Coming to a staff meeting near you…

“Good afternoon. Is everyone here? Oh yes, of course. Don’t worry about Miss Boxer. She heard about this stuff at our SLT meeting. Let’s make a start. Today I’d like to take a little time to talk about pupil voice. Let’s start by chatting with our table about what you think pupil voice might be, and write whatever you come up with on to the post-it notes on your table…”

*Three minutes of talking about everything but pupil voice, except when the session leader is near*

“…Is that all of the post-its? Lovely. I especially like this one that says ’empowerment’. You’ve all clearly got the gist. The short version is that pupil voice is all about what the children think of the school and their learning. As you will already know, Ofsted is just around the corner. We’ve talked a great deal about the importance of knowing your subject inside out – hence the hour of leadership time you each received last term. However, from discussions with other school leaders, the word on the grapevine is that pupil interviews are a really significant part of the new Ofsted inspections. Our local secondary school was recently inspected and apparently around 300 students out of the 2000 were interviewed at some point. They were asked about every aspect of school life: classroom atmosphere, teaching, homework, clubs, bullying, the school’s leadership… everything, really. Now, take a few minutes to write down on your post-it notes what you think our children would say about this school…”

*Three minutes of discussion about the students’ complete lack of a frame of reference due to – in most cases, at least – their experience of only one school followed by one minute of finding something inoffensive to write.*

“This is all great: ‘Fun lessons.’ ‘Lots of clubs.’ ‘School council.’ Someone’s written ‘they all want more PE’. Yes… well, that’s definitely something to think about. I reckon we can all agree that our children really love coming to this school and the learning that they do. The challenge for us is to ensure that this love of our school that the children have is accurately represented in what they say to visitors. It can be hard for children to think on the spot, so it wouldn’t really be fair on them if we didn’t support them to express themselves clearly. Fortunately, we’ve been in touch with a school that recently achieved an outstanding grade for the first time ever, and they’ve kindly shared some advice that seems to have worked for them. Effectively, they recommended creating a set of school mantras that the children learn to help them better understand their school. We’ve managed to weave these together with our school values and these are what we’ve come up with:

Lessons are fun, so we work hard.

We behave well so that we can learn.

We learn about lots of exciting things.

We love our after-school clubs.

My teachers always deal with bullying and we feel safe.

I will work harder.

Actually, scrub that last one. It gives me an uneasy feeling for some reason, and I think that more than five might lessen their impact. The question now is how to familiarise children with our mantras so that they can really express themselves if any visitors happen to ask about our school. In our SLT meeting, we thought about teaching them daily in a call-and-response fashion, but we think the key thing is that children hear these mantras several times throughout each day as a natural response to various situations. So, what we’ll be looking for in the next set of lesson observations – and during learning walks – is teachers using these mantras at every possible opportunity. For example, when dealing with disruption in your class, best practice would be to say ‘we behave well, so that we can learn’ while giving the student their verbal warning card. Effectively, if these mantras are going to roll off the children’s tongues, they need to hear them hundreds of times. Encourage children to use the mantras. Don’t be stingy with the house points when you hear children saying one of them. Let them know that these mantras are a great way for them to express exactly how they feel about our wonderful school. Does that make sense?

Ah, Miss Boxer, just in time. Your enthusiasm for this sort of thing is always appreciated. Let’s all take some time to say the mantras together…”

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