Headmaster, Wellingborough School
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The last couple of years have seen, rightly, an explosion in the activity and efficacy of Student Voice. I choose the word “explosion” carefully, because it is certainly the case that sparks have ignited beneath a number of issues, be that through the words of Greta Thunberg or as a consequence of the killing of George Floyd.
The latter of these, perhaps, led to students being far more forthright about what their schools were doing to be inclusive and equitable. These are issues that, whilst clearly having a global dimension, are tangible at the local level and within which schools can be held to account for their action or inaction. Ironically, perhaps, Covid provided an opportunity for introspection that has given us all more time to reflect upon what is important and what we can do about it.
One particular problem at my school is that the teaching staff do not, ethnically at least, represent the students. At no point in my five years has any less than 95% of the teachers been white, despite there being a much more diverse student body. Troubled by this, we spoke to students via our Inclusivity Group, I contacted the local university and then joined a collection of similarly-concerned staff from other schools in discussing this and other concerns. From this, we realised that we needed to involve the students in finding solutions, so that we could understand what they wanted and how the lack of representation was affecting their lives.
And so, in the summer term of 2022, our Inclusivity Group put together a plan to invite students from other local schools to Wellingborough for what would be called a Student EDI Conference. A construct was devised, and invitations sent out via Headteachers. The Group wanted to start small, so that sufficient students from each school could be present from each school to represent a range of viewpoints, whilst still allowing everyone to speak together – this was to be a conference, not a series of lectures.
We held the event on 12 October. Aside from ourselves, four other local maintained schools came, so that a total of around 60 students from Years 10 and 11 were present. Tables were mixed from the start, and any nervousness the adults might have had about mingling were soon dispelled as the groups chatted and shared ideas even before we got started. After a keynote address of sorts, in which I stressed my own positionality as a white, straight, middle-aged cisgender male, the students moved through a series of discussions topics, talking about what their schools did well, what they could do better, and what issues were faced. The day concluded with a presentation from each table on one particular aspect: that ten minutes in itself provided enough takeaways to keep a school busy for a year.
It was huge success. Partnerships have been cemented, both at the WhatsApp/Snapchat level between students and at the more prosaic email level between staff. Action plans are being drawn up within schools and much of that is based simply on students hearing what good work is happening elsewhere. One of our partners has offered to host us next year, and we might grow it slightly to incorporate more schools without losing the effectiveness we found in the inaugural event. Sustainability will be helped by having this year’s Year 10s as advisors for next time.
We are so proud of our students, of the event itself, and excited to see what grows from it. I would encourage all schools, if nothing like this exists nearby, to take the lead – there is a lot of pent-up demand out there!