process developing a generation of future citizens who know how to contribute constructively to society in all its forms. Good luck!

Geoff Barton is head of King Edward VI School, Suffolk and a frequent contributor to the TES.

© 2017 Association of School and College Leaders