In a previous blog post, I outlined my thoughts on embedding a clear sixth form culture through overcommunication of the key message (in the sixth form I lead, this is the #RoleModels concept I have also previously written about here) alongside multiple opportunities for student leadership.
Having now been in my current post for eighteen months, I have been cautiously but consciously increasing the opportunities available for our students to show themselves to be the role models I know them to be (see previous blog post about incremental changes to ensure success). I thought it might be useful to set out the approach I will be taking to recruiting a Student Leadership Team this year, alongside some recent examples of student leadership projects at our school which I believe highlight the power of creating a culture in which our students see themselves as leaders.
Recruiting a Student Leadership Team
To embed a culture in which student leadership is something our students aspire to get involved in, it is useful to have a team of students with responsibilities that allow them to lead on projects across the whole school. This has the dual benefit of creating key leadership responsibilities for sixth form students whilst also allowing students in Years 7 to 11 to get to know older students, which can help with many different aspects of school life, including (happily) increased retention from Year 11 into the sixth form.
This year, I have had the pleasure of working with the most proactive and enthusiastic group of student leaders to date. Part of the reason they have been such a fantastic success (apart from the fact that they are just a group of wonderfully caring and hard-working individuals!), is due to the fact that they were allocated specific roles from the outset and have been accountable for these throughout their tenure.
Students were invited to express an interest in particular roles at the time they applied to be a part of the team. These included: student president, diversity leader, charity leader, KS3 & KS4 coordination leaders, academic leader, wellbeing leader and supercurricular leader. Whilst last year, the role titles were listed on the Google Form application to be on the team, this year, we have gone a step further (more to follow on this).
Throughout the year, the Student Leadership Team meet fortnightly and I join their meeting once a half term to ensure they are on track with plans/take on board their ideas as a collective. I also meet with the members of the team individually, as appropriate, for events we are planning. In all team meetings, someone on the team takes minutes and shares these with the team following the meeting. In meetings that I attend, we go around the table as each member of the team gives an update on what they have done in their role since we last met, and I am able to answer any questions they may have or take questions away to discuss with the Senior Leadership Team. This individual accountability means that all members of the team feel valued and allows the others on the team to encourage, praise and give feedback regularly. This also means that all team members know they will be asked about their role at each meeting so ensures that they maintain momentum in their roles.
Around Easter, we will advertise for our new team, to take over from the current Student Leaders at May half term. This year, we plan to formalise the process further; the first stage of which was to ask our current team to write job decriptions for their roles. I created a very basic job description template then asked the team to outline a description of their role, its main responsibilities and the skills required to do the role successfully. When I suggested they do this in a recent meeting, there was a sense of what I can only describe as ‘imposter syndrome’; they couldn’t believe that I wanted them to come up with the job descriptions. I explained that, given how amazing they had been in their roles, there was noone better placed to write the job descriptions than them. This appeared to give the students confidence and they have produced some brilliant job descriptions as a result (see their pdf documents at the end of this post); leadership in action.
In this year’s recruitment process, we will launch the process via an assembly, in which the current team will describe their roles. Then we will share all job descriptions with our Year 12 cohort, along with the application form (we use Google Forms for this as it allows us to download all applications as a spreadsheet, then filter and sort efficiently thereafter). There is a long text box within the form which allows applicants the opportunity to outline their suitability for the team and specify any particular role(s) of interest. We hope that the inclusion of the job descriptions this year will allow our Year 12s to write more targeted (and therefore better quality) applications; all good practice, of course, for applications for post-18 and any future job opportunities. This slightly more formal process will also have the benefit of demonstrating to our students how important these roles are in our school community; they should be taken seriously as they have such a significant potential impact on all our stakeholders.
Following application, we shortlist a potential team then invite selected applicants for the role of president to make a two-minute video outlining their suitability and ideas for the role. These are shown in tutor times for all year groups 7-12, and students are able to anonymously vote for their preferred candidate via a separate Google Form. The candidates with the most votes are shortlisted for interview with the Director of Sixth Form and the Headteacher. The successful Student President and Student Leadership Team is then announced following these final interviews.
The student leadership structure is outlined below, but is fairly fluid, as new initiatives may necessitate changes in role(s).
Student Leadership in Action
I want to end by outlining just a few examples of the many projects led by this year’s Student Leadership Team. As I mentioned before, this particular team are quite exceptional and I could easily have listed many more events, including a project they are currently planning around raising awareness of hate incidents and hate crime, through working with other schools locally.
1. Awareness Role Models
Our Awareness Role Models (or “ARMs”) are Year 13 volunteers, who are allocated to new Year 7 tutor groups from September to December. The scheme is overseen by one of our brilliant sixth form Heads of Year who organises for each pair of Year 13 volunteers to attend Year 7 tutor time each Monday to provide both an older familiar face to our youngest students, but also to raise awareness of current affairs through the delivery of content each week, usually revolving around a clip from BBC Newsround and a class discussion. Feedback was very positive this year from all students and staff involved but was very reliant on the Year 13 students being proactive in their preparation. We are looking at ways of increasing structure for this programme for September 2022 (and therefore putting less pressure on the Year 13 students), but the general premise of our eldest students supporting our youngest at the beginning of their time at secondary school is very powerful.
2. Charity events/weeks
Our Charity and Wellbeing Leaders have worked really hard on a range of events for various fundraising and awareness activities. Our student leaders were, for example, instrumental in organising and sorting the enormous food bank collection across school earlier this year, as well as incredible efforts for Children’s Mental Health Week, including creating assemblies, Instagram story videos each day on a different mental health concern, assisting with team-building in PE lessons and organising a ‘Feelings Box’ scheme across school for a local mental health project.
3. Coffee, Cake and Confidence Café
This idea came entirely from our Student Leadership Team who noted that so many of their friends struggle with perfectionism and put themselves under a lot of pressure to achieve. Our school hosted a Menopause Café for staff earlier in the year and the student leaders wondered if a similar event, offering a relaxed forum for discussion, might work for sixth form students. They then came up with a name for the event and a logo and planned the lunchtime café in full, including ordering the food with the finance office, booking the room and liaising with staff. The event took place in our school theatre foyer and included three of the student leaders giving speeches at the beginning - one general introduction to the event, one on their personal (and emotive) experience of perfectionism, and one briefly boundary-setting for the discussions (that the café was a safe space, giving safeguarding guidance and signposting to helpline/support sites information which the students had provided on each table).
The 40+ students who attended then ate cake, drank coffee and chatted about their feelings around perfectionism. The student leaders had made 'conversation starter' prompt cards for each table (all different), so the students did not run out of topics. Invited staff were around for safeguarding, to facilitate discussions and to serve drinks. Music played in the background throughout (even with songs featuring the word ‘perfect’!). At the end of the session, our Senior Tutor in charge of wellbeing spoke about some simple strategies for dealing with perfectionism and signposted to further support and guidance. When I spoke to thank everyone involved, I was genuinely overwhelmed by the brilliance of our students in putting on such a fantastic event. All in all, the event was a huge success and the follow-up surveys suggested that our students found it really useful to know that other students shared their same concerns.
I hope that these examples go some way to proving that if we embed a culture in which our sixth form students see themselves as role models and leaders, they will deliver time and again, and inspire not only their fellow students, but staff as well.
For further examples of our Student Leaders' work, please take a look at our social media pages: