A vision for student representation in education

William Sandral shares his ideas for students to be given representation in education decision-making.

Four students smile as they stand in a line next to each other. Two male students, one female student and a third male. The students are wearing school uniform blazers in colours of black, navy and blue.
Image: William Sandral (left) with fellow DOVES student council members Yousef Nabizadeh, Szonja Dobras and Ned Graham, following their presentation to the department's Executive Leadership Committee.

The first conversations I had with my fellow DOVES student council members were frustrated. Our time before working with the department was spent criticising it; everything wrong with schools was, as far as we could see, the fault of the people who ran it. Who else could we blame?

Of course, that mindset flipped when we realised how unhelpful it was. Especially after I saw the work and effort that’s put in at the department every day throughout my work experience, I realised that we all want the same thing: the best possible education for kids throughout NSW.

The problem is that as students, we knew very little about how the department actually functioned. As far as I was concerned, anyone senior to a principal was some abstract force, that I’d be just as likely to pray to as to contact.

The same problem applies in the other direction. There has never been the same level of department consultation with students as there has been with teachers, principals and parents. Despite students being the entire purpose of schools, and a crucial source of knowledge about how they perform, students have been left out of the conversation. This is changing, however, with the creation of DOVES.

What is my vision for student representation in education?

It comes down to the idea of student-partnership versus mere student voice. Students don’t just want to be consulted on a survey or two and then left to wait for the headlines. We experience complex and varied issues, and we are perfectly capable of expressing them when given the chance. And not only expressing them, but working with the department to blueprint real solutions.

We need a seat at the table—not just the kids’ table either—an actual seat at the table where we can inform decisions that impact on what our reality will look like for the next six or seven years.

Students and the department are not opposed, but we aren’t united yet either. This has only been the first year of the DOVES Council’s operation, and we’re already spreading our ideas across the department. We’ve spoken at the Executive Leadership Group meeting, and consulted with NESA; we’ve had numerous meetings with the Minister and some with the Secretary; we’ve been able to advise on a range of issues, not least their COVID-19 response and how it’s affecting students. I can already see how enthusiastic the people working for the department have been when I’ve spoken to them about our vision.

What I want to see DOVES become is a fluid and functional connection point between the department, and the whole student body. We want to become an integral part of the system— and we’re off to a good start. I have high hopes for this initiative, and I hope everyone at the department does too. We all deserve a say, and I can’t wait to see how close we come to achieving that.

The author

William Sandral is Chair of the DOVES Minister's Student Council.

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