Students can meet and plan with students from other schools, either in their local area, or with similar interests. These meetings provide important opportunities for students and their student representative teams to share information and support.
A Cluster is simply a local network – a group of students from student representative teams, or similar, who meet regularly to share information, discuss common concerns and issues, plan joint initiatives and share resources. Clusters can be any size, and are normally geographically based i.e. from schools in the same area. But they can also be linked by a common interest or characteristic.
Clusters can feed directly into decision-making processes, through development of proposals to the VicSRC Congress, reports to the VicSRC Executive, or directly approaching local councils and Ministers of Parliaments about issues affecting the community.
Benefits of Student Clusters
- Get ideas from each other;
- Support each other;
- Reflect together on their processes, successes and difficulties;
- Learn how to improve their operations;
- Develop skills in organisation, leadership and training;
- Develop efficient training.
- Gain information about other schools and about wider education policies;
- Learn about possibilities for student initiatives;
- Influence policy beyond individual schools;
- Enter into local partnerships in education decision-making;
- Provide student representation and voice in networks such as local councils, Local Learning Education Networks etc;
- Share resources;
- Enjoy the challenges and experiences … and have fun!
Frequently Asked Questions
What is a cluster?
A Student Representative or School Cluster is a local network – a group of students from schools who meet regularly to share information, discuss common concerns and issues, plan joint initiatives and share resources. Clusters can be any size, though it is suggested that at least 3 schools should be involved. Clusters should also not be too big as this could limit possibilities for all members getting together.
Clusters are normally geographically based – they are drawn from schools in the same area, where relatively convenient travel arrangements can be made. There are also other reasons for creating Clusters, such as being linked by a common interest or characteristic. However, the shared nature of the Cluster should be one that enables the students to meet regularly.
Clusters provide important opportunities for students to meet and share information and support.
What can a cluster do?
Clusters exist so that students can:
- Get ideas from each other
- Support each other
- Reflect together on student voice and agency processes, successes and difficulties
- Gain information about other schools and about wider education policies
- Collaborate on student initiatives
- Enter into local partnerships in education decision-making
- Provide student representation and voice in local networks such as local councils and Local Learning & Employment Networks (LLENs)
- Share resources
How often should clusters meet?
Clusters meet according to the need of their members, though they should aim to meet regularly – it is suggested that at least once a term is useful. However, this will depend on the location and purposes of the Cluster. In metropolitan areas it will be more possible for Clusters to meet regularly than will be the case in regional or rural areas.
Clusters can also meet and work together virtually using digital platforms such as the Student Voice Hub. VicSRC can set up a private forum for your Cluster on the Student Voice Hub.
Clusters can also meet during school hours or after school, depending on local possibilities. During school hours it will be necessary to meet with the formal approval of the schools and with direct teacher support (including for transport). In some cases, especially in metropolitan areas, Clusters may be able to meet after school hours, with students attending as individuals (using public transport).
Cluster meetings can also vary from one hour to three hours, depending on the business to be conducted, on the location and on the time of day.
Where should clusters meet?
Clusters normally meet at one of the schools involved. Where possible, this venue should be rotated between schools so that students get to see different schools. The school hosting the Cluster meeting might like to show students round the school and provide some refreshments. However, Clusters can also meet at local venues such as council offices or meeting rooms of support organisations. These provide venues that might be more central and neutral. Clusters might decide to share the roles of calling meetings, with the host school chairing the Cluster meeting, and the next host school taking minutes of meetings.
Who can help support a Cluster?
Like individual Student Representative Teams, Clusters are student-run. However, in most cases, students will require some basic support to help them organise a Cluster because they are inter-school.
VicSRC has a series of digital resources to help you initiate and start a Cluster and can set you up on the Student Voice Hub to help your Cluster communicate and collaborate. However, VicSRC does not have the resources to provide full or ongoing support for Clusters. Therefore, the VicSRC seeks local partners who can assist students to organise and facilitate their local Clusters. In practice, this means organising tasks such as:
- Maintaining communication between the participating schools
- Setting dates for meetings and sending out notices
- Organising a venue
- Following up meetings with the circulation of minutes
- Assisting students to convene any other working groups required
It also involves facilitating the actual meetings as required, such as making sure each meeting has an agenda, appointing a meeting chairperson or facilitator and supporting students in their roles.
Most tasks within meetings will be able to be done by students, particularly as the Cluster develops. There may be continuing support needed, the level of which will depend on the group and individual students.
The following local organisations often support Clusters:
- Learning and Employment Networks (LLENs)
- Council Youth Services
In return for support, Clusters can provide a young people’s reference or advisory role to the local organisation.
Steps involved in developing on-going local support are:
- Identify possible organisations for local support.
- If there is appropriate support staff already existing, approach the local organisation and negotiate for allocation of a regular time or work commitment within existing job descriptions.
- If extra staffing is required, work with local groups to apply for local funding to employ a Cluster facilitator and organiser.
Things to watch out for
Clusters and those providing support should be aware of the following possible concerns that may need to be mitigated:
Adults taking over
A Cluster should be student-run; there is a careful line between support and guidance and domination. Some Clusters limit opportunities for non-students to speak when this has proved a particular problem.
The ‘Cluster Club’
A Cluster can become an in-group for a few relatively empowered students, serving to exclude some schools or some students. Clusters should be inclusive and always seeking new people and new schools and thinking about how to engage with a diverse range of students.
Once the initial reasons for meeting as a Cluster have been met, the Cluster may lack a clear purpose for its continuing existence and may not appear to be achieving anything. At least each Cluster meeting should involve sharing school initiatives, identifying issues within specific schools, and asking about whether any of these would benefit from wider discussion and action. Cluster meetings can also be spaces for reporting on state-wide education initiatives and gaining feedback on local or wider system proposals, or even to learn new skills or knowledge by having a speaker or running a workshop.
The same students can be active in Student Representative Teams, student leadership roles, Cluster and state-level roles and become individually overcommitted. Share the roles, with good communication between those students active at different levels.