In its 2021 report into Sexual Assault in schools and colleges, Ofsted explicitly called out the need for involving pupils in the set up of their schools to create a Positive School Culture. Pupils need to have some ownership to feel a sense of belonging and that they can be at the forefront leading change. We know this is a vital ingredient for successful learner outcomes.
Many young people feel very strongly about perceived global social injustices, whether its black lives matter, LGBTQ+ rights, the environment, the war in Ukraine or sexual harassment. In your school there will be young people that actively campaign through social media on these and other issues.
Schools have an opportunity to support positive local activism. We know how influential peer influence can be and harnessed correctly, peer influence can be the single most important factor leading to a positive culture within schools.
3 top tips for empowering pupils to be agents of change within their own peer cultures
1. Pupils should be able to shape their school environment
Empower your pupils to help set up safe spaces to enable learning, talking, and socialising. Perhaps there is a table tennis table or casual seating area that your pupils get to figure out. Importantly also allow pupils to name that space.
2. Make it easy for pupils to share concerns without ‘snitching’
It’s essential that pupils feel comfortable talking to staff about the issues in their school and how they feel they should be tackled.
At our recent event on creating positive peer culture in schools, Frazer Smith, Safeguarding lead from United Learning, recommended schools consider a method of anonymous reporting to allow pupils to address the culture in their schools. This way, they can share concerns without being seen as a ‘snitch’.
As well as reporting issues also enable them to suggest ways to ‘fix’ or resolve the problem.
Frazer pointed out that the more pupils feel safe to report problems anonymously, the more they will feel safe to disclose these problems face to face, promoting an even more positive culture in their school.
3. Get pupils talking together in order to improve empathy and respect
As the Ofsted report made clear, peer on peer abuse in schools is so widespread that schools should assume that they have a problem, even if the school isn’t aware of one.
Schools might take a ‘zero tolerance’ approach to dealing with behavioural problems, but this can simply lead to pupils being afraid to talk about it and the problem going underground rather than going away. Telling pupils not to do something doesn’t help them understand the behaviour and personally buy in to change.
The prospect of being punished if they admit any participation in or knowledge of negative behaviour will stop them from coming forward, even if they know the behaviour is taking place. A positive school culture is not one in which pupils feel afraid to speak up.
Instead let’s empower pupils to be part of the change. It can happen simply by facilitating discussion between peer groups and giving pupils the language and skills to discuss together.
When pupils talk to each other, the following things happen:
- They understand each other better
- They learn empathy
- They learn to respect people who are different from them
- They develop key life skills
- They learn to explore complex issues critically
- They begin to understand the ‘why’ beyond the ‘what’
- They align on what is and isn’t acceptable
- They hold each other to account
Now thatb you have read about how students can influence the school culture, check out our blog: 5 Ways Staff can Positively Influence School Culture