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  • Writer's picturePaul Browning

The Thrive Pupil Agency Journey... so far...

by Paul Browning

We are now in Phase Three of our exciting Pupil Agency Journey. Our interest in this began with Valerie Hannon & Amelia Peterson’s book ‘Thrive: The Purpose of Schools in a Changing World’ (Hannon, Peterson (2021) “ Thrive: The Purpose of Schools in a Changing World”, Cambridge University Press. ISBN: 978-1-108-81977-8). We were challenged to analyse how much Agency the pupils and students in our Trust currently had and then to build on this. This involved us adopting and embracing an ethos which empowered our young people to have a greater impact in decision making and actions to enhance their learning journey.

Dr Gill Hughes and her team at the University of Hull drew our attention to Professor Laura Lundy’s Model of Child Participation, which we have subsequently used. The first phase of our journey entailed an initial baseline quantitative survey, organised within the four elements of the Lundy model: Space, Voice, Audience & Influence. We initially found that the elements we needed to explore first were ‘Voice’ and ‘Audience’ and these proved to be the areas which pupils felt we needed to strengthen.

Phase Two of our work was a qualitative study. In my capacity as the newly appointed Pupil Engagement Development Lead, I worked alongside the Pupil Voice Governor for each school as we spoke directly with numerous groups of young people across our two secondary and seven primary schools. The findings from the Phase One survey informed us who we needed to start speaking with and which questions we needed to ask them about further. The Wellbeing lead at each school helped us to select a diverse and representative mix of young people.

Tricia Shaw at the University of Hull provided sound advice about our data collection and analysis methods. We wanted a robust system based on academic research methods for both our initial survey and the subsequent follow discussions. These methods, combined with thoughtfully constructed questions based around the Lundy model have given us a secure baseline, which we will use in subsequent years.

In future stages, we aim to involve pupils/students in being part of and undertaking research themselves. This fits in well with our Cooperative Ethos of close collaboration between different professionals and young people.

This is the first year that we have undertaken a survey of Pupil Agency across Thrive Schools so there has been no comparable data available from previous surveys. This year’s work will therefore form the baseline data for subsequent work in future years.

Across all schools, there is a need to continue developing a growing sense of awareness and understanding of what Pupil Agency means and for schools to facilitate and promote real-life and practical actions in which Pupil’s Agency has a tangible impact. Pupils should be fully aware of and emboldened by their decisions and actions having an impact on their lives and those of their peers.

Main Findings and Recommendations

Phases One and Two provided us with a detailed baseline from which to develop our Pupil Agency work across the Thrive Trust. We found that:

  • Pupils feel that the School Pupil Council/Junior Leadership Team/Senate and/or separate committees (such as Global, Eco, LGBTQ+) are the vehicles viewed as their prime means of communication.;

  • These need to be strengthened in each school by ensuring that:

  • there are sufficient numbers of pupils for each class/interest groups;

  • encouragement is given to all groups (cultural/religious/ethnic/gender/age) to become representatives;

  • meetings are held on a scheduled and regular basis - consideration to be given to see if this may include during lesson times;

  • there are scheduled opportunities for pupils to communicate their ideas/issues/suggestions to their representatives and for the representatives to feedback to their peers;

  • Other means of communication are to be introduced and/or improved, including noticeboards, suggestions/concerns boxes. These may be via traditional methods such as physical notice boards and/or by electronic/internet-based means;

  • Each school has 3 Big Ideas for Pupils which will form the focus for their work during the year. These will need to be visible for the pupil community during the year.

  • Staff need to show that those who make the important decisions in the school are listening to pupils and actions are taken in response to this;

  • In addition to pupil representatives feeding back to their peers, the staff need to improve/strengthen ways of communicating back to pupils (whether through the councils/assemblies/newsletters for instance);

  • Projects/innovations that are conceived/suggested by pupils should be encouraged and schools should facilitate opportunities for pupils to lead on these;

  • NB There are already some promising examples of Pupil Agency at work within our schools and across the city, including projects from Eco Committees and the work of the Hull Young Mayor.

  • We aim to communicate the Thrive Pupil Agency Model across the Hull Learning Partnership and across the National Cooperative Schools Network.

Each school has Pupil Agency objectives written in their School Development Journey (SDJ). My role involves supporting schools with these objectives.

Communications with Professor Lundy

During the summer, I emailed Professor Lundy in the summer 2022, informing her of the steps we had taken so far and asking if there were useful case studies from schools which had been developing Pupil Agency. Professor Lundy recommended reading the Participation Framework: National Framework for Children and Young People’s Participation in Decision-making created by the Irish Government:

We have been indebted to Professor Lundy for this guidance, which has proven tremendously useful in influencing our next steps forward.

Communications with the British Academy

We have also made an important contact with the British Academy. In inspiring conversations with Adam Wright & Nicola Berkley, they reported how the British Academy has involved adults and young people in the formation/writing of new policies. The Childhood Policy Programmeseeks to re-frame debates around childhood in both the public and policy spaces and break down academic policy and professional silos to explore new conceptualisations of the roles of children in policymaking”.

This suggested to us that writing and developing policies may be another part of developing Pupil Agency that we can involve our pupils in. In addition to this, the Hull Youth Parliament has been an important feature of the city and a great proponent of Pupil Voice. Over the last year, the Hull Young Mayor and her colleagues have been driving through an important agenda on combating Racism and Microaggressions in Hull Schools, including the students writing a policy on this. The timing of this has dovetailed with the work of the British Academy and further reinforced our ideas in Thrive for Pupil Agency. This autumn, as part of our plans to enhance Pupil Agency, we are working with young people in our schools to write their own policies. Many of these will be detailing how their student leadership bodies are formulating their work around the Pupil Agency ethos.

Thrive schools are making the four elements of the Lundy Pupil Agency model more prominent around their buildings and in the minds of their communities. Following the examples of the Case Studies produced in Ireland, each school will present their own case studies in a Thrive Student Congress (TSC), in July 2023. These will be structured around the four elements of the Lundy model.

These are exciting times for us and our work is starting to generate further interest. One other secondary school in the city has started to follow the Pupil Agency model we are developing. Their initial surveys will be taking place after this autumn half term holiday.

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