What is a Student Council?
A Student Council is a representative structure through which students in a post-primary school can become involved in the affairs of the school, working in partnership with school management and staff and parents for the benefit of the school and its students.
Why have a Student Council?
The Education Act, 1998 recognises that Student Councils are an increasingly common feature in post-primary schools and have worked to the benefit of many schools. The Act seeks to extend the success of this model to other post-primary schools throughout the country.
Students have a valuable contribution to make to the effectiveness of their school and their involvement in the operation of the school is itself a valuable part of the education process for the students.
A Student Council provides an opportunity for students to engage in a structured partnership with teachers, parents and school managers in the operation of their school. Research indicates that Student Councils can improve academic standards and reduce dropout rates in schools (see 'Moving Forward with Students' Luke Monahan, IAPCE, 1999). Student Councils can create a sense of ownership of the school and its activities among the student population.
The establishment of a Student Council gives students an opportunity to acquire the sort of communication, planning and organisational skills which will be of benefit to them in their future lives. It enables students to take responsibility for projects, and to demonstrate that they can manage and bring such projects to successful conclusion. Moreover, the contribution made by a Student Council to the development of school policy in a number of areas can have significant benefits for students and the school. School policies are far more likely to be successful where they are clearly understood and accepted by all partners within the school community.
The Education Act recognises that students of a school will take the lead role in the establishment and operation of a Student Council, although the Act also provides an important role for the Board of Management in supporting the establishment and ongoing development of the Student Council.
At the end of the day, a Student Council will thrive only if students themselves are committed to the concept and to making it work.
The role of the Student Council
The main role of a Student Council as set out in the Education Act is "to promote the interests of the school and the involvement of students in the affairs of the school, in co-operation with the board, parents and teachers".
A Student Council will set its own objectives, which will vary from school to school. Some general objectives could include:
- To enhance communication between students, management, staff and parents
- To promote an environment conducive to educational and personal development
- To promote friendship and respect among pupils
- To support the management and staff in the development of the school
- To represent the views of the students on matters of general concern to them
A Student Council will identify activities that it would like to be involved in organising, although the final decision on the activities of a Student Council should be agreed with school management.
Key functions of Student Councils
The functions and activities of a Student Council should support the aims and objectives of the Council and promote the development of the school and the welfare of its students. In planning and undertaking activities during the course of the school year, the Council should:
- work closely with school management, teachers and parents,
- consult regularly with students in the school, and
- involve as many students as possible in the activities of the Council.
There is a wide range of activities of benefit to the school community which a Student Council may wish to undertake, some of which are outlined below:
Representing the views of the student body to the school management
This should be one of the fundamental aims of every Council. It involves talking and listening to the student body, considering their views and concerns, and discussing these with the school management on behalf of the students.
Promoting good communications within the school
Improving communication within the school community is a shared responsibility and a Student Council can contribute to this process. Making presentations at staff meetings to keep staff informed of activities, keeping a Student Council notice-board or organising a regular newsletter are just some ways the Council can communicate with the students, school management and staff, and parents.
Supporting the educational development and progress of students
A Student Council can contribute to the learning environment for students in the school by, for example, setting up study groups for students in exam classes or homework clubs, or organising lunchtime activities such as language clubs.
Assisting with induction and/or mentoring for new first year students
Starting secondary school is a challenging new experience for 1st Year students. A mentoring programme where senior students help new students to find their feet can help their integration into the school community.
Contributing to the development of school policy
The Student Council can actively contribute to the development of school policy in a wide range of areas such as bullying, uniform requirements, behaviour code and extra-curricular activities. The Council could form sub-committees to consider individual policy issues, to consult with students, staff and parents on those issues and to represent the Council's views on those issues to school management.
Assisting in school sporting and cultural activities
Student Councils can assist in organising and developing sports and cultural activities within the school, including, for example, sports days and drama or musical events.
Assisting with or organising fund-raising events for charity
Student Councils can organise events both within the school and involving the wider community, for the purposes of raising money for designated charities.
Liaising with Student Councils in other schools
It may be useful for a Student Council to liase with Student Councils in other schools, particularly in the organisation of sporting and cultural activities and when fund-raising for charity. An existing Student Council could have a useful role in helping and advising a newly formed Student Council in another school.
EXTRACT FROM THE EDUCATION ACT, 1998
Information to Students and Student Council
- A board shall establish and maintain procedures for the purposes of informing students in a school of the activities of the school.
- The procedures established and maintained under subsection (1) shall facilitate the involvement of the students in the operation of the school, having regard to the age and experience of the students, in association with their parents and teachers.
- Students of a post-primary school may establish a student council and, without prejudice to the generality of subsection (1), a board of a post-primary school shall encourage the establishment by students of a student council and shall facilitate and give all reasonable assistance to:
(a) students who wish to establish a student council, and
(b) student councils when they have been established.
- A student council shall promote the interests of the school and the involvement of students in the affairs of the school, in co-operation with the board, parents and teachers.
- The rules for the establishment of a student council shall be drawn up by the board, in accordance with such guidelines as may be issued by the Minister from time to time, and such rules may provide for the election of members and the dissolution of a student council.
- A student council, following consultation with the board, may make rules governing its meetings and the business and conduct of its affairs.