St Margaret’s Head Lara Pechard reflects on the impact of recent social and political movements, seeing positive shifts in the way schools now listen to the student voice

Creative departments so often showcase what matters to young people today. If you walk through our Art department right now, the impact of Black Lives Matter (BLM) and Everyone’s Invited (EI) are evident. In our photography rooms are images of protestors and signposts with words like ‘She just wanted to walk home safely’. If you make your way into our Sixth Form art studio you will see displays of A-level artwork, with students proudly displaying their own faces with Jamaican, Nigerian and Gambian flags superimposed across them.

Fueled by movements like BLM and EI, and by the fluency of their IT skills, young people feel more entitled to share their opinions on any topic important to them. While standing up for one’s beliefs is admirable, not all of this has been positive. PSHE programmes and pastoral staff are having to coach children in how to convey their thoughts respectfully. The impact will have been felt across all classrooms, especially in English and RS lessons, but we schools are also listening harder. Regular drop-in sessions with Headteachers have been commonplace for many years, but so too other ways of eliciting views – questionnaires, pupil focus groups and bystander training to inspire even the most reticent child to speak up. Schools are having to continually find new ways of leaning into conversations and nurture pupils to talk more.

Issues around feeling safe have had a much sharper focus since the EI movement. At St Margaret’s we have thought hard about this and have asked pupils to physically draw onto site maps where they feel safe and where they feel vulnerable so that we can adapt our common spaces and our duty system. Further emphasis on how to handle intimate relationships as children get older has been important too, always explored in a way that is clear, open and respectful.

“Fueled by movements and by the fluency of their IT skills, young people feel more entitled to share their opinions on any topic important to them”

PSHE now has more time and energy dedicated to it and is part of joined up thinking across all that we do. This includes the reflections of pastoral staff and the support-driven parent events that sit alongside our work with young people. As ever, keeping up as parents is not easy. Strong pastoral settings in school are providing parents with help on how to navigate and best encourage and support their children. This term we are running a follow up to previous parental pastoral webinars and events, entitled: ‘What your teenager wants to tell you but can’t’.

Like many schools, we are looking hard at how we can ensure our staff and governors reflect our community. Allowing pupils to run with societies that are important to them whether it is the LGBTQ+ group or a faith service of their choice is also important – in this regard, things have shifted irreversibly for the good. Thankfully, schools are thinking about how to help young people in a positive way rather than simply reacting to events.

St Margaret’s School

Further reading: St Dunstan’s on enabling the student voice