Case Study 24, February 2001 Click for the next page!
Allan's Primary School
Pupil Participation: School Management and Support Systems

This is the second Case Study of three in the second stage of our 2000-01 series that features pupil participation and involvement in the management and support systems of their schools. Many of Scotland's city and larger town schools, like Allan's Primary School in Stirling, are in old buildings on small sites in densely built-up areas. They represent a challenge to Education Authorities' renovation programmes and to the schools' managers, staff and pupils to optimise the use of available space for their frequently full school rolls. Such schools, again like Allan's Primary, often have very diverse populations of pupils, drawing on a mixture of housing and of family backgrounds and sometimes attracting out-of-area pupils. Allan's Primary School believes that all these features, given a positive ethos, can be used to advantage in optimising the education of all their pupils.

This Case Study was published by the Scottish Schools Ethos Network.

Allan's Primary School
29 Stittal Street
Stirling FK8 1DU
Contacts: Mairi Breen, Headteacher and

Lindsey Howland, Acting Headteacher
Tel: 01786 474757

Introduction

Allan's Primary School lies at the heart of Stirling, on the way up to the castle. The building is 111 years old but has been beautifully refurbished in recent years. We draw both on areas of affluence and on a priority area of urban regeneration. Our 220 school and 43 nursery children keep all our staff busy: non-teaching Head and Depute, eight class teachers (two for our extra large P2), nursery teacher and nursery nurse, three support-for-learning assistants, two school helpers (clerical and supervisory), janitor, school secretary, two cleaning and two catering staff. We also have a range of part-time staff including two support-for-learning teachers and visiting teachers for art, music and PE. The school is full at every stage and we have a large number of placement requests.

When the present Headteacher was appointed four years ago there was already a positive ethos among the staff. Efforts since then have been made to build on this foundation and to ensure that school-home relationships and staff-pupil collaboration are also optimised. The emphasis is on being a welcoming 'open door' school for all, where parents, staff and pupils engage in meaningful and respectful discussion with each other on any matters that are important to them. We have found that this is time well-spent: parental complaints are few and decreasing, as is pupil misbehaviour of the kind and level that would reach management. All staff, teaching and non-teaching, are involved in whole school policy developments because all need to feel some level of ownership in the policies if they are to support them. It helps staff morale and good staff morale in turn enables children's positive self-esteem.

Our achievements in relation to targets have also improved in recent years but we have a holistic view of education and believe strongly that children's academic progress and emotional and aesthetic well-being complement each other and are derived from a broad and balanced curriculum and a positive ethos.
 

The beginning of real pupil participation

During 1997 the school was involved in the research that resulted in the Gordon Cook Foundation Report, Values, Education and the Rights of the Child (1998). Through this, staff became involved in discussions after reading The UN Convention on Children's Rights. We were initially satisfied with our Pupils' Council, which comprised two pupils from every class except P1 and P2, but then the increasing awareness among staff made them question the substance of pupil participation. Did it, even in their own council, disguise the reality of staff power over every aspect of the school and its running? After all, the Headteacher took the role of both Chair and Secretary of the Pupils' Council! We believed that, in general, children respond responsibly to being given responsibility and we needed to put our beliefs into practice more consistently.

Our first tentative step was therefore to replace the Headteacher's dual role with two P7 pupils, elected by the Council's pupil members. Being secretary is an arduous task as the pupil illustration of the Council (Picture A) shows! The Headteacher, meantime, remained as an ordinary member. The Council became much more proactive and became the 'think tank' where many issues of importance to pupils, and therefore also to staff, were discussed and ways forward suggested. Wherever possible these ways forward were explored, tried, and then when they worked, they were embedded in school practices. We were not about to hand over the management of the school to the pupils, but we did believe that they should have a voice, and the opportunity for responsible action, in relation to the running of the school and its various support systems.
 

Picture A: Being secretary to the Pupils' Council is an arduous task.
Developments

It became apparent through the Pupils' Council that many pupils were not happy with aspects of the school dinners. The Headteacher was also aware that supervisory and catering staff were concerned about noise and misbehaviour at lunchtime. The Pupils' Council set up a pupil-staff Personal and Social Development Group (Picture B) whose key task was to improve lunchtimes for all. The elected pupils then co-opted the Depute Headteacher, a class teacher, the janitor and two catering and supervisory helpers. Between them they have consulted with the Authority's Catering and Cleaning Supervisor about their proposals for change, revised lunchtime queuing and serving procedures (Picture C) through two serveries rather than one to reduce time spent waiting and introduced music. Positive behaviour slips are now used which, when accumulated, can lead to a place at the 'Terrific Table' on Friday with special service and small rewards for effort, tidiness, courtesy and general helpfulness. Not surprisingly, and after only a little resistance to change, these developments brought about happier, quieter and generally well-behaved lunchtimes. It also gave the Pupils' Council and the PSD group a feeling of achievement and gave wider-spread credibility to the concept of pupil participation.

Success breeds success and the strategies for managing behaviour in the dinner hall have stimulated thought about the Playground, small, crowded and potentially stressful or worse. The Pupils' Council set to work again and, through a process of consultation by the PSD group with staff and with all pupils, a very easily understood and rational Code of Conduct was written, discussed, amended and finally approved (Picture D). We are all - staff and pupils - committed to it and will do our best to maintain the standards it outlines.

Other issues that came up in the council, either through pupils' representations or through the Headteacher's report on school management issues, gave rise to further pupil initiatives and sub-committees such as the Healthy Tuck group, where again pupils took a lead but involved staff:

The pupils are taking charge of promoting a healthy tuck. We will choose the adults to help us.
P5 pupil

The Information and Communication Technology Club was another sub-group originally but then widened out to be more inclusive. It offered an opportunity for pupils' skill development but, even more importantly, it gave pupils an opportunity to develop their teaching and interpersonal skills by helping staff to get to grips more fully with the technology in the school. Our ethos is such that we have all learned to recognise the strengths of each other and support the 'areas needing development', regardless of age and stage. Many of our pupils are deeply familiar with computers having effectively been brought up with them since early childhood. This is only true of a minority of teachers and the role reversal involved in pupil tutoring of staff actually brought about improvements in what were already good staff-pupil relationships (Picture E).

Teachers at Allan's don't humiliate you or embarrass you. If there is something wrong they talk to you privately.
P5 pupil

 

Picture B: The Pupils' Council set up a pupil-staff Personal and Social Development Group.
Picture C: Shorter queues and better behaviour at lunchtime.
Picture D: Our Playground Code of Conduct.
Picture E: A pupil helping a member of staff with her ITC skills.
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