School Meeting Jan 2016 - whole

Leadership and management at Sands is different! There is no ‘management team’ and it is no individual’s role to set the direction of the school. Instead everyone is individually and collectively responsible for running the school. For students this is a whole area of learning – it is a big part and important part of their curriculum.

The constitution

The constitution of Sands reads that the power and authority normally resting with the Governors and Headteacher has been transferred into the hands of the School Meeting. This is comprised of all current members of the school, so the staff and students but not parents or governors. There is no power of veto held by any adult. The Governors’ and the Administrator’s principal roles are to ensure that this remains the case and that the School Meeting remains the chief instrument of government. So we are in the enviable and unique position of truly managing a school with its constituent members, most of whom are under 16 years of age.

The challenge

By its very nature this is therefore a form of management that is both pragmatic and educational:

  • having to be both an approach to government that is creating opportunities for students to learn how to co-run a school with adults
  • while having to create clear and sensible plans and structures for the smooth and safe running of that very school.

Management becomes education and the education is about management. Decision making and responsibility for those decisions is shared with the students and there is a high degree of skill required by the adults to ensure that this process remains sensitive and effective.

In fact, we wonder why it is that students are not generally encouraged to learn how to start making decisions about their school lives and education as soon as they show the willingness to do so. This fosters participation rather the passivity and prepares students to use good judgement later in their lives. It is an on-going experiment to investigate and show that this approach to running a school greatly benefits the students and helps them develop as thoughtful and responsible adults.

The role of adults

The role of the adults in ensuring that intelligent, reasoned and wise debate takes place within the school is at the heart of the success of such a system. Adults are committed to the process of sharing decisions and debates with young people and are clear that the sincere engagement in debate in the school is as important as the outcome. At the root of this system is trust. Trust that young people are essentially wise and well-meaning and are able at startlingly young ages to participate sensibly in profound debate and can make very wise decisions about their school lives. And gaining the trust of the students to allow the adults to support them. Of course part of being allowed to make decisions is being allowed to make mistakes and therefore an implicit part of our role is to help students take responsibility for their choices, hold them accountable and help them reflect on those choices and outcomes.

Democratic decision-making in practice

School Meeting Jan 2016 - 1Co-running a school with the students and adults may appear to be a recipe for inefficiency given that the great majority of the participants are not experienced managers. Yet the quality of debate and the benefits for student’s real life skills and their sense of self and responsibility far outweigh any disadvantages of this approach. The School Meeting has the ability to delegate out roles to more experienced members and then receive reports as to the work undertaken by those individuals or sub- groups. Learning to trust and delegate is a two way street and we find that the students are very good at delegating where appropriate and also know which areas of school life are best dealt with confidentially or by more experienced people. Students are encouraged to develop skills of leadership within the School Meeting and in other areas of school life such as the subcommittees. Leadership is a flexible and empowering process allowing people to surface where appropriate. Autonomy is encouraged and all know that independence and initiative are highly valued.

 

The role of the Administrator

It would be great if this system of democratic leadership and management, once established, was self-sustaining, but it isn’t. It is not the easiest and most straight-forward way of doing things and there is always the temptation to cut corners or yield to the forces of inertia and allow the democracy to be eroded. The key role of the Administrator is to ensure that the democratic process continues with integrity and in a safe and sensitive manner. They make sure that students are not asked to undertake more than they are capable of but that the adults, wherever possible, genuinely share the management of the school with the students.