5 Ways to Maximise Pupil Voice

May 15, 2023
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Using pupil voice means inviting and listening to the views of the learners you work with. Creating a culture where children know that their opinions are sought after, listened to and acted upon has a wide range of benefits.

In this article we will explore what pupil voice means and why it has such an important part to play in schools. We will then consider some ways to effectively engage pupil voice in your setting.

What is Pupil Voice?

Pupil voice refers to ways in which the thoughts, wishes and opinions of learners are invited, engaged with and acted upon in an educational setting. 

There are a great number of ways that you might maximise pupil voice in a setting – some of which we will consider later in this article. However, there are some key principles that should be considered to ensure the success of any strategy. These include:

  • Be purposeful. You should be clear in the aims of the particular strategy as this will influence the methods that you use. For example, do you want to:
    • Gather views on a particular element of school life, for example, wellbeing or safeguarding?
    • Evaluate how well policies are working in practice? 
    • Consult with students as part of curriculum design?
    • Gather ideas before allocating budgets? 
    • Explore pupil views regarding school improvement plans?
    • Get feedback from students regarding their learning, in order to inform future planning and teaching? 
  • Be committed. It is essential that pupil voice is not viewed as a ‘tick-box exercise’. Everyone involved needs to be committed to really listening to and actioning the information that is gathered. 
  • Be transparent. The ways you engage with, and use, pupil voice should be communicated through policies and regular updates so that all members of the setting’s community (including staff, pupils, parents and governors or trustees) can see the impact that it is having. 
  • Be strategic. The opportunities for gathering pupil voice in schools need to be carefully planned, scheduled and resourced for them to be as effective as possible, and for them to become embedded into the culture of the school.
  • Be inclusive. You will need to adapt your strategies to make sure that every pupil is able to be heard. Choose a range of methods to engage pupil voice that reflect the age, needs and preferences of the children. 

Why is Pupil Voice Important in Schools?

Every child has the right to express their views, feelings and wishes in all matters affecting them, and to have their views considered and taken seriously.

Article 12, The The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child

Learners are at the heart of schools. The way that they view their experiences in the setting should be used to inform and influence how that setting operates. Actively inviting, and, importantly, responding to pupil voice can have a variety of benefits. 

Improving Teaching and Learning

Pupil voice can be used to encourage children to reflect on their own learning. This both encourages their own metacognitive skills and also contributes to monitoring by teaching staff and management. Pupil voice strategies can be used to provide a forum for children to talk about what they have learned, any challenges they have faced and what they would like to learn about. This can help you to assess the effectiveness of your curriculum planning and delivery.

Helping to Create an Effective Culture of Safeguarding

Part of establishing an effective culture of safeguarding is regularly evaluating the safeguarding procedures that you have in place. It is impossible to do this properly without asking the pupils for their views. A setting may have all the correct statutory policies and procedures in place but if students do not feel safe or confident that they can access support, then the safeguarding is not effective. 

Modelling Respectful Relationships

A true commitment to pupil voice helps to illustrate the value that is placed upon pupils within the setting. Children working alongside staff and management, knowing that they have a key part to play, can help further develop effective relationships between pupils and other members of the school community.

Good relationships are a vital foundation for effective safeguarding, positive behaviour and successful teaching and learning.

Helping to Create an Inclusive Culture

Pupils need to know that it is safe and that it is important for them to express their views on what happens at school.

Mentally Healthy Schools, Anna Freud Centre for Children and Families

An inclusive school is one where every pupil feels valued, represented and respected in that community. Pupil voice strategies can be used with the aim of improving inclusivity in your setting, by giving individuals and groups of children a voice.

Further details regarding promoting equality, diversity and inclusion in the classroom can be found in our article, here.

Maximising the Effectiveness of Policies

Schools need to have a number of policies in place and these should be regularly audited and updated. It can be extremely effective to involve pupils in this process. You should consider ways in which you can invite their views, both in terms of the content, where appropriate, and in terms of the accessibility of the documents. For example, it is ineffective to have a behaviour policy or acceptable use of mobile phones policy which is written in a way that the student body finds difficult to understand. You could involve a group of pupils in writing ‘child-friendly’ versions of some of the key policies. 

For further information regarding school policies, check out our article here.

Promoting British Values

Schools have a mandatory duty to promote British values. These are:

  • Democracy.
  • The rule of law.
  • Individual liberty.
  • Mutual respect for, and tolerance of, those with different faiths and beliefs and for those without faith.

Many pupil voice strategies – such as schools councils and focus groups of student representatives – are a good way for children to experience those values in practice, for example, by putting themself forward in an ‘election’. 

As a school, by being committed to listening to the views of pupils and allowing them influence in the way that the school operates, you are promoting these values. 

Building Children’s Skills

Giving children the opportunity to put their views forward, to take responsibility for representing other members of the school community and to contribute to important projects and decisions, can help develop their confidence, as well as their speaking and listening skills.

Pupil Voice and Ofsted

Gathering pupils’ views will always form part of an Ofsted inspection. 

Part of this will be in relation to safeguarding and ascertaining how safe children feel in their school environment. Ofsted guidance regarding inspecting safeguarding states that inspectors should consider ‘evidence that children and learners feel safe’. This evidence will include information gathered through pupil questionnaires (an example can be found here) and conversations with children during inspection visits.

The guidance also states that inspections should include consideration of learners’ understanding of healthy and unhealthy relationships, how children are supported to keep themselves safe from risks and that their discussions should also include the topic of online safety (Ofsted, 2022).

Ofsted will also include the views of children when inspecting the effectiveness of curriculum intent, implementation and impact. Ofsted’s ‘Inspecting the Curriculum’ describes how, during the ‘deep dives’ which form part of the inspection framework, evidence will be gathered in collaboration with teachers, leaders and pupils. Deep dives will include ‘discussions with a group of pupils from the lessons observed […], looking at how well they build schema and recall learning.’

Ofsted inspections should not be a reason for engaging with pupil voice. However, if learners are used to sharing their views on their safety, learning and school experience in general, then they will potentially be more comfortable talking to external professionals such as Ofsted inspectors.

How to Engage Pupil Voice in Schools

Each school and school community is different, so you will need to consider your cohort and ways to engage pupil voice that will work best for you. To maximise effectiveness, you should aim to use a combination of different ways to invite pupil voice. The strategies below can be adapted to suit the children you work with. 

1. School Councils

Having a school council is a popular way to engage pupil voice. School councils usually work on the basis of one or two representatives per class meeting regularly as a group. They bring issues to school leadership and input into some of the school decision-making processes. Representatives usually put themselves forward and are then voted by their peers.

Some schools hold quite formal ‘elections’ asking each representative to make a short pitch to their classmates, saying why they would be good for the job. In other schools, it is less formal. Representatives may change termly to give more children an opportunity to be involved or a child may be a school councillor for a whole academic year. The regularity of the meetings will also vary depending on setting.

Whilst details may change, the important element is for the school council to play a meaningful role and for the ideas they bring to be taken seriously. There should be a mechanism for children to raise issues with their representative (this could be provided through an ideas book or suggestion box, for example). The representative then takes that issue or idea to the next meeting. 

It is important not to be dismissive of any idea, either. You may get a suggestion for extra toys at break time, for example. What might at first seem like a frivolous request could actually mean more social interaction playing with peers, less arguments over limited resources, higher levels of wellbeing during unstructured times and an ultimate improvement in behaviour. By finding out from children what is important to them, the school can better meet those needs.

Leadership teams may task the school council to help with events, such as fundraising, and they can act as an extremely valuable link between the pupils and the rest of the school community. Schools councils now also often form a panel to interview candidates applying for roles within the school – giving a valuable perspective as part of the recruitment process. 

2. Pupil Committees

In addition to school councils, who will be involved across all elements of school life, many schools have successfully set up additional groups of pupils who are involved in specific areas. These groups work alongside members of staff to bring the learner’s perspective to certain issues and to further these amongst their classmates. 

Depending on your setting and cohort, such groups could include:

  • Eco ambassadors. Many schools have a green team who meet to discuss how the school could become more eco-friendly and to promote and monitor any new initiatives.
  • LGBTQ+ student groups. As well as being a forum for getting pupil feedback on issues affecting LGBTQ+ students and how to promote inclusion, these groups can also be a safe space for young people to come together.
  • Playground buddies or wellbeing champions. Many schools train children to act as buddies to their peers, supporting other children during unstructured times. Meeting regularly with this pupil group can provide insight into any recurring issues or ways to improve playtimes.
  • Anti-bullying ambassadors. Some schools have a team of trained ambassadors as part of the school’s anti-bullying policy. These children are well placed to spot any potential bullying and bring it to the attention of staff. They also act as a contact for children who might not be confident going to an adult on their own. The presence of anti-bullying ambassadors can help to visually represent the fact that your setting will not tolerate any bullying.

There are many other groups that could be formed, too. As a starting point, ask the school council for suggestions as to what the children would like to see represented in the school. With all such groups, there needs to be time and resources (including staff) available in order to make sure that they are effective. Meeting regularly, co-constructing the group’s agenda, gathering feedback and monitoring outcomes is essential.

3. Suggestion Boxes

Some children may not be comfortable with taking on a representative role or speaking in a group. However, you still need to provide ways in which their voices can be heard. Having suggestion boxes around the building or an email form on the school website, where ideas or questions can be submitted, are good ways of providing such opportunities. These ideas can then be picked up by members of staff or the school council and followed up.

4. Pupil Surveys

Pupil surveys are a good way to get a broad insight into the views of the learners. These can be online or paper-based. Set aside some time for children to be able to complete them and make sure that children understand that you really want to get their honest opinion. Anonymising the surveys can help to encourage this.

When constructing surveys make sure you target the questions – are you looking for feedback regarding a specific area of school life? 

You should also make sure that the format of the questionnaire is accessible for all. Children with SEND might need the information to be presented in a different way, for example, with more accompanying visuals, or might need to work through the questions with a member of staff. Younger children might respond better to choosing a smiley face to express their thoughts, whilst you will want to provide older children with more opportunities for submitting additional information.

Once you have gathered the information, it is important that you share the results with the pupils, alongside any actions that might come out of it. For example, if a number of children noted that they often felt lonely at break times, you might note that addressing this will become a priority for school council or playground buddy groups. 

5. Regular Check Ins

Some schools organise regular chat sessions with heads of year, subject leads, DSLs or members of wider leadership team to gain informal feedback on learning for that week or fortnight. For example, two members of each class might be chosen each week to go and give their opinions. 

This helps build relationships and monitor children’s perceptions of their learning. It also helps improve children’s metacognitive skills and gives everyone a chance to engage over the term or year. It works well with a mix of age groups. The sessions should be short, informal and can be based around simple questions such as ‘what is the best thing you’ve learned this week?’ or ‘did you have any challenges this week?’ 

Maximising your engagement with pupil voice can bring many benefits, for individuals and for the quality of your practice and provision. There is no single ‘right’ way of inviting and using pupil voice; you will need to adapt your methods to your particular setting and learners. We hope that the principles and suggestions covered in this article will help you to maximise pupil voice in your school.

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