At Sacred Heart Catholic Primary School Mosman, policies on student voice are giving students a say on everything from the design of their playground to the future direction of their school.
Children are not only able, but encouraged to approach Year 6 leaders, teachers or even the principal to discuss ideas on how to improve their school, and if they’re approved, put them into action.
Recently, students weighed in on the best designs for Sacred Heart’s new playground, deciding a passive play area would best serve the needs of students not eager to join in games of basketball or other active pursuits.
Year 6 student leaders said being able to lead students as they worked on the new play area was wonderful, but that the best aspect of the school’s emphasis on student voice was the empowerment of younger students.
‘We were taking photos around the school of how people were playing,’ said Max Lechner, Year 6. ‘Which gave us a sense that they wanted some different ways of expressing creativity.”
‘We now have a shed of toys and dress ups, and a few students actually came up with that idea, so lots of people could play with it at lunchtime,’ said Charlie Gatten, Year 6. ‘[Other students] came up with ideas for what colours things should be.’
‘A lot of children think they can’t do much about their problems, because it’s all up to the teachers, it’s all up to the bigger people. But if we can give them a voice they’ll start to get the impression that they can change the rules too – and in a good way.’
The school also runs a number of wellbeing programs designed to tackle bullying, build resilience, and improve social cohesion, which are often student-led in conjunction with staff. A student council, set up two years ago, has also been pivotal in bringing the concerns of students forward to leaders and staff.
Principal Julie Caldwell said greater feelings of wellbeing and better learning outcomes were a natural consequence of allowing students to shape their life at school.
‘Even as a teacher, I always found the children were mostly engaged when they really had a part in the learning and had a say in it,’ Ms Caldwell said.
‘There’s also incredible wisdom when you speak to children – they know what’s happening in their school, so it’s tapping into an incredible resource.’