Wise councils listen to all their pupils

9th October 1998 at 01:00
Auchtermuchty primary set up a pupil council in September 1995 as part of Fife's pilot scheme, and now would not be without one.

It meets at least once a month, during curriculum time, and has a representative from each Primary 1 to Primary 7 class. Apart from the infants, representatives are elected by secret ballot, and anyone wishing to stand has to be nominated, then make a presentation before the vote is taken.

At the council meeting, pupils know they have to express the views of the class and not necessarily their own. The headteacher takes the minutes,which are then circulated to each class and, at the request of the council, posted on the noticeboard. Pupils are also given time to make announcements and report back on council business during school assembly.

"It's about pupils taking responsibility and taking action - and it's about them taking responsibility for their actions," says headteacher Isobel Hutchon, who agrees with the Strathclyde report that pupil councils help with effective school management.

She disagrees about pupil councils not affecting educational issues. "The attainment and the setting of standards all benefit," she says. "I'd go so far as saying that through the council pupils are telling us how to raise standards."

Examples she cites include a list of 10 Handy Homework Hints (No 1: "Find a quiet place to work) drawn up by the council and inserted in every pupil's homework jotter.

It was also a pupil suggestion that a good piece of work from each class which was put on the "work of the week" display board, should be given recognition at the weekly assembly. This has now developed so that pupils help each class teacher to choose the work of the week, with the stipulation that it is someone's individual best work and not necessarily the best out of the whole class.

"It's not the best work. It's their best work," says depute head Alana Kent. "The children are increasingly aware of assessing themselves, of looking to help themselves and others rather than competing negatively. The council helps them promote positive peer assessment."

The council has also undertaken a bullying survey, which it collates twice a term, then discusses and reports back on to individual classes. And it wants pupils to play a bigger part in organising school sports day, including fund-raising.

Representatives spend an average of an hour a month on council-related duties, according to the two P7 representatives, Hannah Riddel and Philip Robins. These can include acting as hosts for school visitors or advising on the school's mini-enterprise schemes.

When P3 pupils made a profit from Salt Dough Models at the summer fete, the pupil council, in consultation with the class, decided that the money should be spent on class books, games and new playground equipment.

When P6 and P7 produced a Come and Visit Auchtermuchty booklet (Auchtermuchty is home to Jimmy Shand, The Proclaimers and Dr Finlay's Casebook), the pupil council organised distribution and sales for the 500 copies.

Council discussions also led to the drawing up of a Citizenship Charter which is on display throughout the school. Each of the citizenship rights, such as the right to be taught well and to learn, is balanced by a citizenship duty, such as to work hard and learn to the best of your ability.

Every week one of the duties is made duty of the week and pupils and classes are rewarded for their efforts to fulfil it. The final citizenship right - "to have a part in the changes which happen in the school" is balanced by a duty "to treat others as individuals and allow for differences."

A new dinner rota, drawn up by the council, gives every class a turn at being first in the queue. Separate playground lines have been abolished at its request, so that all classes now enter the building together in an orderly fashion. Girls have been given a dedicated netball space during breaks, and boys are seeking "professional training" in how to assemble the football posts for dinner-time practice. Safety posters have been designed and distributed around the school.

"There is a respectful freedom operating in the school," says Alana Kent. "The council is not frightened to address any issue and it approaches staff with a mature attitude. That definitely helps school management."

Pupil Councils: A Case Study of Pupil Councils in Fife is available from the Quality in Education Centre, University of Strathclyde, or from Fife Council Education Department COUNCILS 7 rules for success

* democratic elections

* regular meetings

* pupil-led agendas

* action seen to be taken on pupil suggestions

* effective feedback and communication procedures

* involvement of senior staff

* high profile in the school

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