Student voice has always been one of my passions. I started my first student council as a head of year over twenty years ago, after reading books like Donna Brandes and Paul Ginnis “The Student Centred School” . The year council, as it was then, was a great success with my year group, if not with year head colleagues who thought I had joined the “loony left “by instigating such activity. Other students were curious about it and were often found peering in through the window of our room. It was well attended and the students organised lots of activities including in Year 11 (or fifth year as it was then) weekend in London, which my husband and I accompanied them on, but which they had organised themselves. They were a very capable group of confident pupils who, thanks to modern networks like friends reunited and facebook, I know went on to lead very successful and fulfilling lives.
In all my schools, since then, I have been actively involved in initiating or supporting student councils and have sat through endless hours of discussion on toilets, school dinners and uniform. In my present school we run a student voice day each year. The timetable is suspended for the day and we have students in cross year groups, involved in workshops, often lead by visitors, on a variety of topics selected by the organising committee. The organising committee includes both staff and students but the students are the ones who have the final say in how the day is run. Feedback from the entire student body is always positive and has informed the organisation for the following year.
Our student council is run on a fortnightly meeting schedule, with the year council on the intervening weeks and we have a member of staff allocated to each year group to support. Each tutor group elects two reps for the year council and each year group four reps for the school council. We have to have student council meetings after school on Fridays, as this is the only available time but we do provide transport home in the school minibus for students who require it.
We often have visitors at our student council meetings, the school cook, the local police officer and other members of the community. Many of our students have progressed well through their involvement with the council. One recent ex- student now delivers training on student voice for the local authority. The students have initiated changes within school such as the introduction of a break time fruit bar and the fundraising and purchase of student lockers. The student council are involved in interviewing new staff and their views are seriously considered when appointments are made, in fact they selected our present head teacher after a 30 minute interview, whilst the governors took another day and a half to agree with them.
Despite the seeming success of student voice at my school, I still feel that it has a long way to go. It is run in the main by a group of our more capable students who are usually involved in all the other activities on offer in school. Student from less supportive homes do not tend to be as involved or if they are, keeping them attending is more difficult. The council often have to be prompted to initiate activities themselves instead of bringing a wish list to staff and we still have to talk about toilets at every other meeting. However, despite this, after a long hard week and all the stresses of the job, attending the student council meeting still has the effect of sending me home on a Friday night with a smile on my face and a belief that I am definitely in the right job.