Toolkit of GOOD PRACTICES on Citizen Participation!


Common Students Council


Country: Denmark

Context

Denmark has a long tradition of getting together in associations. Both to meet with someone who has the same interests as yourself, and as a way to gain more influence on topics you are interested in. For example: at many Danish workplaces, employees have a shop steward/employee representative who is democratically elected to speak with the management on behalf of the employees. In schools, the student council is elected to speak on behalf of all pupils with the school’s administration and board, where the student council is also represented.

It is not a legal requirement for a school to have a student council, although it is definitely a good idea. If the school has grade levels 5 or higher, students have the right to form a student council according to the Primary Schools Act. The school leader is committed to encourage students to form a student council, if students do not take the initiative by themselves.
When establishing a student council in the school, representatives should also be represented in the school board.
A Student Council is an independent body that is free to decide how to work and what to work for in their area/schools. The Council exists to express students’ views to the school board and across the school’s management, thereby ensuring that students' interests are safeguarded.

“Schools are responsible for preparing pupils for active citizenship, joint responsibility, rights and duties in a society based on freedom and democracy. The school's activities must thus be characterized by intellectual liberty, equality and democracy.”
Such declaration is included in the mission’s statement of the public school system, which describes how everyday life at school is, and what topics are important in daily teaching.
It sounds complex - but essentially a well-functioning student council can help ensure that ideas actually become reality. Because it is through the student council that pupils may change the school day - if teachers, school principal, school board and also politicians take students seriously.
It is in the student council that one can learn how democracy works in practice. A good idea before the start of a new school year is that the members of the student council set up goals related to what they think student democracy means at their specific school.
They could be, for example:
The student council will be attractive for students
The student council will be respected by students, teachers and school management
The school will form independent children and young people who will express their stance
For a student council to function at its best, the most important thing is that all pupils know what the student council is doing - and not only the pupils who are part of the student council.

Measure

The Common Student Council aims to represent all students in a municipality. It is the students’ voice at the municipality level, expressed to local politicians, local officials, and the press. Furthermore, it is the council’s job to focus on and develop student democracy in the municipality in a positive way. This can be done by actively participating in political work in schools, for example by submitting responses, through debates e.g. with politicians or read letters and by doing various activities e.g. setting focus on an issue in the municipality.
Councils work to ensure a good school life for all students at Danish primary, public, private, independent  schools. It is a collaboration that requires commitment, setting of priorities and will.

A common student council was established in Vejle in 2008.
Its goal is:
      to represent the students of the Municipality of Vejle in issues that can be resolved only at the municipal level and be a partner for the local student councils in Vejle in situations where they want an exchange of experience or help
      to work for the education policy interests of students in Vejle
      to empower students in the municipality, as well as to promote and enhance student democracy
The council works on a democratic basis and works independently from political interests

Target Group

According to the statutes of the organization “Danish Pupils” it is the individual student council in the schools of a municipality that joins the common student council. The goal of each student council signing up for membership is to ensure the representation of the individual pupil at the school, in the municipality and nationwide.
All common student councils have the right to and must have a contact person within the municipality. Such contact is very important for the common student council and developing a good working relationship with them is a fundamental achievement. The contact is a coach to help common student council members. They can help with many of the practical tasks e.g. find facilities, give help and guidance on finances and ensure that there is continuity when new members join the common student council. It is someone they can rely on for help them with the things they might not master. It is important to remember that it is the common student council representatives that make decisions within the council, and not the local contact.
The most common thing for a joint student council is to form an executive committee, consisting of chairman, vice chairman, secretary and treasurer.
The common student council is composed of eight elected members from schools in Vejle. All members have the right to speak and vote. Other three students are selected alternates in case of need. The Presidency can be chosen among all common student council representatives, and can made up of either two Presidents or a Chairman and a Vice Chairman. The Presidency deals with the duties and responsibilities relating to Vejle’s common student council. It has the opportunity to delegate its tasks and duties to the ordinary members of Vejle’s common student council. This delegation may be withdrawn at any time. The President is the public face of the council, and the only one who can speak on behalf of it. All common student council representatives are unpaid.

Methodology

The initiatives of the council are often to speak about students' cases in different adult forums, but a good initiative was last year's theme day where the local school student council’s President / Vice-President were invited to a workshop to discuss their experience and thoughts about the coming school reform. It will be followed up this year by a theme day where the school reform will continue to be one of the focal points. Other important matters are visibility and cooperation with local school councils.
By involving students into local democracy the municipality achieves not only democratic education of students, but also ensures improved well-being and happier students who feel owners of their education and local communities.
A good relationship is very important in common student councils. In order for it to function optimally, it is important to be able to talk freely and make room for each other. In the common student council it is also very important to cooperate, for through good cooperation more opinions, views and perspectives will be expressed, therefore the council will perform better and will provide more thorough and well-prepared projects. If you manage to make work fun, you will also have more desire to work, thus ensuring greater engagement and motivation.
Good cooperation also means managing to use everyone's different skills. It is like a clock: in order for it to function, all gears have to work together. All parts are important. You cannot run a campaign without attractive banners or articulate flyers.
Events should be characterized by good cooperation and various activities on offer - a good start to the school year is, for example, the Harvest Festival, which is always held on the second Saturday of September.
Goal of the event:
students, siblings, parents, grandparents and staff meet at the school in a friendly manner
Time and Place:
The event is held at one school during one day
Contents:
Each year arranges their own activities, though both year 8 and 9 are in charge with the sale of coffee, cake, beer, water, food, etc.
It is a good idea to base activities on education, and creativity and innovation are welcome
The student council proposes how to use the profits from the event.

Stakeholders

A good project for a common student council can be for example:
           To write a letter to the municipality about school closures or lack of alternative education
           To hold a meeting with the municipal school chief on the situation in the schools in the municipality or hold a conference for school stakeholders on e.g. the school of the future
           To perform a Danish schoolchildren activity package e.g. "Democrat Today" or "Bio consultation about the good school life"
The common Student Council's primary task is to deal with the different things that happen in schools in the municipality. Within this framework, they can mostly choose to work with what they think is interesting and important. Therefore, it is also a good idea to make an expectations clarification from the start. What kind of common student council you have, and what you want to achieve. From there on it is much easier to find out what projects you want to deal with. It would be equally good to make an overall annual plan (when you work with what in the next school year) a 2-month plan (a little more specific with the distribution of tasks between the students) and action plans for the individual projects.
Student council meetings need not be long and boring, and although there might be disagreements, here are not necessarily big arguments at the meeting. One must listen to the other members of the council, respect the moderator, and always go to a meeting with a positive attitude.
It is also important that all members of the student council come prepared for the meeting, and have talked to their classes/local school councils about the things to be spoken about at the meeting. The best way to ensure this is by sending out an agenda for the meeting, for example, five days before the meeting starts.

Assessment

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Impact

The common student council works successfully and has a good input on many matters directly related to everyday life in public schools of Vejle. It gives students a sense of being included in the decision-making process.

Swot

1. Strengths (characteristics of the measure that give it an advantage over others):

Student involvement
The initiative is without direct costs, only needs time from municipal officials to coordinate
The output and inclusion is very high compared to what is needed

2. Weaknesses (characteristics that place the measure at a disadvantage relative to others)

The initiative needs highly involved and engaged pupils to make it run successfully. Also it is necessary to follow basic democratic rules

3. Opportunities (elements that the measure could exploit to its advantage):

Student councils are very common in schools. Adding the layer above at municipality level with a common student council is a relatively easy step

4. Threats (elements in the environment that could cause trouble for the measure):

The municipal level needs to be open to the suggestions and comments the council makes. Or else students do not feel involved and the structure may dissolve

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