I’ve just got back from a fantastic couple of days in Warsaw presenting at an event hosted by Fundacja Civis Polonus. I wanted to quickly note down a few things that came up whilst I was there.
As with our experiences in the Czech Repulbic and Ireland, I found that many of the issues are similar to those we face in the UK and there are things we can learn from how they are dealing with them.
In England, Scotland and Northern Ireland there is no requirement to have a school council, although there is a lot of guidance that pushes schools towards them. Wales does require schools to have a school council but the way their law is framed is quite different to the approach Poland has taken.
In Poland since the fall of Communism schools have been required to have a school council. Their law also specifies which areas of school life the school council should be involved in and that all students need to be involved. This sounds great to me and much more useful than a law that specifies structures (numbers of meetings, electoral processes, etc.) but not areas of influence.
Despite this, the issues are around the law not being enforced, or at least the important aspects of it are not. Whilst just about every school has a school council they are not widely involved in school life and they involve very few people. The consensus amongst those at the event was that they tended to focus on just raising money for charity and organising parties. One of the other presenters, Michal from Centrum Edukacji Obywatelskiej (CEO), showed research that suggested that over 40% of students hadn’t even voted in a school council election, let alone been more deeply involved.
So the law in itself isn’t enough, there needs to be support for students and schools to understand what they could and should be doing and help them to do it. That’s the aim of Funacja Civis Polonus, CEO and their partners. We’ll be doing what we can to support them and also to learn what we can from them to support schools in the UK.
Ideas from a Warsaw school council co-ordinator
On Tuesday I visited a primary school in the suburbs of Warsaw (which has students up to the age of about 14) and met with the school council co-ordinator who explained how their school council works. There was lots of good stuff happening but three things jumped out at me as possibly of interest to UK schools:
There is a teacher with responsibility for children’s rights. This is an advocate for the children in the school. It seems to me that it might be good to have a governor with this responsibility.
The school council co-ordinator is elected by students. Teachers who are willing nominate themselves and commit to the job. I imagine they may have to produce a manifesto and/or campaign. Students then elect the person they think will support them best. I wonder how this would work in UK schools? Would it raise the profile of student voice amongst staff and students?
The school council are allowed to use the Tannoy to keep people up to date with what they are doing and to remind the student body of what they need to discuss or do to support student voice. I don’t know how many schools have public address systems like this, but where they exist it could be a useful tool.