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Distributing Leadership with Your Students

Raising the school leaving age will raise expectations and aspirations

The idea of distributing leadership within the staff body is well embedded in most schools now, but the idea of bringing students on board as part of the leadership team is far newer and less widely practised.

Allowing students to form part of the leadership team is the ultimate way of incorporating student voice into the decision making processes at your school.  It also allows students and teachers to work together and can help to ensure that school improvement is headed in a direction that your students are fully on board with.  Working as part of a student leadership team also gives students the opportunity to learn key skills that will serve them well later.

Make it Work in YOUR School:

In a nutshell, here are some ground rules for successful student leadership:


  • Distribute the responsibility and power for leadership throughout the school crossing a variety of boundaries such as race, class, age, gender, behaviour of students etc.
  • Share the decision-making power with the students and value their contributions
  • Allow the students to self-manage their own decision-making committees
  • Take student opinion into account wherever possible
  • Ensure there is a mechanism for group dynamic problem-solving amongst the students
  • Alter student timetables so that there is constructive collaborative planning time

Successful Implementation

The student leadership team in one secondary school, made the following recommendations to smooth the implementation process:

  • Celebrate the launch of the scheme with a whole school leadership event
  • Decide on the specific roles of the student leadership team and communicate these
  • Ensure that student leadership becomes integrated into the curriculum so everyone has a voice
  • Use current student leaders to mentor the new student leaders
  • Allow students to take their own minutes at meetings and circulate these to staff as these minutes will often differ to those taken by a member of staff
  • Don’t be afraid to allow students to use social media to gather feedback

Do you think Student Leadership Teams are a good idea?

Does your school have one?  Does it work?


If you would like more information, ideas and strategies, you may find this one day course by Creative Education of help:

Leading Learners: Developing a Student Leadership Team

3 responses to “Distributing Leadership with Your Students”

  1. […] Some practical tips on Distributing Leadership with Your Students […]

  2. Avatar Keely Griffiths says:

    We have a student body in school that has its own departments which are divided between academic and social activities.

    They run their own tutor-groups for struggling students, run lunchtime and after-school clubs, create and run campaigns such as anti-bullying, and charity-work as well as organising a yearbook with photos etc.

  3. I think Student Leadership Teams can be great, but I would sound a note of caution, based on how I have seen them set up.

    In most of the schools where I’ve seen them they’ve also had a School Council. When I ask staff or students what the difference is between them it’s often unclear other than how the members have been selected. The School Council tends to be by democratic vote and the Student Leadership Team is selected by application (either by previous student leaders, staff or a mixture).

    Digging deeper, the School Council has less status and a much smaller role than it did before the introduction of the Student Leadership Team. In effect what the school has done is developed a way to select the ‘right’ people to be the representatives of students.

    Schools need to be very careful here what they are teaching students about democracy. Often the lesson is: we set up a democratic system, it didn’t achieve the outcomes expected by staff, so they sidelined it and created a system where staff choose the leaders/representatives of the students.

    It’s useful to relate this to our parliamentary system. Which of these groups is the House of Commons? Which the House of Lords? And which the civil servants?

    Where would you want the power to lie? How would you want to get people in to each of those positions?

    If we accept that student voice needs to be the voice(s) of all students – not just those who want to put themselves forward, or those whose voices staff find easy to listen to – then we need to think carefully about how the structures we have for student voice encourage all voices to be heard.

    So a Student Leadership Team needs to be part of a co-ordinated Student Voice Policy/Plan the aim of which is to create channels that give every student a voice, rather than getting a student voice in to every aspect of school life. The focus should be on the student rather than on the organisation.

    I think in relating it to the Westminster system (or maybe the local government system) it exposes some of the possible pitfalls and also gives a useful route to creating a solid system with various ‘routes of entry’. Of course this requires some discussion of the flaws and strengths of our parliamentary system, so weaving it in to a Citizenship scheme of work can be an excellent way to get students to come up with a student voice structure for your school.

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