Learning from Wroxham

What makes a school council smart? Today I saw it in action, and would like to share what I learned with the SSCC.

I was given a tour of the Wroxham Academy, one of our founding member schools, and had the opportunity to sit in on one of their student meetings. I was immediately impressed with how comfortable the students, from years one to six, were at representing themselves amongst their peers. They show a level of responsibility you would not expect from children at that age, and I suspect this is a result of the culture promoted at Wroxham.

There is a real sense that both students and teachers feel that the school is a community, where everyone can contribute and be heard. It isn’t forced, or a novelty, it is simply how they do things.

Wroxham School

When the meeting starts, teachers step back and the year six students take charge, organising the representatives from other year groups and ensuring everyone is present. From then on until the end of the meeting everything is directed by the students. They start with a warm up game, then make the weekly announcements, discuss the meeting agenda and vote on whatever issues or ideas have been raised. When I visited they were discussing how to best introduce a way for kids who feel lonely or sad to meet with a “buddy”, but the weekly meetings address varied and often important topics that can have an influence on how the school is run.

This idea that students should be given a sincere opportunity to influence their schools and their education, without being prompted, instructed or restricted by their teachers, is central to what makes a smart school council.

One criticism I have of Wroxham’s approach is that the students who go to the meetings are not elected by their year group. This isn’t as much of an issue through years one to five, as these are selected randomly. Arguably this gives everyone in the class a fair chance to contribute to the meetings without bias. However, the year six students who chair the meetings are selected by the school, not randomly or by their peer group. It’s understandable that driven and capable children be selected for a role with a great amount responsibility, but it would be fantastic to see a school like Wroxham engage with student voice at all levels, especially with regard to something as fundamental as elections.

With that said, the school is doing an excellent job and the students clearly enjoy the learning environment. Even outside the meetings students are encouraged to have a say in their education. At Wroxham, each child is trusted to make decisions about their learning by identifying for themselves what they did well, what they didn’t understand and what level they are capable of working at. This “trust” is a recurrent theme, and in return for investing trust in their students, teaching staff get engaged and enthusiastic learners occupying their lessons.

After my tour and the school meeting I spoke with the Headteacher, Alison Peacock. Over her ten years as head at Wroxham she has turned it from a special measures school at risk of closure into the vibrant and respected institution it is now. I’ll be writing more soon about her approach to school and student voice issues soon, so check back if you’re interested in learning from the example set by Wroxham.

For more information about the school you can have a look at a previous case study here:

Wroxham School case study

If anything you’ve read here has given you the incentive to try and improve your school council meetings, we have a range of free resources available to help you. Just follow the link:

School council meeting resources

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