Organising Learner Participation
Learner participation can take place through learner participation forums, a school council or a whole school pupil parliament. There is no one set structure only the set principle that the body of learners is set up to represent all learners on issues that affect them. To be effective it must be representative of the views of all the learners. The least vocal learners must be given opportunities to have a ‘voice’. This may be through class circle time, class councils or a suggestions box/book, which may all feed ideas into the learner participation forum. There are many ways to reach marginalised groups which you may wish to consider:
- Fully embed rights and participation into the culture and ethos of the school
- Look at your participation forums and check who is not represented and invite them to attend a forum meeting
- Promote ways to involve all learners in having a say in their school
- Regularly change members of forum groups to help get more involved
- Training learners in the skills they need to listen and say what they think
Types of participation:
Learner Participation Forums - usually organised around key topics: Learner Voice, Peer Supporters and Mediators, School Effectiveness groups, Healthy Schools, Eco-groups
School Councils – no fixed structure but usually have 1 or 2 representatives from each class in smaller schools. In larger school the class representative might feed into a larger Year Council who then have Lead Year Representatives to report to whole School Council.
Pupil Parliament – This is particularly popular in smaller schools where all pupils sit in the pupil parliament with some pupils elected as ‘ministers’ to take on specific roles within the school community
Firstly, decisions will need to be made over: rules for the elections, election procedures, number of representatives and how long they will serve. A consultation process between the Learner Participation Link Person, (this could be a member of SMT, a governor or member of staff), learners, senior staff and governors will establish these election procedures. In addition the whole school should receive training on the election process and what their participation group is for. Candidates can then come forward as nominees and produce their manifestos.
There are different ways of organising the elections, but in all cases, the following rules should apply:
- Only learners can vote
- One learner one vote
- Voting should be by secret ballot
- Learners count votes supervised by a teacher
- The Learner Participation Forum represents the whole school
All members of the school community should have training on the role of learner participation within the school and understand their responsibilities in facilitating it. This should include not only learners and teaching staff but also SLT and governors. Nominees will need instructions when they take up their roles on how to be an effective representative and in the skills of representation, patience and realism.
This is an important, living document that will set out clear guidance on the role of the learner participation forum. It will ideally set out:
- Anything the forum will always do and anything it can’t do
- What is expected of people involved in the forum
- Election process
- Management roles & responsibilities of the forum
- Administration and planning procedures
- The process for ‘hand-over’ of forum activities when terms of office are complete
Commit to Projects:
Next you need to set-up your focus areas. Gather opinions from across the school body about what these should be and consider desired outcomes. Consultation with Senior Leadership Team is essential as they can highlight key areas in the School Development Plan and have the power to allocate time for the group’s activities and give it a budget.
The importance of an open and transparent communication system cannot be overemphasised. The whole school community needs to be consulted on agendas and feel that they are able to submit their ideas for discussion. The school has many ways of facilitating this from meetings to newsletters, assemblies to information evenings, notice boards to websites.
Carrying out an annual audit is good practice. It allows you to anonymously gather the school community’s views on the effectiveness of the learner participation forum and draw up a development plan for the following year. Frank and open appraisal will ensure that your learner participation group is not tokenistic, rather that it demonstrates true citizenship and shared decision making in your school. The School Councils UK website provides a really good structure for a Learner Voice Questionnaire. Or you could design one yourself at Google Surveys or use Survey Monkey if you are signed-up in your school. What’s important is that you gather the opinions of all learners, staff and governors on the effectiveness of learner participation in your school. Once this has been done a Learner Participation Development Plan can be written to show how the school will improve practice the following year.
Remember that each school is on their own the journey to shared decision-making and what is fundamentally important is that your school has a clear picture of what that final goal looks like and is taking steps towards it. Shared decision-making won’t happen overnight and there will be much to learn along the way, lessons that will be unique to your learners and your school. Be brave in your commitment to working in a rights respecting school, determined in your support of and belief in learner participation and resilient when you face challenges. Always remember, meaningful and inclusive engagement and participation of learners, of all ages and abilities, in their education, will not only improve outcomes for learners but the whole school community.