When Asher’s school was choosing a new headteacher it was essential to involve pupils in the process.
It should be redundant to say that pupils are central to everything we do in school and yet we often make some of the most important decisions without listening to them at all. When we were choosing our new headteacher it seemed essential to us that we should involve pupils in that process. We needed a headteacher who could communicate with children as well as with adults and was respected by the pupils as much as by parents and colleagues. We were very keen therefore to ensure that people from all parts of our school community were involved; so on the appointment panel we had parent, community, LA and staff governors. One voice was obviously still missing though, that of the pupils. It would not have been appropriate to have pupils on the panel making the final decision, but we wanted them to play a meaningful part in the process. I volunteered to work with the school council to prepare them and to be their link to the appointment panel.At the time the NASUWT was making a lot of fuss about pupil involvement in appointments and other pupil voice issues. It seemed to me that the cases they referred to just showed bad practice in appointment processes, they did not undermine the need for pupils’ voices to be heard in that process. I was keen to show that with appropriate preparation this would be a useful, interesting and educational experience for the pupils and the appointment panel.
At all stages the appointment panel was clear with candidates, the governing body and pupils about what the process would be and ultimately who would make the decision: that responsibility lay firmly with the appointment panel. Each of the candidates would give an assembly, meet with the school council and have a formal interview. What weight was given to these elements was decided by the appointment panel.
A couple of weeks before the interviews I met with the older members of the school council (from Y3 to Y6) and our headteacher. We did some work on the role of the headteacher, confidentiality, the pupils’ priorities for a new head and what questions they could ask to find if someone fit the bill.
The questions they came up with were brilliantly incisive and varied, ranging from, “what would someone have to do to get sent home” to, “what does bravery mean to you”. They practiced these questions on the headteacher and we discussed his answers.
On the day of the interviews each pupil had a sheet on which were the nine questions they had come up with to ask each candidate and a space to mark each answer and make comments. They also had all the attributes we had discussed (not just those voted top) written around their sheets for them to circle if they thought a candidate showed one of them.
The school council met each candidate individually, asked all of them the same questions and gave the candidates time to ask them questions too. After each one I collated the school council’s marks and got each school councillor to give some feedback on what they thought about the candidate, giving reasons. I noted these down to hand to the appointment panel later.
At the end of the day I reported back the data and views from the school council to the appointment panel. Having this all written down I hope helped me to do this faithfully and without favour. As I wasn’t on the appointment panel I don’t know what influence these views had on them, but they definitely surprised and impressed me and challenged some of my perceptions.
It also made a clear statement to the candidates that the governing body put pupils at the heart of our school and so helped us to recruit a fantastic headteacher who does too.
A good process for pupil involvement in staff appointments:
Questions pupils ask during staff appointments:
Asher is vice-chair of governors at Welbourne Primary School in Haringey and a member of the Haringey Governors Association. This article was originally published in the March/April 2013 edition of Governing Matters (Access to NGA Members only).