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Increasing pupil participation in school decision making and
Developing the rights and responsibilities of children and young people

This is the third Case Study of five during the 2002-03 session. Inverclyde Education Authority's eight High Schools' senior pupils worked together in 2001 to produce a Pupils' Charter of Rights and Responsibilities. All worked hard within their individual schools in putting the Charter into practice. One of the schools, St Columba's High School, describes here two important and on-going strands of its development work that encapsulate two of the SSEN themes for this session - 'increasing pupil participation in school decision-making' and 'developing the rights and responsibilities of children and young people'. Not only has self-evaluation and criticism been vital to its developments, the school also involved an external consultant to ensure the school has an unbiased 20:20 view of what has been achieved and of the challenges still ahead.

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

Contact for this Case Study
St Columba's RC High School
Headteacher, Elizabeth Doherty
Burnside Road
Gourock, PA19 1XX

Moving Forward Together

The school coined the phrase 'Moving Forward Together' to indicate our avowed intention to take our school forward in the partnership of our pupils, parents and staff. This Case Study focuses on the increasing contribution of pupils to this partnership St Columba's High School is a Catholic six year comprehensive school, situated on the boundary of Greenock and Gourock. The majority of pupils come from South West Greenock which has areas with social inclusion partnership status as well as relatively new private housing. It also serves Gourock and the coastal villages of Inverkip and Wemyss Bay. In September 2002, the roll was 761 pupils. There are 58.3 teaching posts and 6 other staff supporting pupils' learning needs.

The school enjoys close links in a Learning Community with its five associated Primary Schools and with the other educational establishments and partner agencies which, since early 2002, comprise the West Inverclyde New Community School.

Involving pupils in school decision-making

Building up positive developments

Efforts to improve pupil participation in decision making in the school have been evolving in recent years as part of our drive to improve ethos and attainments. Pupils have been consulted routinely, mostly through self-evaluation of key areas of school provision, using the procedures as set out in How Good is our School? and also informally, through discussion and focussed questioning. As a result, many initiatives were introduced. The following resulted directly from decisions to which pupils contributed substantially:

Inclusion of the Head Boy and Head Girl on the School Board
Reviewed strategies for dealing with bullying
Review of procedures for dealing with inappropriate behaviour
Introduction of Reach for the Stars reward and incentive programme
A review of the role of the Student Council - most recently chaired by the Head Boy
The provision of pool tables, table football and music in pupils' social areas
The re-establishment of major school shows, concerts and pupil-led lunchtime talent shows
Peer support of junior pupils by S6 students
An expansion of extra-curricular activities - drama, sport, leisure, music, ICT, public speaking etc.
The production of a school mission statement

Our Mission Statement

A major consultation exercise, involving staff, parents and pupils in 1997 led to the production of a school Mission Statement (see Picture 2). Our perception, backed up by the evidence of self-evaluation using performance indicators, and canvassing the views of our stakeholders and of the wider community, was that the school had a positive ethos and that most pupils enjoyed school and identified with it. The creation of a Mission Statement concentrated minds wonderfully!

Pupil Ethos Survey

In February 2001, we decided to commission the services of Dr Brian Boyd of the University of Strathclyde as a Consultant to conduct focussed interviews with five groups of pupils from S1 to S5/6 (see Picture 3). While we thought that our own self-evaluation exercises had been thorough and far-reaching, we recognised that an external view might find outstanding problems that we had been too close to see and might also give us some hard-earned affirmation of our strengths! Although we thought that good staff-pupil communication was one of our strengths, we recognised that pupils might talk even more openly about some school matters with an 'outsider'.

The pupil groups were largely members of the Student Council. Our Student Council is programmed into RE and PSE time to optimise participation. Each register class in the school elects two representatives without any intervention from staff. It is probably fair to say that the selected representatives would not always have been staff's first choices buthave turned out to be very effective members of the Council. It was important to ensure a balanced representation of gender, all parts of our catchment area, ability levels, etc. Additional pupils were therefore co-opted into the sample to ensure this. Over 70 pupils (almost 10%) of the school took part in the focus groups.

Our Consultant raised issues for discussion among the pupils about:

the Mission Statement
valuing and being valued
what makes a good teacher - and a bad one?
what is good about the school - and what could be better?

Dr Boyd's report showed that pupils had clear and remarkably consistent views on what makes a good teacher and also on what makes some teachers less effective. (Dr. Boyd and the groups adhered strictly to the agreed 'no names' rules of discussion). With the exception of one year group, pupils felt that most teachers were effective and that the school was not only a good one but also improving. They were very positive about the provision of social areas, extra curricular activities and the approachability of senior staff. The overall impression was that pupils were happy in the school and did not feel threatened. However, there was a more worrying conviction among some pupils that, 'All pupils are equal but some are more equal than others'.

Most disturbingly for us was that our fourth year of that session took issue with perceived unfairness of treatment. Despite all the initiatives to promote a positive school ethos and equity among pupils, some pupils felt that the following factors could result in what they perceived as unfair treatment by staff:

where you live
how intelligent you are perceived to be
the way you speak
the way you dress, your hairstyle, your jewellery
your reputation
your family
your friends

Other pupils, however, considered that some of these concerned peers brought some of the trouble on themselves by their activities.

the school toilets
the need for lockers
the condition of the school building
consistency in the implementation of the school's disciplinary procedures
a listening ear for the views of all pupils, not just S5/6 students

Improving School Ethos - Responding to pupils' views

Such articulate and perceptive views demanded attention and action. We needed to listen to pupils and respond to support staff and to the needs and concerns of parents. The School's Ethos Group - a sub group of the School's Development Planning Committee comprising seven staff members who consulted with pupils - produced an action plan which itself was incorporated into the School Development Plan in 2002.

The major priorities that emerged from the survey, agreed by pupils, were to:

improve and widen consultation arrangements with pupils
develop and raise the profile of the Reach for the Stars awards and incentives programme
ensure that pupils are treated fairly and that this fairness is recognisable to pupils
encourage pupils to take a pride in themselves and their school
deal more effectively with challenging behaviour

How are we doing now?

The evidence of self-evaluation of the resulting strategies indicated that we have made significant progress in all of these priorities. 'Hard evidence' indicators are also positive. Attendance rates have improved by 2% and exclusion rates to date, this session, are 60+% less than the same period last session. However, to assess the effects from the pupils' perspective, we invited Dr Boyd back in December 2002 to repeat his survey. The balance of pupils was the same as before. This time, overall, the pupils were very positive indeed about the school. There was still some dissatisfaction about the fabric of the building, but the positives far outweighed any negatives. Senior pupils recognised and valued the improved positive ethos in the school and the younger ones welcomed more tangible aspects like the School Councils and the improved social areas, but felt that both could still be improved.



Picture 1: Pupils' Charter - drawn up by senior pupils of all Inverclyde Council's High Schools. Click on the Charter for a larger version.


Picture 2: The Mission Statement. Click on the Mission Statement for a larger version.


Picture 3: Dr Brian Boyd in discussion with S5/S6 Student Council Members


There was improvement in Ethos terms since the previous interviews of more than a year ago. Again, pupils were polite, open, humorous and forthcoming throughout the day. Evidence from this day and from previous days suggests that the pupils of St Columba's High School are well capable of making a positive contribution to the ethos of the school.

Dr Boyd, our Consultant
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