Council Report for Trinity 2017

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Eight days after completing my final examination, it was time for my final corporation meeting. As a student I was finished with Wilberforce, but as a governor I still had one last job to do.

My report for this term was rather shorter than were most of its predecessors. Whereas a year ago we had spent most of this term fretting about an end of year event (which was originally envisioned as an elaborate outdoor festival, but which after months of deliberation was reduced to a sweet stall at the back of a lunchtime musical performance), this time we had that responsibility lifted from us by the PE department. Their sports presentation evening doubled as the summer ball for the year, which left us as councillors fast running out of business. We were also running out of people.

As the weeks flew by and examinations eclipsed schooling as the primary reason for one to be present at college, we found that attendance steadily declined as councillors devoted time to urgent revision, or found that their examinations clashed with meetings. Before the end of May our president (Sohaib Muhammad) had actually finished his courses altogether and moved to Manchester. With the dawning realisation that our council would go extinct before it was dissolved, the decision was made to prorogue ourselves before the half-term break and not hold any meetings in June.

We did get some things done, though: After the announcement of a general election, we stepped up our efforts to get students registered to vote. Already this had been a project recommended to us, but at that time it seemed the only elections this year would be the local ones – and not even in our area. With Mrs May going to the country (coincidentally the 56th parliament sat last on the same day we resumed our meetings after Easter), this key to democracy took on new-found importance.

I  personally erected several large posters at key positions around the campus with the date of the registration deadline and the web address for the digital service. The college also sent group emails to students to reinforce this, as well making paper registration forms available from the main reception desk. On 18th May we forwent our penultimate plenary in favour of directly handing out such forms to students during the lunch period – although a breakdown in communications meant that this did not quite achieve what we had planned.

At our final meeting before adjourning sine die, we discussed possible measures to improve the effectiveness of the student council for future cohorts. Looking back at the previous two years, it was decided that recruitment should begin early, taking advantage of prospective students appearing at welcome days in June and July. We even floated the idea of setting up a shadow council during the early summer which could then hit the ground running come September. We also suggested to ditch the coordinators and subcommittees which, from our experience, existed only in theory and even then very faintly. There was support for having council meetings scheduled as an enrichment activity, giving it a full hour in a student’s timetable rather than being hastily packed into a lunch break. Finally, I was insistent that it had to be students themselves who did the majority of the talking – for in review of my minutes I found that invariably it was the staff-members who would dominate the dialogue.

I was given a round of applause after my presentation and thanked by the governors for my submissions at this and the previous five meetings. It has been mentioned to me several times that earlier student governors have rarely if ever attended so many corporation meetings during their tenures.

Membership of the student council – and attendance of the corporation – has been one of the defining features of my time at Wilberforce. I can only hope that my successor gets as much out of it as I did.

Council Report for Lent 2017

On Wednesday I made my penultimate appearance before the college corporation to present a report on what the council had done since Christmas. When I do this for the sixth and final time in July, my Wilberforce days will effectively be finished.

We only had one normal meeting in January – the most memorable business being a question about Panini provision in the canteens – the other three were given over to outsiders. One week we were given a lesson on British values, and asked about what we considered to be integral to national identity. In the next we were given safeguard training – our assistant principal Ben Wallis took us through the college’s security procedures and taught us how to identify signs of radicalisation. The month was closed out by a visit from representatives of the University of Hull, who wanted a focus group to review their latest prospectus.

In February Mr Wallis returned to brief us on the Area-Based Review (this I learned at the previous corporation meeting in December but certain information was still classified). Having rejected the incentives offered by the government to convert to academy status, Wilberforce will instead be teaming up with Franklin, Wyke and John Leggott colleges to form a new federation (though I am told there is still a dispute about the name).  We also began planning for a fundraising event for Comic Relief.

At the beginning of March the Council assisted with a voter registration presentation – handing out leaflets instructing students on how to join the electoral rolls. Our major triumph of this term was Red Nose Day, on which our sweet stall and archery competition raised just over a hundred pounds.

Aside from this, the persistent topic of debate during our weekly meetings was the problem of littering and vandalism on campus. In the previous year the litter problem had been far worse – certain communal areas being continually strewn with food waste and discarded packaging – but although the staff had taken measures this year to tackle the problem – repeated offenders being made to clean the college in high-visibility jackets – there were still frequent complaints from students who struggled to find tables not strewn with filth, and some of the boys’ toilets have been closed for months due to heavy damage. Sitting in on one Council meeting, the senior management told us that hand dryers were being kicked off walls, mirrors smashed, pipes bent and drains blocked with severe financial consequences for the college.

I confessed that we could not find any viable solutions beyond what had already been tried. Some councillors suggested greater use of closed circuit television and card scanners on toilet doors, but this was rejected on the grounds of expense (personally I also found the idea rather Orwellian in its implications). What staff (and governors) suggested to us was that students themselves needed to collectively enact a culture shift, and to act quickly when they saw their peers misbehaving. Doubts about this system were immediately apparent: Fundamentally the problem lies with the way that a sixth-form college is constituted in comparison with a school – the “ethos” as my old headmaster would say. Whereas a school environment is highly structured and controlled, with clearly defined boundaries of acceptability and an obvious presence of authority, a sixth-form college is by nature more open and decentralised. The lack of form groups or assemblies means that the didactic approach is unavailable (indeed, distributing any information to the whole student body usually proves an unreliable and cumbersome endeavour), and the resulting lack of any close-knit community, amplified by the high turnover of students from one year to the next as a course only runs for 2-4 years rather than 5-7, means that establishing any values in the collective student consciousness will always be an uphill struggle. The only remaining idea was to have lectures given by the learning progress mentors in the style of those on British values, though we cannot guarantee that sessions would be attended and attention paid.

Following my presentation, I was addressed by another governor, Diana Palmer, with a notice about Brain Tumour Research. She expressed a hope that the council could organise an event at some point in the Trinity term to raise money for this charity. I agreed to move the item at our next meeting – which was yesterday. In our twelfth and final plenary of the Lent term we agreed to stage “Wear A Hat Day” on Friday 12th May.

Our council now prorogues for the Easter holiday, to sit next on Thursday 27th April. Most likely our sessions from then on will be for another end of year event.

Not long left now!

Council Report for Michaelmas 2016

A canteen in darkness

The meeting didn’t last that long, did it?

Today was my last day at college for this year. Next week I shall be in Cambridge, giving an interview of Selwyn College, and after that the Christmas holiday begins. I may not see Wilberforce until January.

This term began for me exactly three months ago on Thursday 8th September. As the student council had dissolved several weeks prior, I had the odd experience of reverting to nothingness for the first few days. This state of affairs, though, was short-lived: I had already been asked to return as Secretary for my second year and my reappointment had near-immediate effect.

Last year the council had a slow start as our convener, Katherine Oldershaw, held an introductory session first and then launched the presidential elections. Only after Thomas Gill had been declared victorious (with Miss Alice Longton as his Vice-President) did the council finally begin on the 10th November. This time, per our requests, we had our first meeting on 22nd September. The fact that we had changed the order of events meant that the council was headless for the first four meetings. Katherine essentially made me the acting leader, including making provisional portfolio appointments and chairing once in her absence. The new members (there were only three continuing presences) were eager to make suggestions for improving the college, in particular putting forth a proposal for a so-called “Holistic Pamper Day” to ease the stress of examinations.

Our first major event was on 6th October, when councillors ran a stall at the college’s Freshers’ fair. This aimed to get more people involved in the council, as well as advertising the presidential election and selling cards for the National Union of Students. The election itself was done by email, with polls open from 17th to 21st October. The winner was Mr Sohaib Muhammad, while the runner up (who then became Vice-President) was Miss Reham Bela.

On 4th November, The Lord Norton of Louth gave his speech. My report on the event made its way to Gina Page, Assistant Private Secretary at the Lord Speaker’s Office, who seemed rather impressed.

On 10th November the council’s scheduled meeting was replaced by a session with Tim Blackburn, who wished to advertise to us the Seeds of Change programme. He suggested that students form a company (his preferred form was the worker co-operative, and he gave us pamphlets to this effect) to sell the produce grown on college grounds, in particular concentrating on pizzas with college-grown toppings. He also showed us the kinds of things which could have been bought with the profits, such as outdoor shelters or new furniture.

I was not present for the Children in Need events of 18th November, but reports said that the council had collectively raised £70 for its part. At our meeting on 1st December we debated whether to go ahead or not with the Seeds of Change proposal. Ultimately we decided to put out a student survey on the matter to gauge the general level of interest. A councillor also requested a survey on how to deal with lunchtime queueing (this issue has been a perpetual bug). It was at this meeting that I and the president were formally invited to the meeting of the corporation.

This was to be Muhammad’s first such meeting and my fourth, though it was my first time as a full member. The corporation (which might as well be called the board of governors) contains two student members. The President of the Student Council is automatically one of these, with the other post being open for any councillor to take. All members of the council are additionally allowed to attend corporation meetings as observer status, as I did (the second governorship having gone to Vice-President Longton, though she never actually attended).

The meeting lasted from 16:30 to 19:00. Ordinarily the Student Council section was done first, and the students were not obligated to remain afterwards (indeed I have several times seen other governors disappear midway through sessions). This time, however, our presentation was buried deep in the agenda. A knock-on effect of this was that our gubernatorial appointments did not formally take place until about an hour into the meeting, which also meant that we were not actually allowed to read some of the key documentation for the first stretch. The report was well appreciated, and the governors offered to publish it on-line with the rest of the minutes.

The next day I minuted my final plenary of this term. It was mostly centred around Christmas celebrations, though we also had some notices from the Hull Student Forum (which we largely rejected as spam) and from the United Kingdom Youth Parliament. We also, naturally, recounted a summary of the preceding day’s corporation meeting. On unusual development was that Katherine presented me with an information pack from the House of Lords, containing six booklets and a mouse-pad. Apparently, it was sent following their reception of my report on Professor Norton’s visit. I am still unsure as to how I should respond to this, except with the realisation that the council has no policy on official gifts.

Since I shall be absent for the meeting next week (if, indeed, there is one at all) I shall have to temporarily appoint an under-secretary to whom to discharge my responsibilities. The show, after all, must go on, and someone must ensure it is properly transcribed.

Council Report for Lent 2016

From 16:30 to 18:50 on Wednesday 23rd March I made my second appearance as an observer on the Corporation of Wilberforce Sixth Form College.

This time the council president was absent for reasons he was reluctant to explain the next day, so I delivered the Student Council’s report by myself, telling of the council’s activities since returning from Christmas.

On February 9th several of our number formed an interview panel for the position of Assistant Principal, which eventually went to the Director of STEM, Dr Karen Ashman.

Our biggest workload came on Tuesday 22nd March when we launched the Tour de Wilberforce – a fundraising event in which students and staff alike were encouraged to take turns riding exercise bikes. Together, they covered a distance equivalent to the entire Tour de Yorkshire cycling challenge.

On the same day, the college welcomed The Most Reverend and Right Honourable Doctor John Sentamu. He gave an interview to a group of students as part of his pilgrimage of prayer. We were told of how God must make himself known, how the name of marriage would not solve the problems faced by sexual minorities, how religion is so often contrived as an excuse for war and how the traditions of the first century prevented the consecration of women in the twentieth.

At the corporation meeting, the subject of a great deal of debate was the prospect of academisation. A gathering storm since 2010, this is the process by which a comprehensive school would be removed from the control of the local authorities and funded directly by the Department for Education and the faculty would be given much greater freedom in setting term lengths, opening hours and curricula. Already more than half of comprehensive secondary schools have been academised, and in the Autumn Statement 2015 (which came shortly before the previous corporation meeting) the Chancellor announced that the option was to be extended to sixth form colleges as well. Following the Budget Statement 2016 it became an inevitability that Wilberforce will convert to academy status by 2022. We therefore were led to discuss potential other institutions with whom a Multi-Academy Trust might be formed, namely Wyke or Hull College, as well as potentially Franklin. I was assured upon querying the matter that academy status would not cause any changes that would be noticeable to students who were outside of the corporation meetings.

The next meeting is likely to be sometime in late June. Before then, the college is to stage a mock referendum on Britain’s potential exit from the European Union. ITV Calendar have agreed to host a televised debate on the issue, with a number of politicians visiting the college. So far the only confirmed attendee is the honourable member for Kingston-upon-Hull North, Diana Johnson (shadow Foreign & Commonwealth minister).