Here’s a student voice case study from Woodhouse College, a sixth-form college in Barnet.
It’s a slightly different setting from the other examples we’ve looked at. However, the underlying principles remain the same; student voice can influence the core work of the college, it’s flexible, and involves everyone. Importantly, practice is not imposed on staff, but they’re shown the benefits over time.
“We don’t want college to just be a set of A-levels, we want [students] to grow as people.”
- Student voice has been a powerful driver for improving the quality of the college. “Modernising the relationships” between staff and students has helped learning and teaching to improve.
- It broadens and deepens the range of experience that students gain from being at the college. They do not leave with just academic qualifications but with skills of interaction, enquiry and representation.
- Students have been able to have an impact on all aspects of the college, from the buildings to rules and learning and teaching.
- Do not impose practice on staff. See where there is good practice and share this through staff meetings and INSET.
- Get every department to plan targets for developing student voice within their subject area.
- Create structures that enable students to form and run their own groups based on interest (eg faith groups, sporting and gaming groups, lesbian and gay groups).
Form reps and college council
Each form group elects a representative who becomes their contact to feed back on whole college issues or raise points for improving the college. Form representatives run weekly meetings with their classes which can be just an open forum or may revolve around specific questions that the whole college is discussing. The form representatives meet regularly together with the student support manager and/or deputy principal to collate responses and decide on action plans.
There is also a whole college election for the college council; this means that friendship groups that might be split across form groups – and so be unable to elect one of their number as a representative in any one form – can elect someone who they feel represents them. The college council has its own budget and runs many of the whole college activities. It also works closely with the student support manager and deputy principal and the form reps.
The split between the roles of the form representatives and the college council is not always completely clear, but the form reps are primarily tasked with representing and collecting the views of the whole college and the college council is about creating new opportunities for people to be involved in the life of the college. They are currently working to better define their areas of responsibility and the relationship between them.
Subject focus groups
Certain subject area are very keen to find out how they are serving the learning needs of its students so there are regular surveys and focus groups to draw out this feedback. As this is not uniform across the college those departments that have been getting the most out of it have been encouraged by management to share their experiences in staff meetings and training. By demonstrating the benefits and tried and tested methods of engaging the students’ voices other departments are encouraged to follow suit.
Student-led interest groups
Students in the college are encouraged and supported to set up their own interest groups, clubs and societies. One of the roles of the student support manager is to be positive towards and enable students to create opportunities like this for others. In this way the student experience is deepened for all. Those students who want to set things up develop skills and a sense of agency and those who just want to be part of these groups have far more to choose from.
In this way the college is directly responding to the needs of students. For example, some students wanted a lesbian and gay group, so they were supported to set one up. This is then something they run in the way they feel comfortable with, rather than something which needs to conform to staff expectations of how such a group might run or look.
Volunteering through Envision
Further opportunities for student action and engagement are provided through volunteering projects with the support of the charity Envision. These do not get students to simply help out on someone else’s project, but be entrepreneurial in their own right.
About the college:
Woodhouse College is a sixth form college operating from a single site on the eastern side of the London Borough of Barnet. The college caters for just over 1000 learners. Nearly all 16 to 18 enrolments were on GCE AS/A level courses. A significant proportion of learners travel from other boroughs, particularly Haringey and Enfield.
The catchment area is economically mixed and diverse in terms of social and ethnic backgrounds. In 2005, about half of the learners were from minority ethnic groups, and 56% were female. At age 16, educational achievement is above average in Barnet, but well below average in Haringey and Enfield.
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