What is diversity and inclusion at school?

Diversity means including everyone from all backgrounds, abilities, genders, sexual orientations, or religions: diversity recognises and embraces the differences between us.

As teachers, you know the importance of diversity and inclusion in schools. Not only does it support pupil mental health and wellbeing as part of whole school mental health, but it also helps to create a more positive and supportive environment for all pupils.

One way to improve diversity and inclusion in schools is to listen to the voice of your pupils in the way you develop and lead your school culture. Pupil voice is also essential in ensuring that all pupils feel heard and valued. Child-led initiatives help to empower pupils and make them feel like they belong. When students feel like they belong, they are more likely to succeed. Improving diversity and inclusion in schools is therefore essential in supporting pupil mental health and wellbeing.

What is diversity in student or pupil voice?

Diversity in student or pupil voice is about ensuring a range of voices is heard which reflects the wider school community, not just listening to the confident students or the students in the top sets or the students whose parents have encouraged them to go for school council. In a large school or college there are so many individual voices it can be hard to listen to them all but there are ways of ensuring all children and young people are listened to and included – ways of adapting processes to make this happen and empowering all young people to be an active part of their school or college.

Schools are a community, and the diversity of a school reflects the diversity of the wider community. For too long voices from only a narrow sector of society were heard above others. That is changing, society is changing, and schools have many different inclusive practices, but still there are marginalised groups within society and still groups of children and young people within schools and colleges whose voices are not often heard.

Positive education is based on the premise that schools should be places where students cultivate strengths, virtues and social and emotional competencies as well as achieving academically. It's about the individual, not about the individual's grades.

Ensuring a diverse and inclusive range of pupil voices are heard

For society to progress, for schools to progress there needs to be a shift away from being judged purely on academic success. Positive education is holistic. Based on positive psychology it seeks to improve the wellbeing of all young people and protect mental health, reducing risk of mental illness now and later in life.

Being listened to, really listened to makes everyone feel valued. The fact that someone has taken the time to listen to what a young person has to say, has thought about it, and discussed their thoughts and feeling with them and involved the young person in decision-making gives not only ownership to the child or young person, but a sense of pride, a deeper connection to the school or college and increased confidence in their own capabilities.

Student and pupil voice empowers all

Student and pupil voice is the input of all students in a school or college, allowing students and pupils to have a say in what is happening within their educational setting. After all, it is the students and pupils it is happening to.

Schools, by the very nature of the way they work should be inclusive, but when we're seeking pupils and students to represent the views of the wider student body, for example when choosing pupils or students from each class or year group to be part of a student council or charity committee, how do you ensure diversity? How do you ensure that the voice of all students will be heard?

Often, when pupils and students are being picked to represent their classmates, a voting system is used, sometimes all students can be part of this or sometimes it's just about students who put themselves forward and this, of course, takes confidence. Often, with pupil and student votes, it is the popular children who are voted in, but where does that leave the quieter students or the ones who perhaps feel they are never noticed or that their voices are never heard?  

How can you ensure diversity in student voice?  

How does your school and college manage this? Do you have mechanisms for choosing students and pupils for your student council that ensure the voice of autistic children is heard? That the voice of young carers, who may need to miss more school than their peers because of their caring duties, is heard? That the voice of LBGTQ+ students is heard? The voice of the quiet shy students who might not be confident enough to put themselves forward or popular enough to be voted in even if they did?

Student and pupil voice for wellbeing in schools

The theme of Children's Mental Health Week 2024 is 'My Voice Matters'. Promoting children and young people's voice is something we have been specialising in for 12 years.

Worth-it is a positive education company – we've created our Wellbeing Ambassadors Programme to train young people to be the ambassadors of change in terms of how mental health issues are discussed and how good mental health and wellbeing are promoted and supported in their school or college. It's a flexible programme and we provide all resources required to train a staff member (or members) in the coaching skills required to train a group of students to lead change in their school.

The programme is an early intervention and works to build strengths and coping mechanisms in young people to increase resilience and be better able to deal with life's stresses whether they be at home or at school. Some schools or colleges might choose a group of young carers to be their Wellbeing Ambassadors, or perhaps students with learning difficulties or may encourage LGBTQ+ students to participate or identify a range of students to work together in a group to represent the diversity of the school or college. Being a Wellbeing Ambassador is not only a positive experience for the ambassadors, but for the peers they support and the whole school community.

At Worth-it we believe in a voice for all pupils and students, and all our workshops and products have been designed in collaboration with young people. Our whole school approach to mental health is a system we've created to support staff and students in embedding strategies to protect mental health within a school or college. Part of the programme discusses how best to ensure diversity in student voice, so all pupils and students are being heard and they know their views are being listened to.

Go to our Wellbeing Ambassadors Programme page to find more about how Worth-it can support you to support and empower your young people and ensure a range of voices are heard which reflect the diversity of the pupils and students in your school or college community. Learn more about voice led peer support by accessing our Free Wellbeing Ambassadors Cheatsheet or free introductory webinar.

Training for Mental Health Leads to Develop Pupil Voice

Our DfE assured Wellbeing Club has been developed to train and support senior mental health leads in all aspects of developing and embedding whole school wellbeing and positive mental health. Working through the SMHL Wellbeing Pathway Course which is part of Wellbeing Club provides access to training, tools and activities to develop pupil voice in your school. This includes enabling student and pupil voice and ensuring that a diverse range of voices are heard.

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