Student voice is “…about how students come to play a more active role in their education… about forming more open and trustful relationships between staff and students.” (Prof. David Hargreaves)
I had the privilege of spending the day today at Ashby School in Leicestershire. Founded in 1567 (way older than anything we have in New Zealand 🙂 Ashby School is now a high performing, comprehensive school catering for 1700 students from years 10-13.
On arrival we were taken on a tour of the school by groups of students – very articulate, knowledgeable and obviously engaged at many levels in what the school is about. After that we headed into a series of presentations and discussion with senior staff and students about various aspects of life at this school.
A significant feature of the way this school operates and is managed is the enormous emphasis that is placed on student voice. This is exemplified in a number of ways, and has come about as the result of a significant amount of hard work, research and planning on the part of the staff and students in the school. Key strategies the school uses to ensure that student voice contributes to how the school operates include:
- input into teaching and learning – including the use of exit questionnaires in every faculty area, focus on assessment for learning strategies, and the development of a teaching and learning group that conducts lesson observations of staff and creates a dialogue between staff and students about best practice.
- student governance – including an open-forum school council, the involvement of students in the selection of new staff, and a comprehensive ‘house system’ in which students take a very pro-active role in leading.
- support for each other – provided mostly through the house system and a vertically organised home group system. There are a wide range of opportunities in the house system for student leadership and support – including a senior student leadership team consisting of a head boy and girl and their deputies whose role is to provide leadership of the student body in all matters relating to student life; two house captains for each of the 8 houses in the school, and 20 house prefects in each house – a total of 180 leadership roles.
The staff and students we spoke to and observed were certainly living out the espoused ideas in our brief time observing – but enough to convince us that the emphasis on student voice that this school talks about is genuine and a part of the school culture.
This visit has highlighted for me (again) the fundamental importance of building a positive school culture, one based on trust and mutuality, where student voice is paid more than lip service and tokenistic acknowledgment. This school has achieved that – and now without considerable planning and effort, but the results are certainly worth it if what we saw today is anything to go by.
Perhaps the interesting thing is that all of this was happening in a school that is an amalgamation of buildings and facilities that date back to 1567! Even the new buildings, the most recent opened in 2003, were hard to distinguish from the older ones. These quality outcomes were being achieved in a traditional school environment, without the added bonus of innovative architecture, buildings fit for pedagogy etc.