Young governors show we won’t pay lip service to student voice

One bold student encounter persuaded me we needed to do much more to truly value students’ views and ideas

One bold student encounter persuaded me we needed to do much more to truly value students’ views and ideas

Mohsen Ojja

26 Feb 2024, 5:00

Call me maverick, but I believe that the students’ voice should be heard just as clearly in the boardroom as it is in the classroom.

As educators our primary concern is holding the attention of the class, keeping students engaged in their learning, while observing and listening to their needs. Why should it be any different at academy trust level?

I was starkly reminded of the importance of listening to the voices of our most important stakeholders – the students themselves – when introduced to Timi, a year 10 student at St Mark’s Academy in Mitcham, shortly after starting as CEO at Anthem Schools Trust last year

On hearing me speak about the importance of listening to our students, Timi boldly asked why, if that was so vital, weren’t any students represented on the governing bodies themselves. I had no answer.

Timi’s remarks acted as a catalyst for change. I was taken by his direct, open and honest approach and how he was able to clearly articulate the need for Anthem to consider his and other students’ voices. As a direct result of that conversation, the senior team and the board of trustees took the decision to appoint two students to all of our 16 local governing bodies, including those at our 11 primary schools. These student associates are aptly named ‘Timi Champions’.

Every decision made within our trust will be enriched by the insights and perspectives of our Timi Champions, selected by their peers to represent their respective student body. They will serve as ambassadors of change, ensuring that student voices are not only heard but acted upon in every aspect of our operations.

No, the students won’t sit on panels and make decisions about exclusions and address staff grievances, but in every other respect they will be full members of their local school governing councils, called Anthem Community Councils (ACCs).

Every decision made within our trust will be enriched

They will attend each termly meeting and come prepared with a record capturing their peers’ achievements, questions, concerns and suggestions for improvements. Each pair of Timi Champions is supported by a teacher at their school.

The local layer of governance is a conduit for everyone in the trust to listen, hear and act on the voices of our wider community. The role of the Timi Champion is central to this approach, with a specific focus on capturing the lived experiences of all students across our family of schools.

This way we can ensure that they are heard by Anthem’s national team and trustees, allowing us to address issues and share in celebrations and lessons learned across the trust for the benefit of all.

But this new initiative, launching this month, is not without its challenges. It will require a concerted effort from all stakeholders to ensure its success: teachers, community council members, students and parents. We must create a supportive environment where students feel empowered to voice their opinions without fear of judgment or reprisal, staying true to our culture of open dialogue and mutual respect, where diverse perspectives are welcomed and valued.

I like to be reminded of Timi’s words of encouragement to those wanting to follow in his footsteps: “Don’t hold back your opinions. You’ve become a Timi Champion so that your opinions can be heard and so that you can make changes for the greater good of your school”.

I intend to heed his call to action, because this initiative is more than just symbolic; it represents a fundamental shift in our organisational culture. It acknowledges that students are not passive recipients of education but active participants in their own learning journey.

It is essential that our students’ voices are captured, listened to and considered as an integral part of the framework of how we operate. By embedding Timi Champions at the core of our governance structure, students are not just seen but valued as partners in the education process.

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