The main aim of a school council is to provide a practical means to involve young people in the life of their school and their communities. For a school council to be a success it needs to include everyone in the school.
Make it a whole school project. Everyone needs to buy into the idea and the changes that the school hopes to implement, including the impact on timetables and how decisions are made. This is especially true of the Senior Management Team, but it also includes all teachers, year heads, students, auxiliary staff and school governors. Ensuring the school council is a genuine school-wide initiative will help to embed it in the culture and ethos of the school, with student participation in decision-making processes gradually becoming the norm.
Make sure the young people are truly engaged from the outset in the processes of school management. A school council that is tokenistic or merely used as a consultative body, that only deals with the most minor of issues will soon lose motivation and enthusiasm. Students, staff and governors will quickly become disillusioned with the whole concept of student participation. It is crucial that a school council constitution is adopted as school policy and informs the school development plan.
Ensure that the school council has a regular time and space to meet to carry out its initiatives and projects. Ideally this would be during curriculum time, and not the students’ free time. This gives the school council the required status and shows that the school is serious about it. Meetings should be no more than one every fortnight and no less than once a month.
Encourage and support the school council to start small and self-publicise. There is little point in a newly formed school council trying to re-design the building, interview for new teachers and raise enough money for a new playground within its first two months; this will just lead to inevitable failure and a loss of enthusiasm and commitment. Small, achievable projects are a good idea, e.g. the food, an environmental project, new benches. Once a school council and all the students and teachers see that these things are achievable everyone will begin to offer their support and ideas, with the school council gradually becoming more confident and ambitious, working towards becoming active partners in fundamental decisions and school strategy.
Shout loudly about school council successes, use assembly, newsletters, noticeboards, posters, (make sure the school council has a high profile).
Make sure that the school council is democratically elected and elect an executive committee including chairperson, secretary, treasurer, etc.
Keep the school council executive committee small. Any more than 15 on a school council and meetings and decisions start to become unmanageable.
Try to arrange for every class to have a chance at least once every two weeks to talk about the issues they want the school council to work on, (i.e. class councils). The elected representatives from each class will then take these ideas forward to the school council for their agenda, (or in a bigger school to the year council groups and then onto the school council if necessary).
Make sure there is time for elected reps to feedback to their class about what the school council is working on, and to get more ideas and comments.
The school council shouldn’t try to do it all on their own. Form sub-councils to deal with specific issues, such as behaviour, school food, the environment, (anything really). Reps from the school council should sit on these sub-councils and ensure the executive committee is kept informed of what’s happening. With enough sub-councils there will eventually be the opportunity for every pupil in the school to get involved in at least one area of school improvement
The priorities of the school council should be in line with the wider priorities of the school, the school council should therefore be involved in writing the school development plan. There should also be a school wide policy on pupil participation.
Secure a budget, even a small one, this will give the school council some sense of autonomy, so they don’t basically end up being tokenistic and a glorified consultancy group. This also shows the seriousness and commitment that the SLT have to pupil participation, and that they are not just doing it because there is and Ofsted inspection coming up.
Tie it into the curriculum, especially active citizenship or PSHE, as well as the ECM agenda and helping you fulfil your Healthy Schools Status.
Provide students with training on meeting and discussion skills, whole school involvement, roles on the school council, communication, feedback, etc.
It needs to be seen as integral to the ethos of the school, how the school works, its structures, systems and decision making processes. It is not small job and most importantly should not be perceived as an add-on or extra-curriculum. To be really successful it in fact needs to be integral to the curriculum.