Tracie is a reception teacher and School Council Coordinator at Hillview Primary in Gloucester. They've made incredible progress with the Smart School Council Model and have embedded it into the life of the school.
Where did you start with the Smart School Council Model?
We started building on our previous ‘school council’ and renamed it as the Communication Team. I shared the information from the training with all the staff so that everyone was aware of what we are working towards.
I also introduced Class Meetings which currently take place every other week, and the class is given a question to discuss which may be given by the communication team, a member of staff, the governors, other pupils etc.
So, for example, we have a group of parents called ‘Friends of Hillview’ who raise money each year for the school so the Communication Team asked their class to vote on how they would like the money to be spent, they voted on 8 choices and the results were given back to the Friends of Hillview.
The results are collected electronically and then accessed during the Communication Team meeting. Feedback on Action Teams are also given during the Class Meetings and time is given for children to raise any other ideas or issues that they may have and possible solutions.
Great! What did you work on next?
We began building Action Teams that working on various projects supported by adult sponsors. One action team is working on a recycling project to reduce electronic waste. Another team organised a school mascot competition, and another raising money for a charity linked to a pupil at our school (who will be leading the Action Team).
How is the activity communicated?
I set up an interactive display in the school hall following the example given as the Masterclass which shows Action Team progress, communication team members, successes etc.
When and where do the Communication Team meet?
Initially, I held the Communication Team meetings during lunchtime however it often felt rushed and some of the children have commented that they don’t like missing their lunchtime play (understandably so).
We now hold the Communication Team meetings during assembly time and aim to meet every 2-3 weeks. A member of our Governing Body also attends our Communication Team meetings as much as possible so that they can have a clear understanding of what is happening within the school.
How does that fit in with the Class Meetings?
Every class in the school teaches PSHE on a Monday afternoon and we felt that the class meetings could become an integral part of our PSHE lessons. We hold the class meetings during the PSHE lesson in the week before the Communication Team meetings which has worked really well this year.
We use the Online Class Meeting tool which makes the sharing of information between the class meetings and the communication meetings very easy. The children are now becoming more independent at running the class meetings themselves and also the Communication Team run their meeting with very little adult intervention needed.
What was your aim at the end of the first academic year?
To ensure the meetings are running effectively, and then focus for this year was increasing the communication side of the school council through the school website, school newsletters etc to communicate to the wider school community more effectively.
How did you feel you’d progressed with the model at that point?
I definitely saw the benefits of using the Smart School Council Model. At that stage, it wasn’t running smoothly yet but we were definitely moving in the right direction.
Coming to this academic year, where did you start?
I was looking forward to continuing developing the Smart School Council. We had a few new members of staff so I talked through the model with them.
Only two weeks into the term I already had children speaking to me about wanting to set up an Action Team to raise money for charity.
I saw this as a sign of the huge progress in the way in which the model was working for us as a school.
How do you support the youngest children to get involved?
All classes in the school participate in the class meetings from Reception to Year 6.
For the Reception children, the class teacher takes the lead in running and reporting the class meeting and models the structure to the children each week. The children input their ideas and always answer the key question.
As the children move up through the school the class teachers encourage the children to take on the roles of leading the meeting and reporting on the meeting, supporting as necessary depending on the age.
By the time the children reach Key Stage 2 they are able to run the meetings with minimal input from the teachers.
With regards to the Action teams, all children across the school have the opportunity to be part of an Action Team. We have had lots of mixed age action teams including an Action Team who decided to tidy up the Key Stage 1 outdoor area. This Action Team was led by two Year 5 pupils but the other members of the team were mainly Year 1 pupils who were then supported by the older children.
How have you managed to get support from other staff?
Obviously in a busy school this is one of the biggest challenges because everyone is so stretched for time. But we found everyone was very keen to support the Action Teams.
This particularly worked well when the children have selected staff sponsors with a particular interest in what their Action Team is aiming to do.
An example of this was our school dog fence fund Action Team who was supported by our pastoral manager (who owns our school therapy dogs). She was keen to help the children in their quest to raise money for fences so the dogs have an area to play.
I think the key for the Action Teams to be successful is that the person overseeing the Smart School Council has an awareness of the interests and skill sets of all staff members so they are able to guide any upcoming Action Teams in the direction of an appropriate staff sponsor.
Were there other signs that you had begun to embed the model?
Our school council noticeboard is in the school hall and because it is low enough for the children to write on, it was getting accidentally rubbed off when children were walking past it (we use a whiteboard so we can update it).
I had been asking the Communication Team to rewrite it every so often when I noticed it was becoming rubbed off, but towards the end of term it was getting very busy and I forgot to remind them.
However, two weeks before the end of term, I walked through the hall and noticed that one of the Communication Team had taken it upon themselves to rewrite the board without any reminders from me.
To me it showed that the children were beginning to take ownership of the Smart School Council and make decisions regarding the school council themselves. It was an exciting moment for me and made me all the more determined to embed the Smart School Council ethos further this year.
Year 6 Communication Team members also represented the school at the last full governing body meeting, and presented them with a summary of what the school has achieved using the Smart School Council Model.
And now we’re approaching the end of this year, what’s been happening?
The children are really embracing the action teams this year, it's been wonderful to see. We've had an Action Team decide to tidy up the Key stage 1 outdoor area and they have been leading the sessions with some of the younger children.
Another Action Team has raised money for a fence for a play area for our new school therapy dogs. They even rang the builder merchants themselves to order the fence and managed to get a discount!
The Class Meetings are going really well too. We've used the Class Meetings to vote on the new outdoor classroom design choices for our PTA, given feedback on the new LearnPads for the governors and have thought about new school rules.
It's been an amazing way to allow all the children to have a voice. The Smart School council model has completely changed the way our school council works and it is so much better now so thank you so much!