Having A Voice, Having A Choice – Pupil Participation in Primary Schools!
The Welsh Assembly Government defines ‘Pupil Participation’ as a pupil’s “right to be involved in making decisions, planning and reviewing an action that might affect me. Having a voice, having a choice”.
As more schools in Wales and the UK are recognizing that young people have the right to have their views expressed and heard with regards to their education, research demonstrates that pupils are subsequently feeling their learning is more meaningful (and thus learning more) when they are engaged in their learning.
‘Pupil Voice’ provides pupils with the opportunity to become involved in how and what they learn, give them a real say in issues that affect them, allowing them to make positive contributions towards the development of their school as active members in a democratic society. Pupils are invited to play a vital role as eager participants in their education, becoming involved in important decision making around practical issues, i.e. uniform, extra curriculum activities, as well as school development, culture, wellbeing and ethos, alongside academical and pastoral issues such as anti-bullying and behaviour.
Enforcing ‘pupil voice’ however, is more than just simply putting pupils in a room to discuss the colour of the new school toilets – it’s about ensuring a true representation of all pupils and offering an opportunity for all pupils to contribute, discuss and decide on pivotal issues which can then be relayed to the whole school community.
This notion was also backed by the Welsh Government who published ‘Successful Futures’ (Donaldson, 2015) which detailed one of its four core purposes, central to the new Welsh Curriculum as creating “meaningful and purposeful pupil participation as a strong feature of the new curriculum.”
NSM Training & Consultancy trainer and pupil participation champion Executive Headteacher (Coed Eva and Blenheim Road Primary Schools), Gill Ellis, believes “by putting pupils in the driving seat, they can participate fully in their learning and create a very positive impact on standards of behaviour, the quality of provision, learning and wellbeing along with pupil motivation, leadership and independent thinking”. As the Executive Head continued this journey, she also found it also “favourably impacted pupils’ motivation, self-esteem and confidence to take risks and undertake new challenges, developing an ‘I can’ Growth Mindset mentality, whilst building fundamentally important key skills such as resilience by learning from their own mistakes”.
Putting pupils at the heart of learning builds a sense of community and strength within schools and develops young people’s character and abilities to take part in productive discussions. This in turn nurtures key skills such as responsibility, collaboration and pro-activeness, equipping pupils with essential non-academic life skills such as leadership, teamwork, communication, responsibility, negotiation and problem-solving skills. Schools have also noted a significant improvement in general behaviour, learning and pupil-staff relationships.
Given the key importance of good character for young people, Estyn and Ofsted themselves places high emphasis on the need to provide a curriculum rich in personal development to enable young people to contribute to wider society. This further reflects how schools must be encouraged to pursue ‘pupil voice’ and develop pupils’ social, moral, spiritual and cultural strengths on an equal footing with academic attainment.
Newport school George Street Primary prioritised the pupil voice initiative, implementing a radio station in their school. Deputy Headteacher Keri Manley is witnessing first-hand the immensely positive impact on children’s oracy, writing, confidence and social skills. The use of the radio station has received “extremely impressive” feedback from parents and also created a huge “buzz for all children and staff”, aiding pupils “independent learning times”.
Keri Manley explained, “pupil voice is extremely important to us at George Street as we feel the children are the creators of their own education. Everything we do in school has pupil voice at the heart as it opens a window into real life learning, and without this we feel children wouldn’t feel inspired or enthused to learn as well as challenge themselves”.
Also eager to drive pupil voice to the next level, Head of Markham Primary School, Lindsey Pritchard, is hoping the introduction of the radio station this year will “raise the children’s confidence, self-esteem and wellbeing” and “raise standards in all aspects of language, literacy and communication by giving pupils the opportunity to speak for different audiences and for different purposes”. Currently Markham operates multiple pupil voice groups such as a Junior Leadership Team, School and Sports Council and an Eco Committee, however with the introduction of a radio station from Anderton Tiger, the school hopes to further “engage our community, develop successful community links and above all, encourage the children and staff to have fun and enjoy putting Markham out in the public domain”.
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