Why you SHOULDN’T be planning your school council election now

At this time of year the most popular posts on our website are about planning school council elections. I understand why this is: it’s a new year, you want to get things moving, you want things to be high profile, which an election is (or should be) and how can you even run the school council when one hasn’t been elected yet?!

These are all very important issues, but I think they might be missing the big question: what is your school council for?

Is it to change the school, to be a diversion for active kids, to be another responsibility you have to cram into your over-stuffed schedule? Or is it to show children that you are listening to all of them, that they can all contribute and for them to learn that that’s what a democracy is?

Don't just vote, courtesy of it’s closer to the latter, then elections right now might not be the smart way to achieve it. Elections in school (and out of it) tend to follow this kind of pattern:

  1. Everyone is told how important they are and that their voice matters.
  2. Those people who are pretty good at telling you that their voice matters stand for election. It becomes clear that if you don’t like putting yourself up for election, your voice matters quite a bit less than those who do.
  3. The election takes place. People who voted for the losing candidates feel their voices matter less than those who voted for the winners.
  4. The winners are then expected by everyone else to make things happen. Everyone else feels that they have no responsibility to do anything because that was handed over when they cast their vote: it was their voice that mattered after all, not their action.

At each stage more and more people are excluded. This isn’t just bad for them from a ‘touchy-feely’, ‘all must have prizes’ perspective, it’s bad for you as a school because you’re missing out on a huge pool of people who could help make positive change. It’s bad for you as an educator because you’re not achieving your learning objectives: teaching your students about what democracy is and that what they do matters.*

So if you want to have elections – and there are good educational reasons why you might – what you should be doing right now is preparing all students for them. What you need to be thinking about is:[bullet_list icon=”check” indent=”10px”]

  • What are we doing to help different people stand than have ever stood before?
  • What are we doing to involve people who don’t want to stand for election?
  • How do we keep the whole school involved after the election?


These are the questions we have been asking ourselves as an organisation and the answer we have come up with is encapsulated in our Smart School Councils Model. Very briefly, it involves giving everyone practice in voicing their opinions, leading meetings, taking collective decisions and creating change based on their own interests. Some things to start doing before you rush to an election might be having regular, frequent, structured class meetings, allowing people to set up action teams. These will both help more students to understand what they offer and why they might want to get more actively involved in a Smart School Council.

Most importantly, remember there’s much more to democracy than voting and your students need to know that.


* If you want to make the argument that this is what democracy is: that it’s disempowering for the vast majority of people, then fair enough, but I don’t think that’s your job as an educator. Your job is to hold up the best and get your students to aim for that, not accept the worst because most examples are rubbish and so there’s no point aiming for anything better. Imagine if that was done in English, maths or science.

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