Tuesday, 9 July 2013

Focus - electing or selecting?

It's the Summer term and therefore the time of year when I need to start thinking about recruiting new members to our school Focus groups. Having taken on the role from someone else, the lovely Beth who was not precious at all about me making any changes, last year I kept the process largely the same to ease me into my new role. We ran an online Google form and asked pupils to 'apply' for a position on one of our five Focus groups by writing a short statement. We then divided the applicants into year groups. Each statement was then presented anonymously for voting by the tutor groups. The applicants who received the most votes gained a place on school council, or as we call it here, Focus. There are pros and cons to this system and I was loathe to change something that was so well established in school but for the feedback from students and staff. 

The pros were:

  • Election by ones peers - pupils felt it was a fair system and that the 'favourite' pupils weren't always chosen to take part in fun projects
  • It taught pupils about democracy - of utmost importance nowadays, especially to stress that students voices were heard and acted upon in school - it wasn't just the teachers who had a say in the running of the school
  • Anonymous system was more inclusive - pupils didn't mind applying if they knew no one would be able to tell it was them - more applications from a wider range of pupils
However - the system itself was not entirely without flaws. The cons were as follows:
  • Election took a long time - for some year groups with lots of keen applicants, the Voting Voice process where tutors had to read the statements out then establish a winner required far longer than the tutor time that was dedicated to it. Likewise in year 11 there were hardly any applicants so the voting process became entirely redundant
  • Delayed start to the year - the Focus groups couldn't start until the election process had been completed which meant some groups didn't manage to have a meeting until after the October half term
  • Pupils were put off - knowing that they would be judged on spelling and grammar (their words, not mine!) some pupils didn't bother to apply as they thought they weren't academic enough. Their statements were up for everyone to see, despite the fact they were anonymous.
  • Pupils whose statements were at the bottom of the list were missed  off - a 25min tutor time did not prove enough to get through all statements meaning they were often not even considered.
As with any school council, throughout the course of the year people come and go. This year some groups have struggled to have enough members to get projects up and running where as others have had too many to coordinate. 

So the big plan this year? Not massive changes but hopefully a way to eliminate some of the problems we have had in the past. Pupils will still fill in a Google form as found on the front page of our Virtual Learning Environment (VLE) and they are still expected to write a statement. However, this year we are trialling applications instead of elections - the form will be live until the end of the Summer term and the results will be collated. Pupils will then be invited at the beginning of the academic year in September to join the group of their choosing and see how they get along. It is hoped this will allow for larger numbers at the beginning enabling groups with lots of members to perhaps run sub-projects by dividing pupils up and also allowing for the inevitable 'drop out' rate. I am still torn as to whether it is right to remove the whole process of election as it seems such a valuable lesson to teach pupils about politics and choosing someone to represent them as a student body - yet I also feel our Voting Voice and work as an RRR school achieves this within itself.

I will reflect on the process as it happens and welcome any feedback or comments!

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