An Englishman’s school is his castle?
Here’s Oliver Robinson, our new 19 year old volunteer from Queen Mary University talking about his experience of school councils….
When one hears the words ‘school councils’, the image springs to mind of minimal and tokenistic powers given to the teacher’s favourite kids and a lot of complaining about toilets and school meals. Nothing changes and little Donald gets an ego boost; what a waste of time for everyone, but it ticks a box for the PSCHE coordinator so things continue as normal of course. Perhaps, maybe, possibly, things could be done a little differently. What if students, especially in their teens, could be involved properly in the running and business of a school? After all, a school exists only to educate young people, in life and in academia. We all know that one of the best ways of learning is by getting thrown in at the deep end, so why not make the decisions, in part, responsibility of the students? My own experience at 6th form was one in which student responsibility was made a big deal – so much so that the annual senate elections became a rather competitive event, spark they did fly. The elected senate were granted responsibility for a range of areas and there was a general feeling that these people were doing a top job. When they would, say, be running an assembly one week, we all suddenly turned up. The ‘bantermime’, just before Christmas, was one of the highlights of the calendar but it was not only the entertainment side of the student council that made it such a valued institution.
The skills learned and practiced by the 6th form senate are undoubtedly paramount to the world of work, whatever trade or profession they may go on to enter.
“The students involved could all, by the end of the year, add events management, report writing, public speaking, theatre performance, pastoral care, diplomacy and even painting and decorating to their CVs. Beats the Duke of Edinburgh’s award if you ask me”
Moving onto university and employment, the 6th formers who were members of the senate at my school became the cut above your average college student and I believe the practice of student leadership can have the same effect on other students everywhere. I was lucky, at a high achieving school in a largely middle class area the ethos was in favour of such institutions but the skills acquired by my own friends there could just as well, if not far better, serve students from many other backgrounds who may be less suited to academic study and wish to learn how to make their own way in the world of business or take up a trade.
I would argue that in fact my 6th form did not take student leadership far enough, not even close. The kind of responsibility and pride inspired in a handful of students in a massive year group could be equally encouraged in a whole year group, should a school acquire the proper training and ways for young people to specialise as part of a committee into the improvement of pastoral care, for example. Skeptics, who argue vehemently that students as young as 7 cannot contribute anything relevant to their school’s policies, are perhaps the one’s responsible for the fact that young people are disenfranchised from leadership to such an extent. Should the tide of opinion be turned, and young people are bestowed with responsibility that grows with their age, then it is evident that the problems leveled against the notion will soon disappear; practice makes perfect, does it not?
An Englishman’s home is his castle, we are often told, and perhaps there is something in the idea that ownership inspires dedication and respect. If you are involved in the management of your school, whether it be feeding the views to students to teachers or contributing to decisions on budgeting or interviewing your potential new maths teacher, there’s a fair chance you’re going to take those roles seriously – she’s going to marking your homework, after all.