Upper School Choice - chess

Head’s Blog – Empowering our Students Through Listening

27th February 23

Karen Thomas, Head of Lower School

Like many schools, we tell students that “the door is always open” if they want to talk. We want them to know that we are receptive to their ideas and that what they have to say is important. But we’ve learnt that just leaving the door open isn’t enough.

As the Head of the Lower School, with children from Reception to Year 6, it is my job to ensure there are clear structures which allow them to have their voices heard.

In traditional parent-teacher meetings, the grown-ups talk about a child’s progress and attitude to learning. Vital conversations take place without the most important person being present. At King Alfred School we do things differently. Each term the students invite their parents into the classroom where, along with their teacher, they show their work, talk about their progress and measure it against goals they themselves have set. They are asked to reflect on their learning behaviours, celebrate successes and talk about how they can improve going forward. The children are expected to have an opinion about their own learning, to take responsibility for it and work as part of a team with their teacher and their significant adults to improve it. Every time we see how this simple change of protocol positively impacts their learning.

As the children move up the school, each class nominates two people to be part of our Pupil Council who are tasked with reporting the concerns of their peers and helping to look for solutions. It is vital that this system allows them to really be heard rather than humoured. By giving students a route to effect real change, they feel empowered and valued. They don’t just come to school, they are the school. Recently our Pupil Council said they would like to see greater mixing across the genders and year groups, especially at breaktime. They evidenced their comments by observing a few playtimes and reporting back on their findings.

One Pupil Council member summed it up saying: “People were playing the same games with the same people.” Another added: “It didn’t feel very nice because we’re a whole school together and it would be nice if we played together.”

Working with class teachers, Pupil Council came up with a plan for “Big Playtime Playdates” twice a week which are designed to allow space for new friendships to grow and to encourage children to try new games and activities. Boxes of board games, craft materials and sports equipment are made available – all organised and distributed by Pupil Council who get their clipboards out to supervise the signing out of materials!

Next term they have been asked to evaluate the success of their plan and decide whether or not it should continue. Their baseline data will be reviewed before decisions are made. So far the response has been really positive. A class teacher told me that students who were reluctant to begin with now look forward to Big Playtime Playdates.

Allowing the Pupil Council to make a fairly big change to school life, asking them to organise it and reflect on how it has worked out is a very practical way to make sure students not only know that our door is always open but also shows them how to walk through it.

Where Next?