The pupils and parents area of our website for school leaders has answers to questions about attendance, behaviour, pastoral care and all the ways schools communicate with pupils and their families. When we asked our team to pick topics they’d most like their child’s school to pay attention to, ‘pupil voice’ was one of the most popular, so I’ve been finding out how schools encourage children and young people to have a say.
I particularly enjoyed discussing this with Richard Steward, headteacher of The Woodroffe School in Dorset. His ‘alternative school council’, which includes some of the most challenging pupils in each year, helps him stay in touch with how the school feels from the other side.
Richard told me that while the group’s monthly meetings are not always productive, there have been moments that have stopped him in his tracks. When he asked these pupils to design a new curriculum, they said “we don’t really care what you teach us. We just want teachers to be nice to us”. So letting pupils start each lesson with a clean slate was the focus of the staff meeting he called right afterwards. I was impressed by Richard’s determination to listen to all the school’s pupils, even when they don’t say what he wants to hear.
Listening to those who aren’t best placed to express a view is a real theme in my research so far. I’ve also spoken with the headteacher of Fiveways School in Somerset, an ‘outstanding’ school which specialises in supporting pupils with severe and multiple learning difficulties. A full-time speech and language therapist attends every school council meeting so everyone can make themselves understood. At a school like Fiveways this is standard practice, of course, but it reminded me how important it is to give each pupil the means to be heard.
We’ve heard a lot recently about a ‘person-centred approach’. This seems to be the common thread running through the Children and Families Act. Listening to children must be an important part of this approach, so it’s been very encouraging to see this put into practice.