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Head’s blog

Pupil Voice

In December 2016 the Welsh schools’ inspectorate published a best practice guide for pupil participation. The report highlighted that “pupil participation is strong in schools that have the following characteristics:

  • Pupil participation and building positive relationships are an integral part of the school’s vision and ethos
  • There are clear roles and structures in place across schools to capture the views of all pupils on a wide range of issues relating to school improvement
  • Pupils have a breadth of opportunities to participate within and beyond the school to contribute to debate and influence decisions across a wide range of issues that affect them
  • Pupils and staff access good quality training and continuous professional development that is well targeted to develop the skills, knowledge and understanding needed to have pupils’ voice heard in discussions and in decision-making

For as long as I can remember I have been committed to promoting “Pupil Voice” as a vehicle for personal development and for school improvement, given that the opportunity for pupils to take part in discussion and contribute to the life of the school is an essential part of their educational experience, and one which helps prepare them for the adult world. There is no doubt that learning is more meaningful and pupils learn more when they are fully engaged in their community and, for me, real engagement means active participation in decisions that affect their schooling.

There are significant benefits for pupils of “getting involved”, including increased self-confidence and feelings of empowerment, and a greater sense of responsibility. Many also point to the potential for improved behaviour with pupils taking responsibility for their own and others’ behaviour, as well as improved learning. Having worked with countless pupils on numerous school councils and committees over the years, I can certainly attest to these benefits and there is no greater reward for me personally than to see pupils with the confidence to take up the leadership reins, having honed their skills in the chambers of the School Council or through the very many leadership opportunities available to them both in school and beyond.

Over the past 15 years at Mill Hill, I have seen the School Council system take on many different forms and its latest iteration is perhaps the most exciting; not because previous councils were less effective, far from it, but because of the opportunities afforded to today’s generation to collaborate in their work, not only in the council room but also through the use of technology- Google classroom, Firefly, survey monkeys, Outlook 365 and social media to name but a few. Feedback is instantaneous, providing accurate and immediate information for council representatives to discuss and debate as they formulate their proposals for change.

The current School Council has submitted an Autumn term report to me for consideration, that they will also be presenting to the Senior Team this afternoon. The report highlights a number of areas for attention, each having been given a weighting of importance and thus indicating the order of priority for action and which will certainly give me plenty of food for thought. Impressive! But it isn’t just through the School Council that we are effecting change. Time spent with individual tutor groups across the school over the course of this year is giving me a wonderful opportunity to hear the pupils’ views, by year group, to help me identify any issues affecting one particular Key Stage. And I have also set up an inter house competition “The Big idea”, a Dragon’s Den-style activity offering houses the opportunity to put forward their ideas for School improvement (Fourth Form and Lower Sixth pupils working together as a team and Remove and Fifth Form pupils collaborating on their projects). £1,000 each is up for grabs for the two winning teams and I am certainly looking forward to hearing about the innovative ideas the pupils have for improving their school in readiness for September 2019.

I’ll leave the final words to the School Council reps who have highlighted what representing their House and peers means to them:

“As pupils of the School our opinions need to be heard in order to make our time at school as rewarding as possible.  Through the school councils everyone has an opportunity to voice their opinions and to make a significant contribution to school life.”

“Pupil voice is important because it allows the pupils to think they are contributing to the environment that they are in and to put their ideas across with a pathway to make changes.”

“Taking part in Pupil Voice is good for your future allowing you to make mature decisions and have responsibility to represent other pupils fairly and honestly.”

“Very good opportunity to raise items and day to day things which staff aren’t aware of.”

“Food council is separate to the Full School Council to allow greater opportunity to talk about all food related matters including boarders (breakfast/dinner), Sixth Form (Café 6) and day/boarding pupils (lunch in the dining hall and refectory).”

“The system allows all pupils a voice if wanted where they know it will be listened to and the Tutor Group Lead role allows wider spread of pupil voice to and from between the school council and the tutor groups.”

“Pupils voice can be regarded as one of the most important parts of the school life. A perfect school is one that is constantly changing to make the school life more commendable and enjoyable for the pupils. This can lead to our growth and progress in both life and education.”

There is no doubting the enthusiasm and commitment of current pupils to bring about the sorts of improvements that will benefit the Mill Hill community and I look forward to considering the current proposals on the table.

Jane Sanchez