In our school, we have a group of Year 6 pupils (aged 10-11 years) called the JLT (Junior Leadership Team). These children organise fundraisers and take the lead in coming up with ideas to improve the school.
In the past, the JLT were only a selected few children that were allocated responsibilities in Year 6, however we decided to change this and give roles to all of the children in the year group. Some of these change termly and some last the year, but the children love having the responsibility of taking it upon themselves to do such things as organise the PE shed, organise table tennis tournaments, order stationery for the ‘shop’, make posters for the upcoming charity day etc. The children know that this is allowed and encouraged, and they happily use their lunchtimes to do these things.
Our ‘School Council’ is made up of a pupil from each class, voted for by their classmates and change each year. In my experience, it is not just full of the ‘popular’ children as the pupils think carefully about who they would like to represent them in the school council meetings – someone who will have the confidence to share ideas on behalf of their classmates and then feed back afterwards. The children know (by KS2) what the job entails and take the vote seriously.
When I first started teaching at this school, I was impressed at the confidence of the pupils and how the staff really treated their ideas as valuable contributions. The following is a description of one of the first times I saw what I now recognise as a common occurrence at the end of most assemblies:
Assembly finishes. The headteacher looks around and asks, “Are there any messages?” A couple of members of staff, who are sitting along both sides of the packed hall, remind the 350 (5 to 11 year-old) children that they can ask about clubs/trips/lost property etc. A tall girl, sitting at the back of the hall, puts her hand up. I am quite surprised, as I had assumed that the ‘messages’ request was solely aimed at the adults in the room. I presumed the hand would either be ignored or she would kindly be told to “Wait ’til the end and ask your teacher” as this is what would have happened in my previous school. Neither happens. The headteacher signals to the girl who has put her hand up. She stands up and speaks with confidence in front of the whole school and members of staff: “Just to let you all know that in two weeks’ time, on Friday 17th, JLT have arranged a charity fun day so we will be having a mufti day to raise money for Children In Need. The theme is ‘sports’, so come in any sporty clothes that you like and bring in a donation.”
Every eye in the room is on her, the reception children at the front have all swivelled round and some are up on their knees so they can see who is talking. But this isn’t surprising to any of them – this is just how things work here. She answers some questions from children and staff about her announcement, and sits back down.
I quickly realised that in this school, children are encouraged to ask for information and share ideas in a way that I had not come across in previous schools I had worked in.
Children are free to give opinions, ask questions and even challenge adults. One example being, “Last week you said you would order more reflective bands for the ‘Be Bright Be Seen’ day winners – have they arrived yet?” This is seen as proactive and helpful, rather than rude (as it may be perceived in some schools). As busy teachers, we most likely have forgotten to order those items, and realistically it is helpful to be reminded. You just have to show that as a member of staff you are also human and forget things, and try to avoid feeling defensive because in reality, that child is not trying to ‘call you out’, they are just so excited about having won a shiny reflective band.
We have a very creative Deputy Head Teacher who frequently comes up with ideas for school activities for ‘World Days’ on various topics (e.g. World Book Day, World Environment Day) often in the middle of an assembly presentation. She will more often than not turn to the JLT and ask, “Is this something the JLT could sort out?” or “Maybe the school council can talk and make a decision about this.” The children are always happy to take responsibility for new ideas – they feel so valued.
The younger children see how confident the older ones are, and how they share their ideas clearly. They watch their fellow pupils having these public conversations with their peers and with adults helpfully and respectfully, and this helps them to learn how to do it themselves. Having children who are confident to take on responsibilities and who have learned to take the initiative for themselves and their school, really helps the school run so much more smoothly. Showing the children that their opinions and ideas are valuable helps with behaviour, parent-teacher relationships, classroom organisation, and just a general feeling of working in a place where people are respected, regardless of whether they are adults or children.