The devastating impact of the pandemic on children across the country, and indeed the world, has been widely reported.
Over the last 18 months, our future generation is experiencing more stress and anxiety than ever, regressing in basic skills like reading and writing and being isolated from friends and family with all sense of normality removed from their lives. This has had a huge impact on their confidence, self-esteem and self-worth.
At Wainscott Primary School in Medway, we are committed to continuing to provide a range of exciting and developmental opportunities for our pupils. In fact, at times like this, we think it is more important than ever to find ways to offer exciting, engaging and new experiences for our pupils to support their development and wellbeing.
At the start of the academic year, we launched a Pupil Parliament to give pupils the chance to take on responsibility and develop their communication and leadership skills. The Parliament would also provide the additional benefit of engaging pupils in politics and democracy. Like many schools, we attempted student councils in the past, but there was something about a Pupil Parliament that felt different, and we knew we had an exciting opportunity on our hands.
We started the process with an election, similar to the national system. Pupils interested in taking part, campaigned and spoke in assembly about why they would make a good minister and what they hoped to achieve for the school. Each class then had a ballot and voted for who they would like to represent their class, or ‘constituency’, and the elected ministers from each class formed our parliament.
Once our ministers were in place, they took part in an exciting training programme through the UK Parliament scheme where they enjoyed hearing from civil servants about what it is like to work for the government and learning about the work of the Prime Minister and our local MP. Inspired by what they had learnt, one of our pupils wrote to our local MP, Kelly Tolhurst, to ask for a safer school crossing.
We also created school cabinets that focused on the key areas raised by the Pupil Parliament. These were the Environment Cabinet, Health and Wellbeing Cabinet, Curriculum Cabinet and Sports Cabinet. Through these cabinets, our pupil ministers took on real responsibility for making change in school.
For example, they created our new uniform policy with very little support from teachers. They took the process seriously, researching other schools’ policies and talking to peers about their uniforms, before deciding to align the policy with the school value of inclusivity. Throughout the process, they learned about what it means to be part of a democracy and listen to each other’s ideas and come to an agreement that the majority were happy with. They also developed skills in resilience by working through the feedback from the senior leadership team and gained confidence talking to adults. Pupils felt empowered by the responsibility and when the final policy was put in place, their sense of ownership meant our ministers enforce the policy themselves and now appreciate how much work goes into making these decisions.
Through working together in a democracy, pupils have felt their ideas have been listened to and valued and they have responded effectively to taking on more responsibility in the school community. This sense of achievement has uplifted their self-esteem and we are seeing the benefits of improved confidence across the board, both in schoolwork and classroom contributions. Our pupils are now more engaged, and in turn, attainment is improving. Implementing this miniature democracy has been transformative for our pupils and we would highly recommend it to other schools looking to support pupils with low self-esteem.
Monique Harlin, headteacher at Wainscott Primary School, part of The Primary First Trust