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School Councils 6 School Improvement

Advanced School Councils


ideas for school improvement
Contents & Introduction Contents Introduction

Behaviour sub-councils 3 In 2004, School Councils UK commissioned the first in-depth action
research project to explore the potential of genuine pupil participation to
improve schools.

Teaching & learning School Councils UK aims to share the key ideas and findings from the
sub-councils 4 project with schools. The final report was released in September 2007 and
is available from School Councils UK or on-line as a free download at
www.schoolcouncils.org.
The project manager, an experienced teacher, worked with researchers in
Heath & well-being 5 eight London secondary schools between September ‘04 and July ‘07.
Staff, students and their School Councils were encouraged to innovate,
explore and push the boundaries over the three years.
Pupils created their own behaviour panels, were involved in staff
School management 6 appointments, began researching teaching and learning through lesson
observations and established sub-councils with specific remits, in addition
to more ‘traditional’ School Council work.

Summary of
recommendations 7

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• One school created a behaviour panel, made up of students. The panel

Behaviour sub-councils
worked to identify types and instances of classroom disruption through
observation and surveys.
• Students were trained to support disruptive youngsters through peer
mediation and by helping them to set targets for improved behaviour. They
also tackled issues such as bullying and vandalism in their schools.
• Students were asked to help in the creation of behaviour policies.
• Students ran workshops to share good practice with other schools.
66% of schools saw an
improvement in
relationships between
students

Peer mediation helps because … it gets rid of the problems and the 58% of schools reported
violence…these two students they’d been fighting on several occasions and an improvement in
the teachers have tried and tried and they’ve never been able to sort them out relationships between
… I’ve tried, the first time, and I’ve been able to sort it out … and I think that’s staff and students
a big achievement. Student – Peer Mediator

I used to get in trouble all the time. And I was a bit of a bully, and that’s
why people respected me coz I was doing that….but I don’t wanna leave
school knowing that I’m known as the bully that everyone respected because
66%
he done bad things. I wanna be known as the guy that was responsible
because he done something constructive and helped others and left a good
message. Student – Peer Mediator
58%
I think mentoring is a big thing … what I’ve realised is that the Year 7s
in my form, they can open up about anything. If they can’t say it to the tutor,
they can say it to me. Student – Class Councillor
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Teaching and learning sub-councils • Students were trained in research techniques that allowed them to conduct
systematic, targeted lesson observations.
• They provided feedback and data to teachers following observations; for
each observation a specific, pre-agreed aspect of the teaching was high-
lighted, observed, data collected and then discussed by teacher and
observer.
• Their work informed pupil-led INSET for staff.

65% of teachers in the


schools involved in lesson
observations thought that
the School Council made a
positive impact on
teaching and learning I wanted the children to be very aware of the emotional risk that the
compared to 39% in teachers were taking by inviting a dialogue about their teaching. The
schools children responded very well and began, straight away, to see the teach-
without ers as people with emotional needs. Project Manager
teaching and
learning 65% Teaching has been improving, our lessons have been improving so I
sub-councils think that has got to be the greatest thing we’ve done. Student observer

Obviously their training made it clear to them that they couldn’t give
a grade to a member of staff or say that’s a bad teacher, that’s a good
teacher, but all the students came back with very positive feedback on the
teacher they saw. Teacher

I think the staff think they we’re doing quite a good job to help them
with their learning. School Councillor

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• Through regular class council meetings every student had the opportunity

Health and well-being


to have their voice heard.
• Involving pupils in the decision-making of the school boosted self-esteem;
students felt they were listened to and that their views were taken into
account. This encouraged a sense of ownership and pride in the school.
• Environmental sub-councils improved areas of the school such as public
areas and outside spaces.
• School Councils developed pupils’ life skills in listening, negotiation,
compromising and debating.

66% of schools saw an


improvement in
relationships between
students

The School Council also has the capacity to turn so-called ‘lost 70% saw a positive impact
children’ or those well on the way to being lost into leaders, we tap the skills on self-esteem
that they use to become rebels and rabble rousers and we make charismatic
leaders out of them. Teacher

They gain understanding of how to express themselves, how to listen


to other people, they develop skills from being in meetings and from 66%
communicating with their peer group. Teacher

I think it’s important to be on the School Council because it makes you


feel that you belong to the school. School Councillor
70%
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School management • Students were involved in staff appointments.
• Students observed and commented on lessons taught as part of the
interview process.
• Students joined Senior Management Team discussions.
• Student Governors joined Governors’ meetings.

71% of teachers saw an


improvement in
decision-making Recently, the School Council were involved in selecting Directors of
58% reported an Study … they were absolutely professional, they asked questions that
improvement in were straight to the point, if they needed further detail they asked for that
relationships between as well. If you weren’t actually watching the students, and you were just
staff and students listening to them, they could easily be mistaken for adults. Teacher

The Head Teacher, she’s all up for us having our School Council and
everything, coz, when we have our meetings she always comes to us and
says well done and she’ll tell us to our face why things may not happen.

58% School Councillor

The effects, in terms of teaching and learning, outside the effects


that it has on individual students, has been wonderful, has been pretty
significant in the few years that we’ve involved students actively in
71% governance. Deputy Head Teacher

We can make the school a better place. School Councillor


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• School Councils could usefully be made compulsory in schools, but only if

Recommendations
they are timetabled and funded.
• School Council work should be accredited.
• School Councils should have a central role – not merely consultative – in
helping to formulate and create policy.
• School Council work needs monitoring as does any other area of
curriculum and learning.
• Key achievements occurred when students were accepted as
‘professionals’ who could make valuable contributions to the school
because of their considerable experience and expertise on teaching and
learning, on behaviour and on school climate.
• School Councils need the direct oversight and validation of the Head
Teacher.
• There need to be clear lines of communication from the School Council
through Class Councils, Year Councils, and executive groups so that an
individual voice can be heard and quick feedback given.

Personally, I am convinced that there is no such thing as a ‘little bit of


democracy’ in schools – just as it is, in my view, undesirable to have a little bit
of student voice. In my experience, what staff perceive to be a little bit leads
to pupils feeling frustrated and despondent at the ‘pointlessness’ of it …
You either trust and believe in involving students in decision-making or you
don’t. Project Manager
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Our overall conclusions are that if the building blocks are there … then School Councils
can make a difference and can improve a school and the lives of the people in it.
Research Team, Birmingham University

Teachers have nothing to fear and everything to gain from research on the effectiveness
of pupil participation. Young people's active engagement in school life is the best way of
preventing alienation and disruption and enhancing achievement. Steve Sinnott,
General Secretary of the National Union of Teachers

To buy a full version of the report or to download a free electronic version, please contact
School Councils UK, www.schoolcouncils.org.

Extracts taken from The London Secondary School Councils Action Research Project 2004–2007 funded by Deutsche Bank and The Esmée Fairbairn Foundation and
“School Councils 6 School Improvement” produced by the Centre for International Education and Research, School of Education, University of Birmingham, September 2007.