School council and student voice case study: Wildern School

Wildern School in Southampton approaches student voice through UNICEF’s Rights Respecting Schools model. It’s a great example of how this approach can achieve whole-school improvements. You can read more student voice case studies here.

Key benefits:

  • A school that is well-suited to the needs of students and the way they want to learn. Students realise that they can (and have) changed major policies and decisions in the school. This helps them to feel engaged in the school.
  • Better behaviour. The “rights, respect and responsibility” ethos (drawn from the UNICEF’s Rights Respecting Schools Award) gives teachers and students consistent language and expectations across the school. It helps students to understand what right and wrong is.
  • A proactive and positive student body that improves the school in many ways. Students feel confident to suggest ideas because they are encouraged, supported and trusted to do so.

“It’s good knowing that you can come to school and know that you’re not going to be talked at all day.”

Student council member, Year 9

Top advice

  • Link everything to the school’s core values, in this case ‘rights, respect and responsibilities’. Links should be made at every relevant opportunity– from schemes of work in the curriculum, to school improvement groups, assemblies, theme days and parental engagement.
  • Remind people about these values, and how they relate to student-led change. Put posters up around the school and in classrooms, get on the school TVs, and remind staff and students in person.
  • Trust students. It is their school, and teachers are there to help them learn in an exciting and challenging way.
  • Set up systems so that students do not have to wait ages to get permission from teachers to move forward. The school has a senior leadership team (SLT) e-proposal form that any student can fill in to email to the SLT. Students have to fully consider an idea or suggestion and can get a quick permission to continue.
  • Get the right staff member to support it:

“Good student voice doesn’t cost anything. Put the right member of staff to facilitate it, give them time to do it, and start listening to all.”

Deputy headteacher

  • Start small and take the ‘sowing seeds’ approach. Do not expect to transform participation in school overnight, but start with a small-scale and focused project that you can demonstrate clear results from.
  • Help reluctant members of staff to see the importance in student voice by asking students to show them the value of student-led projects. They will start to see that students’ ideas are realistic and considered, and that it is not a ‘top-down’ trend from SLT.

Methods used:

Rights Respecting Schools Award

In 2007, students worked on a diversity project with a local school. As part of this, they became aware of UNICEF’s Rights Respecting Schools Award and the three R’s (rights, respect and responsibilities). Students were keen to bring this ethos to Wildern, and successfully encouraged the school to begin a specific project with new Year 7s.

A few years later, this ethos has really taken hold in the school. As the headteacher puts it, the three Rs are “the philosophy of the school” and the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child forms “the foundation” of everything they do.

The school have since received their Level 2 Rights Respecting Schools Award and are an excellent example of what can be done with Rights Respecting Schools.

Range of ways for students to get their voice heard

There a wide range of ways for students to have a say in their learning and their school. These are all linked to, and supported by, Article 12 of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. These different projects include the school council, Voting Voice, school focus groups, student evaluators, department student voice meetings, virtual learning environment (VLE) forums, and class discussions.

Voting Voice

All students can have a direct impact on school issues through the Voting Voice system. An issue is picked that all tutor groups discuss at the same time. Views and votes are collected and collated from across the whole school.

This is a great way to encourage whole-school involvement in big projects, but also small issues in the school too.

School improvement groups

One of the successful ways that students get involved in school improvement is through a range of school improvement groups (SIGs).

These student-led groups that work on particular areas in the school. They include groups like Wildern TV, Community Cohesion, Creative Partnership, Learning to Learn and Developing PLTS (personal learning and thinking skills) in the classroom.

About the school:

Wildern School is a very large and heavily oversubscribed 11–16 comprehensive school serving the Hedge End, West End and Eastleigh areas of Southampton. As a community school it is open seven days a week providing a range of facilities and activities for local adults and young people. The school has been awarded specialist status in Performing Arts and is designated as a High Performing Specialist School Raising Achievement and Transforming Learning. It is also a Leading Edge school.


Involver conducted these case studies for the Office of the Children’s Commissioner in 2011, as part of a project to encourage schools to involve their students in decision making

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