Article 12 of the UN Declaration on The Rights of The Child – the right to be heard
Elections are won by those that turn up. Issues heard are only those that are raised. The best learning is active and engaging. Those who do not vote do not get to complain about the outcome. This last week, across school, included electioneering, manifesto production, hustings, advertising and polling in our School Council elections. We boosted it a little this year by having one week across school, culminating in children using real polling booths and ballot boxes (borrowed from Election Services in the City Council).
I was a sceptic about School Councils for a long time, not because of process or passion but due to the lack of power invested in them. I had worked in many contexts were all but the important things could be delegated, but once the topic needed a proper budget or would impact on the adults in the system then senior management claimed the discussion and decision making. School Councils became a Junior Parliament, playing at debate and decision, delegated an insignificant budget of a couple of hundred pounds, and staffed by dedicated but non-empowered colleagues.
It is inevitably true that children in school cannot possibly know the complex context and background to how school is structured and directed. There are too many extraordinary and subtle pressures at work for them to grasp or imagine. (Typically, younger children struggle to infer as they cannot imagine motives or outcomes beyond their concrete experiences.) This does not mean that they, the consumer, do not have valid opinions on what is presented for and to them daily. Maybe school should think more their way – and try to cut through the bindings of red tape, inertia and vested interest to produce rapid, simple, positive change.
All the candidates promoted their personal qualities to appeal to the voters. About half the candidates (self-nominated) had policy stances that they put on their literature. It is at this point that we have to shape School Council so that those interests and concerns (their manifesto pledges) are discussed and given serious consideration. With teachers running the meetings it would be simplicity itself for the adults to select the agenda for the whole year – back to hackneyed favourites such as healthy snacks and food waste, perhaps.
Those manifestos promised exploring longer playtimes, revised or removed playtime rotas, school meal choices, toilets and toilet access, respecting all members of school, lunchtime clubs, learning outdoors and more. These have to be the agendas for the first meetings (and possibly the next set, too). If we (school leaders) are really to listen actively we have to make sure we do not dismiss questions without serious consideration and balancing possible gains against real costs. And we have to attend – nothing says we think an activity is important as much as actually attending.
Well done each victorious candidate (to be announced next week) and equally well done to each defeated candidate. Thank you for taking part in the process and offering your involvement.
Children have that right to be heard. We have a duty to listen. We have to give them the chance to talk on the issues that matter to them and to the people with power. A micro-budget is a little condescending, I think, but having our ear is not if we actually listen and consider..
(The Y6 blog has a little more on how they ran the process.)
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