Leader magazineASCL - Association of School and College Leaders

Student voice speaks up

Students, Wesley Woodcock, Patrick Kerr and Jamie Billingham

At the last Council meeting, year 11 student Wesley Woodcock took over the ASCL presidency from Brian Lightman to chair a debate on student voice. Wesley was assisted by two students who contributed to the debate.

Here, Patrick Kerr represents the student view on why they should be given a greater say in running schools.

Those who develop policy need to spend a lot more time speaking to those who receive it. Welcome progress has been made in recent years in consulting teachers and harnessing their creativity and experience. However, simple research done in our school demonstrates that we now need to do the same with students, a constituency whose views are many times almost completely ignored.

A lot more needs to be done to build a consensus between our policy makers and the students that they claim to be working for, and to extend student voice into every school in the country.

Attending ASCL Council was important for us students as it gave us a short insight into the thoughts and feelings of school leaders across the UK and how their opinions of the student voice differed from ours. It let us students speak our minds on how the student voice contributes to how the school is run.

The student voice has developed the school through many ways. One of the main activities that I am involved in is the staff interviews. This includes a panel of students who are chosen to interview a set of candidates who want to teach in the school. The questions ranged from 'How could you benefit our school?' to 'How can you use our IT resources to improve your lessons?' By doing this we can improve the school by getting the views of students and teachers and getting the best of both worlds.

Another field in which the student voice contributes is through the behavioural panel. The behavioural panel is the assessment of a student who has been short-term suspended for misbehaving and a panel of students reviews the student's actions and talks to them on their own level. I can recommend this to any school as the students give a better output to their peers than they can do to teachers.

To conclude, I believe that the student voice should be considered as their views are important and valid as together they can create more of a community environment and make a better school.

...and, Jamie Billingham talks about some of the challenges that their student council has overcome.

Firstly, I realise that students don't have complete control of the school at the end of the day. This is a concept that some parts of the student body don't wish to accept, thus sometimes think that student councils are a failure.

However, sometimes compromises can be reached. For example, something the staff wished was for mobile phones be banned from school grounds. Needless to say, the student body was not pleased. After meeting with the headteacher, it was agreed that mobiles were allowed, as long as they were kept out of sight. This shows that the student council can have power, but everyone must accept that it doesn't control the school.

One thing that many of the student body fail to realise is that their requests take time. For example, we are currently working on getting cooking facilities at our school.

This was recommended to the student council last year, but interest was lost rapidly as, in the eyes of the student body, nothing was happening. In reality, we were looking at various ways of raising the funds needed, and for a suitable place within the school grounds.

A good way to keep interest running is to keep updating the student body through a school newsletter article or on a school website.

Another problem that many student councils face is communication with the student body. It is bad when students are unaware of good work done by the student council, such as participating in new staff interviews and working 'behind the scenes' to help the school.

A good solution is to write articles in the school newsletter or, like we have, start a newsletter just for the student council. Another good way to communicate with students is through assemblies, perhaps one every half term.

In conclusion, these are my solutions to some issues found in student voice, and I would help to correct these if I was in charge of student voice.

Patrick Kerr (far left) is in year 10 and Jamie Billingham (far right) in year 9 at Lawrence Sheriff School in Rugby. The head, Peter Kent, is a Council representative.

Your Leader magazine

Leader magazine welcomes opinion articles from all members on education-related topics. Please email Sara Gadzik at leader@ascl.org.uk for details. ASCL offers a modest honorarium.

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