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A Guide to Setting Up and Running an Effective School Council

Part of our Teacher Toolkit Series

Discover the ultimate guide to setting up and running a successful school council, empowering student voices and fostering leadership skills with VotesforSchools' free resources.

We all know how important pupil voice is – it can bring about positive change in your classrooms, playgrounds, and beyond. And yet, the prospect of setting up and running your school council can still be daunting, especially in a jam-packed schedule. But I can assure you it’s worth the effort: its success lies in equipping your young people with the skills they need to self-manage and lead with confidence.

What is a school council?

A group of young people who are elected by fellow pupils to represent their school and think of ideas for improving it.

Why is school council important?

Article 12 of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) states that every child has the right to express their views, feelings, and wishes in all matters affecting them, and to have their views considered and taken seriously.

How often should school council meet?

The frequency in school council meetings is dependent on each school's schedule and ongoing projects. I met with the school council at the beginning of each half term to set out the aims/responsibilities for the term ahead.

However, it is important to be available on a more informal basis. The members should know you're on hand for further advice if they need support with a project, and ad hoc meetings might be necessary here and there.

Tips for setting up an effective School Council

Boy with hand up in class

Hold an election

At the start of each academic year, invite pupils from each class to create a pitch that highlights their school-wide ambitions for the year ahead. A good place to start is by reminding them of the dos and don’ts when it comes to voting and getting them to think critically about the qualities of a good representative. This not only stops elections from becoming a popularity contest, but also means that they are putting their knowledge of the democratic process into action. Getting creative by using vote slips and ballot boxes is also a great way to introduce your pupils to the voting system.

Girl recording a video speech for school council

Make space for expression

Ensuring that the school council is inclusive and accessible to all is essential to a fair election. Allowing pupils to express themselves and their ideas in different ways is key. For instance, you could ask them to write a speech for school council, perform a song, or present a piece of art that showcases their strategy. This, in turn, will make it an engaging, fun process for all.

School councillors discussing what they'd like to change in school

Provide opportunities for all

In your first school council meeting of the academic year, encourage each school councillor to discuss their interests and favourite subjects. This may help them to decide on who is the best fit for each role or responsibility. A good listener? Chairperson! Enjoy working with numbers? Treasurer! A keen writer? Secretary! But, most importantly, make sure that there’s something for each person to take a lead on.

Teacher supporting pupil in school council

Get organised

A little bit of organisation goes a long way. Having an agenda for each meeting to keep discussions on track and putting a date in the diary for the next meeting means that the councillors’ valuable time will be well spent. These might be things you want to sort out ahead of time, or as you go - decide what works best for you and your school community.

A secondary aged boy in school uniform looking at a laptop

Communication is key

Keeping pupils and colleagues in the loop about upcoming meetings and events helps with the smooth running of a school council. It also makes sure that everyone knows how, when, and where to make their voices heard. Whether these details are shared through emails, posters, or assemblies, involving your school councillors in the wider conversation helps to reduce your workload and enhance their leadership skills.

young people sat talking with their peers and teacher

Shine a spotlight on student councillors

Giving your student councillors the opportunity to get involved in wider school life by leading an assembly or holding a weekly surgery at break times can help make them identifiable amongst their peers and encourage pupils to share their views with them. These actions can also help to build momentum and generate enthusiasm for the school council in order to make it fully pupil-focused.

Children make changes in lunch hall through school council

Showcase change

Making sure that the ideas raised by the representatives are being enacted in school and in the wider community allows young people to see the difference their actions are making. Small changes such as changing from single-use sauce packets to bottles at lunch, or new equipment in the playground should be celebrated for all to see. You could do this by inviting the Headteacher or your local MP to an upcoming meeting, or by encouraging the councillors to write a proposal that outlines the changes they want to make in future.

Remember, your role as teacher representative is to facilitate, rather than lead. By putting these things in place early in the academic year, it will benefit pupils and help minimise your to-do list in the long-term and inspire further school council ideas.

While working in the profession, Sophie was the teacher representative for her school council and supported students in making positive change in their school and local community. She is passionate about fostering young leaders, inspiring pupil voice and promoting democracy.