Pupil participation: a best practice guide

Summary

This report explores four characteristics of schools with strong pupil participation and identifies the contribution pupil participation can make to school improvement as well as the benefits to pupils themselves.
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Main findings

  1. Pupil participation is strong in schools that have the following characteristics:
    • Pupil participation and building positive relationships are an integral part of the school’s vision and ethos. Leaders and managers have a clear strategy for promoting participation and for fostering good relationships. They support and encourage open and honest participation. Leaders create an ethos where pupils respect the rights of others and understand the importance of diversity and equality.
    • There are clear roles and structures in place across the school to capture the views of all pupils on a wide range of issues relating to school improvement. Staff take the views of pupils seriously and act on them. Pupils, staff and governors understand their roles and responsibilities in relation to participation. Leaders can demonstrate the impact of participation on school improvement planning.
    • Pupils have a breadth of opportunities to participate within and beyond the school to contribute to debate and influence decisions across a wide range of issues that affect them. These opportunities encourage pupils to develop the skills needed to become active citizens. 
    • Pupils and staff access good quality training and continuous professional development that is well targeted to develop the skills, knowledge and understanding needed to have pupils’ voice heard in discussions and in decision-making.
  2. Where pupil participation is strong, pupils make a valuable contribution to school improvement by influencing decisions on wellbeing, learning experiences, and the quality of teaching, and by helping to identify the school’s future priorities. Many schools report that pupil participation contributes to an improved school environment and ethos, and to better relationships between all in the school community.
  3. There are also benefits for pupils in greater participation, including improved health and wellbeing, improved engagement and behaviour, and improvements in learning, achievements and school performance. Through their greater involvement in decision-making, pupils develop valuable personal and social skills, such as listening, communication, negotiation, prioritising, and working with others. They also gain a better understanding of the rights of other members of the school community and of the consequences of actions that affect others. Pupils are better prepared to become ethical, informed and active citizens of Wales and of the world, and attitudes towards active citizenship become more positive.
  4. Nearly all schools inspected between September 2013 and July 2016 comply fully with the School Council Regulations. In almost all schools, the school council makes a worthwhile contribution towards improving the school learning environment. In these schools, pupils’ views are taken into account and influence decisions on school life.  
  5. Estyn gathers pupils’ views through a questionnaire issued before inspecting all schools, pupil referral units and non-maintained settings. Most learners feel that staff respect them and help them to understand and respect others. Most learners are encouraged to do things for themselves and to take responsibility. Many learners also feel that staff treat them fairly and with respect and that their school listens to their views and makes changes they suggest. A summary of the questionnaire findings is in Appendix 1.