Case study: St Michael's Grammar School
Student voices challenged the status quo at St Michael’s in 2022. And the school listened. St Michael’s Grammar School was a 2022 Student Voice School of the Year finalist with students building on a powerful grassroots culture - one that fundamentally encourages engaging in social activism and challenging the way things are.
School size: ~1,200 students
School type: independent, kindergarten to Year 12
School location: Metropolitan Melbourne
Connecting students and school decision-making
There is a clear student leadership structure at the school, with many positions with defined responsibilities.
In years Prep - 6 there are elected Community Action and Environmental Action representatives. There are SRC representatives from years 5 to 12. There are school captains drawn from years 6, 9 and 12 and other specific house, sports and arts captains. While individuals are appointed to these positions, there is a clear expectation that they will consult with and advocate on behalf of all students that they represent. Further, the structure of decision-making is sufficiently agile to allow, indeed encourage, contributions from all students, on matters they see as important. And the student leaders took them up on that!
The student leadership team meets regularly with the Head and Deputy Head of the School. The team also worked with the Director of Operations to run school assemblies and bring their visions to life! Student leaders addressed the school on issues affecting students and provided reflections on school decisions. They chaired fortnightly Prefect meetings and SRC meetings and represented the student body at Heads of House and Heads of Faculties meetings. These processes provided avenues through which all students could gain access to school decision-makers. If a student had an issue to raise, they had a channel through which to pursue it, that was defined and supportive.
Student voice was embedded into almost all of the school’s committees this year. While students are also involved in Sustainability Committee, Reconciliation Action Plan Committee and heavily involved in changes to curriculum, here are some of the major projects in 2022:
Uniform Committee: Senior students had become increasingly disgruntled with the gender-specific uniform guidelines that had been in place since the school’s inception. They argued that it failed to reflect the school’s values of diversity and compassion and was alienating for students who identified as non-binary, transgender and gender-fluid, and also that it constrained student’s self-expression. A change of this kind required much consideration, lobbying and diplomacy. Students prepared and delivered presentations to the Head and Deputy Head of the School; the Parents Association; the school’s Uniform Committee, and the uniform manufacturer. While students also presented a range of ways to update the policy including, allowing hair dye, multiple piercings, and school satchels, the most significant change to the Uniform Guidelines was a commitment to gender neutral. In 2022, the policy was updated accordingly, and the school is in the process of consulting students and staff for a complete redesign of the uniform – one which does not delineate on the basis of gender. It was a perfect example of the power of student voice in the school, and students learnt a lot about how to go about affecting change.
Wellbeing Committee: Students on the Wellbeing Committee, with heavy consultation with the SRC, on behalf of the students, wrote their own Student Code of Conduct. At its heart were the values of the school community – dignity, respect, care and compassion, written in language that means something to students.
Student led projects
The 2022 student leaders asked themselves: “How do we re-unite our school community after two years in lockdown?” And “What do students need to feel good about coming to school?.” And led the following projects across the school.
Pronouns: Some technologically gifted students created a mechanism on the school’s IT platform so that students can select their own pronouns and decide how they are referred to at school. They can even choose who can view this: students and staff, or just students.
COVID mural: Students wanted a permanent mural to commemorate the last two years in lockdown and its significance for the school community. A group of students worked with the Head of the School, some wrote a grant application, and now they are in the process of bringing the art to life!
Playground: Returning from lockdown, some younger students wanted a really tall playground, to make school feel more like an adventure. Junior students pitched ideas and colour schemes which embodied their vision of fun and then hosted an opening to thank the people who helped bring their vision to life.
Student Hub: During lockdown students developed the Student Hub as an online forum within the school’s IT platform, run by students for students. Since returning to campus, it has been transformed to become the centre of student voice and connection within the school. The Student Hub includes student polls to vote on school issues; an anonymous feedback form; videos of student activities; a “you can ask that” segment (for students to ask embarrassing questions); a Pride resource centre; a First Nations resource centre; and the most celebrated “song of the day” daily segment. It contains playlists to help with studying; it informs students of cool things going on, and heralds victories and endeavours of students inside and outside school.
Student magazine: The Phoenix was a student produced magazine which collated art, literature, commentary on political events, interviews with teachers, random study tips and jokes from students of all levels.
Student fundraising: The Merry Month of May was a month of student-run activities, raising money for charities in which the students took over the school! Each week students designated a different charity. After much consultation and debate, students addressed issues including justice for First Nations women and girls, climate change and youth leadership, by promoting and financially supporting relevant not-for-profit organisations. The causes and activities were chosen because they were important to the student body across K-12. Every lunchtime students held a new fundraising or awareness activity. Students targeted their actions towards information dissemination, awareness campaigns and raising money. Almost $50,000 was raised in total.
These are just some of the ways in which students used their voice and were heard this year. But ultimately, student voice is just embedded into the school culture.
This year presented as a remarkable moment in time – where students felt like they were returning, having lost a lot through the pandemic. This moment was embraced as an opportunity for progressive and constructive change. In every corner of the school, students were encouraged to be part of shaping the progression…and they seized the moment.
What they’ve learnt - is that once you give students a voice, it is hard to take it away. And who knows what they’ll say next?
This case study is drawn from VicSRC's Student Voice Awards, an annual celebration of best practice student voice, amplifying the important contribution of students to Victorian education and acting as a catalyst for change within Victorian schools.