Student Voice in Learning Environments: New Line Learning Academy

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In recent years there has been a shift change towards exploring the impact of learning environments and its effectiveness on teaching and learning, and on student’s attitudes and responses towards school (Fisher, 2000).

Schools worldwide are focusing on how the foundations of a school can help set appropriate conditions for learning. Student voice has played an integral role in establishing new initiatives for involving students in improving school buildings and facilities and consequently, empowering young people to take action on issues that concern them.

What’s the impact? Here is one example of how a school in the UK has managed to engage meaningful student involvement and see its impact. New Line Learning Academy, of which my "Hot Topic" colleague Chris Gerry was formerly the Executive Headteacher, offers many great examples, as evidenced by a case study published by Involver several years ago. I had the pleasure of visiting the school a few years back, and the photo in the gallery below was one of my favourite rooms. Here are some highlights they uncovered:

Key benefits

  • Engagement has improved which has meant behaviour and attainment have too. This has shifted students away from a pattern of disaffection with educational experience inherited from their families.
  • Students love the responsibility membership of the Design Team offers them and rise to the challenge.
  • A small number of sixth-form students are employed on a part-time basis to provide classroom support in Performing Arts and PE.

Top advice

  • Students should not be consulted ‘as and when’ but be an integral part of the day-to-day running of the school. They should assume that they are able to put their ideas forward and staff are expected to engage with them. This should be put in to school policy.
  • The Design Team has a core of key members but allow others to opt in and out of student voice roles – different people will be passionate about different things. Use that passion, but do not force the engagement.
  • Use the media to engage other students and keep them informed. Students speak to other students in ‘their language’, magazines, video and online.
  • Examine your curriculum: remove repetition and be creative. Through doing this, New Line Learning Academy has shortened the Key Stage 3 curriculum and given students access to Level 3 courses earlier. Create space and time for this equally important work on personal development and engagement – student discussion and well-being have equal status to academic study.

One interesting "Method Used" that I thought was worth highlighting (the others are documented in the case study link above) is what they called the "Design Team"

The Design Team is a group drawn from across the school, anybody can be on it. They are the focal point for student voice within the school. They help to design all aspects of the school, from the logo and uniform to aspects of the curriculum.

Students volunteer themselves and can join and leave at any time. Whilst this creates some fluidity in the membership, there is also a core group of students who have specific roles. They are the heart of the Design Team and ensure that it keeps running.

The main method they use to ensure they represent the whole of the school is maintaining the diversity of their Design Team. They also use the daily 30-minute ‘well-being sessions’ in their year groups to discuss issues which are taken back to the main Design Team meetings. For more formal information gathering from the whole-school or specific year groups they create surveys in SharePoint which can be pushed to all students through the VLE. They also use a team of ‘social reporters’- Y10 students trained to use digital media to report on social issues – to examine issues and create debate. These stories often reflect external community issues and bridge the school-community interface.

Pictures and videos


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