This is the fourth of a series of five blogs about why listening to pupils is key to tackling the cost of the school day. Rhian Reynolds, who delivers the project in South Wales, describes how valuable schools have found hearing from pupils and what they plan to do as a result of the Cost of the School Day project.
The Cost of the School Day team worked with our first Welsh schools this summer term, with three primary schools in the Cynon Valley virtually engaging. Although we didn’t set foot on school grounds, the voices of pupils, parents, staff and governors were colourful, rich and distinct. Their words shaped a sense of place that reflected each unique school environment. What pupils said about their school formed the direction and emphasis of each individual project, with their voices central at every stage.
The feedback from schools has been entirely positive with senior leaders calling the project: ‘straightforward’ and ‘an effortless, non-threatening vehicle for scrutinizing poverty within schools’. The process itself, an intense three weeks for each school, was called: ‘highly rewarding’. It provides a 360-degree perspective to frame and focus the experiences of pupils and their families. One school leader said that seeing the school community from all angles created an opportunity to: ‘deliberate and adopt policies to combat poverty that can make a difference to the world of children in our care’. Staff reported finding the project both ‘constructive’ and ‘challenging’, with all who signed up welcoming the findings of the team. One school leader said: ‘as a school we look forward to the final report and will certainly be aiming to improve on areas that may not have been as positive as others.’
As practitioners, the schools noticed we built trust and a rapport with pupils that allowed for some sensitive and complex discussions to take place in follow up focus groups: ‘Our pupils loved to take part and see faces from somewhere else’; ‘They enjoyed discussing matters that everyone cares about.’ Schools welcomed the fact that these interactions gave pupils fresh opportunities. In a climate of reduced visits and social contact the project provided a platform to practice key communication and presentation skills, and a chance for pupils to express how they felt about their schools. They were encouraged to think strategically and creatively about solutions where extra costs could create barriers that might stop some of their friends from joining in. Across the three schools, senior leaders valued this contribution from pupils above all else, and a key legacy of the project in Wales is that poverty awareness and reducing costs is primarily and robustly pupil-led.