Cath is the Forest School Teacher and School Council Coordinator at Allen's Croft Primary School in Birmingham. Here she tells us how they managed to involve their whole school through the Smart School Council.
Please introduce yourself!
I’m Cath Palgrave from Allen’s Croft Primary School in Birmingham. I’m the Forest School teacher, and in charge of pupil voice. I’ve been running the school council for the last four years.
What was your school council like before you started with the Smart School Council model?
In the past, we had a traditional model with each class electing one representative. It was often the most popular child! At the meetings, I found that the only views were raised were the representative’s. I think it’s extremely hard to represent the views of others, especially if you don’t agree with them!
We did have a book which was left in each class for all children to fill in. Some of these were lost, and others weren’t used. The councillors said that the teacher didn’t have time for it. There were some comments in there, but these were mainly about getting a swimming pool, changing school dinners and having more playtime.
I think the school council only really happened because I was passionate about it and pushed it.
That might sound like a familiar situation for primary schools! Why were you interested in the Smart School Council Model?
I knew that I needed help to improve our school council and to make it more important in the school. I found the Smart School Council model and I really liked how it involved all of the children, not just the councillors.
I felt the model offered a true pupil voice opportunity and one that we could build upon and integrate into the school, as opposed to one we had to get right straight away.
So what did you do next?
The first thing I did was to introduce it to staff. It was important to get them on board. So I ran a staff meeting using the session plan in the Smart School Council Manual. The feedback was really positive – they agreed that up to that point the school council was tokenistic at best and a hassle for teachers at worst.
Of the three elements to the Smart School Council Model – Class Meetings, Communication Team and Action team - which one did you look at first?
We started with the Communication Team. This is the small group that help to run the model and communicate to all. Schools can turn their existing school council into this, but we were starting from scratch so I held a school assembly and asked the children to write presentations for their class on why they would be a good Communication Team member.
We then started the Class Meetings across the whole school a few weeks later, using the Class Meeting Tool.
Great to see you’ve got this set up. Particularly to get the child-led class meetings set up across the whole school. What kind of results came back?
From the class meetings, it was obvious that the children wanted to brighten the school up. The Communication Team took ideas to the head who agreed to some proposals and explained why we couldn’t have others. The Communication Team then took this back to classes, and we’re going to hold a competition to design a mural in one of our buildings.
What about action teams?
The first one has just been set up – the eco club. It’s an after school club that meet weekly and have started clearing an area for a quiet reading space on the playground. This is an idea that came from the class meetings. They’re also working on a litter patrol.
Has it been easy to implement the model?
It’s been a smooth process. It helps that school management agree with the model’s principles and want it to happen. All the staff are on board too. I’ve been given an afternoon PPA slot so that I am free to have the Communication Team meetings. It’s also part of my job role which helps!
It’s tricky to set up the action groups due to staff commitments and time/space, but I’m planning to work more with the after school club organiser to see if we can make some of those into Action Teams – just like the Eco Club.
Overall, how do you think it’s gone?
I’m pleased! I was frustrated at first as I didn’t think it was happening as quickly as it should. However, I’ve now taken a step back and realised that sustainable change is slower, but it will hopefully last longer and have a greater impact. I’m still worried that it’s too reliant on me, but I’m aiming for that to change over time.
What’s been the impact on your pupils?
All the children are involved in Class Meetings, and they can see things happening so they’re keen to speak up. And the children on the Communication Team are developing more confidence. The Eco Club went from six pupils to over twenty, so we are getting more children involved.