Talking point

16th October 2015 at 00:00
wise counsel on student councils

They come in all shapes and sizes, but student councils have one thing in common: they allow young people a say in what happens at their school.

Nowadays, most schools have some sort of student council. But just how much influence should they have? Should they be limited to relatively minor matters or have control over bigger issues, such as uniform and policy? We asked three school leaders for their views.

Jane Tailby, headteacher, Middle Barton primary school, Oxfordshire

We have a school council that organises fundraising and global events. We also have a pupil leadership team, which comes up with initiatives for the school as a whole and helps to coordinate events such as the harvest tea, talent show and playground games.

We try to involve our students in decisions so that they have a voice, but they don’t necessarily guide the whole thing.

With recruitment, for instance, the school council interviews prospective candidates. But on a recent occasion we didn’t go with their choice – the formal interviews and observations also had to be taken into account.

Having a student council enables pupil voice and develops leadership skills, playing a part in shaping children into balanced citizens who look out for each other.

Keven Bartle, headteacher, Canons High School, London

We have a thriving and successful student council that has a strong input on charitable events and functions. It acts as a pressure group for the student body in areas such as school policies, procedures and resources.

But it would be fair to say that the council has had a more reactive than proactive brief. We are hoping to change this. Arnstein’s ladder of citizen participation ranks “consultation” (a common feature of most school councils) as little more than “window dressing”. At Canons we are too ambitious – and confident in our staff and students – to remain at a tokenistic level.

Dr Bernard Trafford, headteacher, Royal Grammar School, Newcastle

The importance of school councils is founded in the symbolism of students having a voice and, as such, a degree of power within the school. Also, student opinion provides fresh views, which are essential.

Although our school council does hold a lot of influence, this does not necessarily equate to power. Often we listen to students’ views in a more informal sense. When potential staff give sample lessons, for example, pupils are always asked for their opinion.

One difficulty is that, because our students generally agree with staff about more crucial matters and have no big causes to fight for, debate can turn to trivial subjects – such as whether chips should feature on the lunch menu. This has the potential to undermine credibility.

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