Last week, I was delighted to find that my son had been given a pastry-based extension task as part of his French homework. In an uncharacteristic bout of enthusiasm, he found himself donning a chef’s hat rather than reaching for a textbook and, together, we set about creating a galette des rois, part of his learning on L’Epiphanie and associated traditions. As we rolled our puff-pastry and weighed the ground almonds, Rory taught me what he had learnt in class: according to French custom, the person who discovers the fève (the hidden charm in the galette) gets to be king or queen for the day. Like the ‘Lord of Misrule’, this sweet twist on power dynamics sounds like great fun but, on a serious note, it connects to something we have been exploring in school recently: the power of student voice. 

A similar reversal of roles took place at Brighton Girls last week when a Year 7 student had the chance to be ‘Head for the Day’. Miss Gunn won her royal decree at the Gurney promises stall during last term’s Christmas Fair and had been waiting patiently to take up her rightful (albeit temporary) position ever since. 

As Head, Miss Gunn took charge like a seasoned ruler. Her first public appearance came at morning break when she chaired a student focus group as part of our review of rewards and consequences. During a learning walk, accompanied by her trusty PA, Miss McColl, she observed an impressive range of teaching styles, from interactive quizzes to answers scribbled on mini-whiteboards, giving each her nod of approval. Later, she attended a Senior Leadership Team meeting to present an agenda item on whether we could organise a Culture Day and successfully drew responses from around the table. 

We have made student voice a focus for this year. Focus groups now take place every Tuesday, with topics so far this year including homework; clubs and activities; our school aims and values; and a review of sports kit. Through the increased regularity of these sessions, we have learnt a huge amount and I am always struck by the honesty and openness of our students, and by how many constructive suggestions they have. 

The voice of the child, whether through a student focus group or a galette des rois, can have a profound impact.

On Monday 5th February, Miss Fox will speak about the importance of giving students a voice as part of her assembly on Children’s Mental Health Week, this year’s theme for which is ‘My Voice Matters’. In addition to reaffirming our school’s approach, Miss Fox will refer to Article 12 of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child: “Children have the right to say what they think should happen, when adults are making decisions that affect them, and to have their opinions taken into account”. To support this, all staff will explore the same topic during our staff meeting after school, reviewing how well we listen as a school and reflecting on how we can improve in this important area of our work. As that wise old sage, Albus Dumbledore, said, “A child’s voice, however honest and true, is meaningless to those who’ve forgotten how to listen.” 

Our commitment to listening will be measured, of course, not by how many voices we hear, but by the actions we take in response. Our review of rewards and consequences will be a case in point. After collecting views from students, staff and parents, we aim to trial a new system in the Summer Term, in preparation for a full roll-out in September. 

The proof, as they say, will be in the pudding!