This is the first of a series of five blogs about why listening to pupils is key to tackling the cost of the school day. Kirsty Severn, one of our Cost of the School Day practitioners in Coventry, tells us about the process we use to draw out pupils’ views, experiences and ideas about the school day.
When carrying out our direct Poverty Proofing work with schools, we start by introducing children and young people to the Cost of the School Day project through an interactive assembly. This is a great springboard for all ages to start thinking and asking about what poverty is, how it affects lives and the costs pupils face simply because they attend school. Pupils then meet in small groups and we ask set questions to encourage them to share their experiences, views and feelings around the school day. Additional focus groups take place to delve deeper into the detail of any sticking points that pupils have raised. We ask pupils to imagine that they are in charge of their school – a favourite with the children and young people here in Coventry - and to create their own solutions for some of the areas they’ve explored. We record pupils’ responses anonymously, in their own words, and build the picture that lies at the very centre of our project – a compelling picture of pupils’ school days through their eyes, their hearts and their minds. We incorporate all of this into a report and action plan, loaded with the power of pupil voice.
We explain to pupils right from the start that their school is taking part in the project because it wants to make sure no one is missing out or feeling worried because of money at home. We hope this highlights to them the value the school places on inclusion, and its commitment to making changes to their learning environment so that no pupils are inadvertently stigmatised or excluded. We make pupils feel comfortable to share their views without judgement, and we acknowledge when pupils in the group have different views or experiences from each other. What’s important is that everyone’s views are heard, not that everyone has the same views, and this is central to the ethos of our project.
We ask pupils questions that cover all elements of their school day: from eating their breakfast and organising their PE kit; to attending a school council meeting and having their lunch; to playing in a sports fixture or learning how to crochet after school. We leave no stone unturned in our bid to hear their voices. We are giving them the opportunity to express their views fully, and therefore gathering rich information on their perspectives. The project’s top priority is to ensure we genuinely understand the school day from the pupils’ perspectives.