On Tuesday the 19th of June we had a successful day at Burry Port Primary school launching VocalEyes with staff and pupils. The day started with assembly when the whole school got a chance to see the platform in action. Following this the School Council met to learn how to use the platform.
The School Council has representatives from Years 2-6, (aged 6-11) and they began by learning how to register on VocalEyes. This took a little time but as soon as everyone was signed in the fun began!
The children all relished the opportunity to suggest ideas to improve their school and their wellbeing. Every single child was enthusiastic and keen to comment on their peers’ ideas to indicate whether they agreed (or disagreed!) with the ideas put forward. Once ideas are prioritised the School Council has a clear agenda to take to school management. But for this to be genuinely participatory every child needs to take part and to achieve this the rest of the school needed to be enrolled on the platform.
Over the rest of the day this was achieved. After morning break the School Council visited years 2, 3 and 4, to introduce VocalEyes to each class. The council helped to register their peers on the platform which they had quickly mastered and showed them the ideas they had already added to the platform. Each class enjoyed rating the ideas using the 5* system. The council representatives then showed the pupils how to add ideas of their own and before we knew it the number of ideas were increasing and comments for and against were growing and priorities starting to emerge:
“Many people enjoy sport and it will get people more active”
“I think adding more of a variety of fun areas is a good idea”
(A small sample of comments on the idea ‘More fun areas for Key Stage 2 pupils’.)
After lunch VocalEyes the council moved to years 5 and 6, the oldest pupils in Burry Port Primary School to repeat the process. Once logged in, the young people navigated their way through the platform with ease, needing minimal assistance to rate ideas and add new ones to their growing online community. During this session the school received a visit from school Governors who came in to see the pupils using VocalEyes.
At the end of the day the Burry Port Primary School Students’ page had over 60 ideas, 600 comments and an impressive 3,200 ratings!
The ideas clearly showed that the push to promote healthy lifestyles in Wales has been taken seriously as this was clearly reflected in the children’s thinking. Healthy eating is obviously important to them as they came up with suggestions to improve school dinners by adding vegetarian and vegan options. They also suggested including more fruit at breakfast club and more vegetables into lunchtime meals.
Students also wanted to add more activities to the school day. Following their concerns for children’s health a popular idea was to add more physical activity into their school day. One suggestion was to go to the local swimming pool for swimming lessons. Some pupils suggested staying active by introducing climbing frames into the yard which proved a very popular idea!
During the class sessions teachers were also introduced to their own VocalEyes platform – Staff Voice. This makes Burry Port the first school in Wales to establish a participatory platform for all staff in the school. This will give staff a much better insight into the platform and its benefits for the children as well as themselves.
The day ended the same way it started, in another session with the Student Council where they began the process of analysing the priorities and identifying appropriate actions to progress the ideas. Several actions and “easy wins” became apparent and tasks were assigned to carry them forward.
By the time we left Burry Port Primary School all pupils in years 2-6 were successfully using VocalEyes to support Pupil Voice. We were impressed with the range of ideas they had come up with and all of their comments.
Next on the agenda will be the introduction of Parent Voice in early July. This will allow parents to suggest, debate and prioritise their own ideas for improving the school. Schools often find it challenging to engage with all their parents and it will be interesting to see how many more parents will want to join in the discussions on school improvement.
As Head Teacher, Alison Williams said;
“Current uses of Social Media have not proved to be an ideal mechanism for structured conversations. Parent Voice via the VocalEyes platform will offer a new opportunity for meaningful and action-oriented conversations between parents and between the parents and the school, encouraged by the enthusiasm of the children for VocalEyes.”
From Pupil Voice to Community Voice
A unique aspect of VocalEyes is the opportunity for all pupils, staff and parents to become part of Community Voice as the platform automatically places them into their geographic wards. Through the wards the platform encourages interaction between residents of all ages who can suggest, rate and debate ideas to improve the community. This has the potential to provide local councillors with an agenda for action as priorities emerge. And in the process our young people will learn about local democracy – so essential if Welsh democracy is to thrive.
In so many ways our civic institutions are underdeveloped in Wales and building the necessary civic infrastructure needed for local democracy has not proved easy, A strong community spirit still exists in a lot of Wales and this is often most evident in the support communities give to their local schools. We believe the VocalEyes Community Voice platform could prove an innovative way forward and help to re-mobilise our communities and contribute towards a functioning democracy as all members of the community gain a better understanding of how local government works.
The public education system has an important part to play in increasing citizens’ understanding of the public sphere and developing civic identity. It is not enough to teach our children about Welsh politics; if they are to become responsible voters at 16 we have to start in the primary school. Participatory democracy through the VocalEyes platform is one important way forward.
In this blog we mark another landmark in the journey of VocalEyes and our quest to bring participatory democracy to schools and communities. We are delighted that Burry Port Primary is the first school in Wales to adopt Pupil Voice, Staff Voice, Parent Voice and through these platforms, link to Community Voice in their geographic wards. In this way all members of the community can get involved in the important task of rejuvenating local democracy. Watch this space!
Would you like to implement VocalEyes into your School?
Follow the following link for 10 Steps to Success for Schools..