Pupil wellbeing and pupil voice

Last week was Children’s Mental Health Week (5-11 February 2024) and the theme this year was ‘My Voice Matters’. The event is run and organised by the children’s mental health charity Place2Be, and the theme focuses on encouraging children and young people to feel confident that they can express themselves.

The charity says that allowing young people to speak up has a positive impact on wellbeing and that children who feel that their voices are heard are more connected to their communities, which can raise their self-esteem. Demonstrating to young people that their views and experiences matter improves their sense of belonging and helps them feel like valued members of the school community. It promotes feelings of empowerment and agency and is a vital way to understand and meet the needs of pupils. It also means that wellbeing initiatives are more likely to become part of the fabric of school life.

In practice, achieving this requires more than handing out surveys designed by adults once a term. It also means going further than just asking the ‘usual suspects’ for their opinions. Rather, there are many ways for all children’s and young people’s voices to be heard when they feel they need to express something. Taking a whole school approach and championing a culture of openness and dialogue around mental health and wellbeing is the foundation to creating an environment in which children are empowered to speak. The opportunities at Northampton High for inviting and hearing pupil voice are numerous and woven through every aspect of the school.

Firstly, and fundamentally, the ethos of the school supports the importance of pupil voice, as pupils are known as individuals, are personally supported in their educational and pastoral journey through school, and every pupil has the opportunity to be heard, on any topic, every day.

We have a structured, sustainable approach: Meaningful pupil voice initiative is more than just a one-off event or meeting; it’s a sustainable process that’s integrated into the school’s culture. This requires a structured approach, with clearly defined processes and regular opportunities for students to express their thoughts and ideas.

Our school is organisationally structured in a way to provide dedicated and focused support to pupils – from the class teacher and form tutor structures to the Heads of Year roles, from the Wellbeing Practitioner, Mrs Giordano (fondly known as Mrs G) to the School Nurse, Mrs Dunkley, and Nurse Assistant, Mrs Brown, there are adults in school with expertise to support the mental health and wellbeing of all students. Throughout Children’s Mental Health Week, the team delivered assemblies, drop in sessions, visits from The Lowdown, a local mental health charity providing free and confidential support services for 11-25 year olds in Northamptonshire; there have been lunchtime ‘walk and talk’ mentoring sessions, opportunities to express feelings of wellbeing via an anonymous sticky note collage, and much more.

Inclusivity is key and is at the heart of meaningful pupil voice. Every student, regardless of background, should have equal opportunities to be involved and express their views.

Pupils’ views and insights are invited and considered in a plethora of ways in the day to day of school life. Just a few examples are as follows: Learning Ambassadors take on research and feed back their findings on the curriculum and the teaching and learning practice in the classroom. School Council members meet fortnightly,  representing their classes and forms to discuss issues students are facing, ably led by a member of the Student Senior Leadership Team (SSLT). Eco Team members from across the age groups discuss sustainability initiatives and look to make a difference on the immediate and wider environment. The School Lunch Committee discusses menu choices and food preferences. A new student group of ‘Undivided Champions’ has been established this academic year, comprising representatives from every form group in the Senior School to discuss issues and themes around diversity and inclusion, again led by a dedicated member of the SSLT.

The first meeting of the Undivided Champions last week was inspiring. Students introduced themselves, and then quickly opened up to explore and discuss diversity and inclusion-related issues close to their hearts – expressing a desire to learn more about neurodiversity, an enthusiasm to build on the annual Cultures Day in the summer, raising stress management around exams and academic validation, requesting a permanent venue for prayer and quiet contemplation – just some of the themes voiced. Rich insights into the topics that matter to them as individuals and to their peers.

By keeping student voice at the heart of the school community, we not only keep pupil wellbeing central to life in school, we contribute to:

  • an improved sense of belonging and community in the school
  • an improved sense of identity for students
  • developing students’ confidence and self-esteem
  • providing a safe space for students to share lived experiences, and
  • identifying issues or specific students who are having difficulties and who may need further support

Why is creating a sense of belonging important? Research shows ‘a sense of belonging’ is important for pupils’ learning, wellbeing and behaviour. Pupils who have a ‘sense of belonging’ in schools tend to be happier, more confident and perform better academically according to research by UCL Institute of Education (IOE).

It is associated with academic success and motivation. There is much research to back this up; research indicates a sense of belonging is positively associated with academic success and motivation (Freeman, Anderman and Jensen 2007). Students who feel they belong are more likely to see the value of required work and have higher self-belief in their chances to succeed on their course (Verschelden 2017). Becker and Luthar (2002) found this is especially important for the performance of adolescents coming from ethnic minority and lower socioeconomic backgrounds. It affects students’ wellbeing: Empirical studies have linked perceptions of school and belonging to positive psychological outcomes, including positive emotions, feelings of self-worth and social acceptance (Pittman and Richmond 2007, Wilson et al. 2015). More broadly, Maslow (1968) found that proper, adequate and timely satisfaction of the need for belonging leads to physical, emotional, behavioural and mental wellbeing.

Belonging is the sense of being somewhere you can be confident that you will fit in and feel safe in who you are. Strategies to create a sense of belonging in school can be shown to be linked to: increased student motivation, improved academic achievement;  reductions in student absenteeism; increased staff wellbeing and motivation and other positive social outcomes including health and wellbeing. The study also concludes that where schools are places of belonging, the benefits are far reaching for staff, as well as students.

In UCL’s IOE research, “The emphasis is on relationships. Interventions are purposeful. The aim is to create a sense of place, belonging and agency. We found that intentional whole-school practice can help create a climate of welcome and belonging in school for all.”

For the past four years, we have gathered insights from students in Year 5 to Year 13 in the ‘Undivided Student Survey’ which asks pupils about their views on the school in six distinct areas:

  1. ‘Me’ – about belonging, respect around the culture, faith and background of the pupil;
    2. ‘My peers’ – about belonging to peer groups and having someone to spend time with;
    3. Teachers and staff – positive role models, approaching teachers for help, adapting lessons to pupils with different learning styles;
    4. ‘My school’ – equality of backgrounds and beliefs, value and opportunity for pupil voice and actions from pupil voice;
    5. Making a difference – supporting diversity and inclusion in the school community; 6. ‘Your experience’ – understanding of the personal impact of school’s culture and the student experience

This year’s survey was concluded this week (12 February), and we aimed to reach (or exceed) the 75% response rate of 2023’s survey. Last year’s results were heartening, and reflected the importance we, as a school, place on developing and maintaining an inclusive and equitable community, with pupil voice at its heart. The highest scoring questions in 2023 were,

  • ‘I feel accepted at my school’
  • ‘When  I think about the students at my school, they come from a variety of backgrounds’
  • I feel that my culture faith and background are respected in school’
  • ‘I feel that my culture, faith and beliefs are valued equally in my school’
  • ‘Pupils come up with creative ideas and solutions to problems’

This year’s results will be shared with us next month, and we look forward to hearing the outcomes. Every pupil at Northampton High has a voice and is heard; pupil voice is central to our pupils’ wellbeing and sense of belonging, and sits at the core of our school ethos, our practice and our actions.


ETS Student Undivided Survey findings, 2023
Every Voice Matters, Confidence through competence, Imogen Barber, 6 February 2024
What (actually) is Meaningful Pupil Voice? Smart Schools Councils, Greg Sanderson, 13 February 2023
Pupil voice, Anna Freud Mentally Healthy Schools, 2023
Research shows ‘a sense of belonging’ is important for pupils’ learning and behaviour, UCL IOE – Faculty of Education and Society, 24 November 2020
How well do we listen? My Voice Matters, Place2Be, February 2024

Mrs Wilmot
Director of Marketing & Admissions