Giving students a greater voice in their learning

Posted on 30th October 2018

After a bumpy start, the appointment of student ‘Dons’ at Bedales has prompted a stimulating dialogue with the students about how they can best be involved in the running of their community, says Bedales Director of Learning and Innovation, Alistair McConville, in a recent article for TES.

Dons are student leaders for each of the important elements of the school. They are associated with academic departments, although other areas of school life, such as the library, also have a Don. The project was the students’ idea four years ago. They wanted there to be students who could be approached for subject-specific help and advice by younger pupils, and who could become spokespeople for the subject, as well as representatives of the student body’s views to the relevant Head of Department (HoD).

In the early days, the students were adamant that there should be no active oversight or management of this layer of student involvement from the adult leadership team. However, says Alistair, this led to a rather variable set of contributions across subject areas. He says: “The students recognised the unfairness and ineffectiveness of this system, and soon sought to formalise the relationship between their network and the school’s more well-established structures”.

Accordingly, the first big change for phase two of the initiative was around appointment, resulting in a process whereby aspirant Dons applied to the HoD laying out their motivations and vision for the role. The latter formally took on responsibility for managing their Don, and shared expectations were set.

The work of Dons is disparate, with some students helping lead activities at Bedales Prep school, or getting involved in the science fair there. Others organise external speakers and take responsibility for extracurricular societies. By far the most frequent offering is that of scheduled subject clinics for younger year groups, which proves especially popular in the run-up to exams and coursework deadlines.

The most recent initiative was in response to a request from the governors that the school make greater use of student feedback in shaping departmental development plans, with a ‘feedback afternoon’. This followed the model of a parents’ meeting, but with Dons behind the library desks instead of teachers, and students taking the place of parents.

Alistair concludes: “We’re mid-experiment, so how well this feedback will be converted into useful development priorities remains to be seen. However, an undoubted upside of all this is the inclusion of the students in the broader conversation about how teaching and learning happens. They have a voice.”

The full article can be read on the TES website here (subscription may be required).

TES | Bedales Sixth Form academic overview | Al McConville