Kiran is a Reception Class Teacher at Little Ealing Primary School in London, and also the School Council Coordinator. Here she tells us how they managed to involve their whole school through the Smart School Council.
Please introduce yourself
My name is Kiran Grigg. I am a Reception class teacher at Little Ealing Primary School, a 3-form entry Primary School in Ealing, West London. I have worked at Little Ealing for seven years – for the first three years I taught in Year 3, and this is my fourth year in Reception. I have been running the school council since September 2016.
What was the school council like before you started on the Smart School Council model?
One person had run the school council for a number of years. When that member of staff left, a number of different staff members took on the role temporarily. There was never much feedback about what the council was doing unless we were having a fundraising day.
Generally, pupils were involved when voting for their class councillor, but, after that, the only people who were really interested in the school council were the councillors themselves
There was still some kudos attached to being a school councillor though because it became a rule that a pupil could only be a school councillor for one year to stop the same people being elected year after year.
How were you introduced to the Smart School Council model?
When I decided to take on responsibility for the school council I felt that I lacked the necessary experience and expertise to do a good job. I wasn’t even entirely sure what the role of the school council was (or should be), or what my role should be.
At the beginning of the summer I searched the internet for some relevant CPD and I came across the Smart School Council Masterclass. I liked the idea that I could receive training to help me run an effective school council, with greater pupil participation. I wanted the school council to be a worthwhile enterprise for both the pupils and myself!
The Smart School Council Masterclass seemed to be exactly what I was looking for – a course to give me resources, tips and ideas for improving my school council. I didn’t fully understand how the model was going to work by reading the website, and I was a bit sceptical about the claim that it would be ‘easier to run than my current school council’ but I was very pleased that I was given approval to attend the course when I returned to school in September.
I attended the course in October 2016 and found the SSC Masterclass to be enjoyable and thought provoking. I was quite daunted by the idea of introducing a whole new structure to the school council.
It certainly felt like it would be much easier to disappear into a room with my 18 articulate school councillors for a chat once a month and organise the odd charity cake sale without having to worry about the rest of the school! But I also felt that I wouldn’t be achieving very much by doing that and I felt inspired by the course to try and raise the level of pupil voice and pupil participation
I’m sure that I wouldn’t have had the confidence to try and implement the model unless I had attended the CPD. I wouldn’t have gone ahead on the strength of the website alone, although I had read through all the information before attending the course.
What did you do after the Masterclass?
On my return to school after the CPD I spoke to my Head Teacher (who was a new appointment to the school in September) and explained the model. She was enthusiastic and encouraged me to implement it.
I introduced it to staff during our usual staff training slot using the shorter version of the powerpoint presentation available. I also made hard copies of some of the information to hand out to staff, and copies of the Action Team forms.
The staff training was brief, but sufficient, and staff have not had too many problems implementing the structure.
In what order did you implement the Model?
We introduced the whole structure together. It seemed easier to explain as a whole package. The school councillors (who had already been elected) became the Communication Team (although they are still universally referred to as ‘the school council’!) I don’t think pupils really understood the concept of ‘everyone being part of the school council’, but they did respond very positively to the idea that they could all have a voice through the Class Meetings and they could all take action through the Action Teams.
The school council (Communication Team) were initially a bit resistant to the whole idea. They thought that their role would be ‘less special’ and there wouldn’t be much for them to do. They even said things like “What’s the point of being on the school council if we can’t make the decisions!”
They took some convincing, but the reality is that the profile of the traditional school council has been raised, as well as the level of pupil voice and involvement in decision-making. Some councillors thought that they should lead the Class Meetings every time, and I have left this a bit up to individual classes. I think that, in the end, all classes have involved a range of pupils in leading/reporting their Class Meetings. In KS1, the teachers sometimes record the meeting.
Members of the current school council also form the basis of some of the Action Teams, so we have a ‘Fundraising Action Team’ that co-ordinates the whole-school school council fundraising activities, a ‘Canteen Action Team’ that looks at all the issues to do with school dinners/the canteen, and an ’SLT Action Team’ that takes all the other issues the pupils raise in class (pencil cases, toilets, water fountains, coat pegs etc.) to SLT.
I think that we have all the structures in place, but there is more that the Communication Team could do in terms of reporting – e.g. displays, surgeries etc. I thought that the pupils would be able to access the google drive and edit the forms etc, but this has proved to be tricky. (I don’t know how to manage my settings on the school council gmail account so that lots of people can access it. I keep getting messages saying that attempts to access the account have been blocked, so I am editing the forms myself, albeit in consultation with the school council)
How do you think the implementation process has gone?
I think that the implementation has gone really well and the feedback has been very positive. We have had fewer teething troubles than I was expecting. Most members of staff have reported that the Class Meetings are running well and most pupils can manage them with minimal support.
Initially some teachers struggled with some parts of the Class Meeting form, and it was discovered that it only really works properly if you open it in Google Chrome. As one could probably predict, some members of staff are better at holding their meetings than others. I usually send out the form on a Monday morning and ask that the meeting be held that week. It didn’t seem practicable to have sa set time for the whole school.
The school council meets on a Tuesday lunchtime, so any classes that haven’t held their meeting can be sent a reminder and have a chance to do so on the following Monday before we analyse the results of the vote on Tuesday.
We started by holding the Class Meetings every other week, but have cut back a bit as it was hard to find meaningful questions for the whole school to vote on that regularly.
How do you think it’s gone?
Feedback from Governors, SLT, staff and pupils has been very positive. There is some disappointment amongst pupils that they can’t start all the Action Teams they want to as many of their ideas would require adult participation or supervision (e.g. ICT club or Cooking Club) but the teachers all say that pupils enjoy the Class Meetings and are engaged with the voting process.
The school councillors report that some of their classmates don’t like the fact that they can’t have ‘one person, one vote’. We have been voting in pairs (because all year groups have talk partners, or sit in pairs, so this seemed easier) but some pupils think it’s unfair to lose your vote if you can’t agree with your partner.
What has the impact been on the pupils in your school?
There is already a much greater understanding amongst pupils that they can effect change and take action if they want to. Pupils seem to like the fact that they can participate in the decision-making process by voting in the Class Meetings, and we have also raised the profile of pupil voice through the School Council community on our VLE (DB Primary.)
The Communication Team are getting plenty of opportunity to develop a range of skills – for example, by leading school assemblies and meeting with adults such as the Head Teacher and the representative from Harrisons, the catering company, and, although it is hard to measure the extent to which the skills of communication, negotiation and teamwork are being developed across the school, I believe that they will be if we continue the process of building our Smart School Council.