Case studies

Your school may already have given students a big say in how money is spent in your school. You might have had the school council choose your new playground equipment, or got the whole school to vote on the chairs for your new building, if so you could already be at 1%. We’d love to hear how your student voice comes through in how you spend your school’s money.

This is the story of one school that went through a full participatory budgeting process …

Stramongate Primary School Participatory Budgeting programme 2009/2010

Stramongate is a community primary school in Kendal, Cumbria, with 400 pupils from ages 4-11. Following an approach from the PB Unit in 2009, the school agreed to try a participatory budgeting (PB) process using its own school budget.

Pupils playing a trust game

Trust is a very important part of school life. What would happen if you trusted students with just 1% of your budget?

After an initial planning meetings during the 2008/9 school year, in October 2009 the Stramongate PB project kicked off with a meeting between the head, deputy head, the school business manager and Peter Bryant (a parent at the school, PB Unit associate and participation expert). The aim was to examine the school budget line by line and identify potential areas for young people to influence. This meeting quickly identified over £1000 in the current financial year in budgets to support improvements to outdoor play. With a potential, it was felt by those involved, to increase this to around £20,000 a year in future years from school maintenance and outdoor play budgets.

The next step was a presentation to the whole school during assembly with an opportunity for each class to nominate up to 2 pupils to join a ‘budget buster’ team. It was agreed the budget busters could be released from their normal timetable commitments to support the project. Over the course of the project there developed a core group of 10-15 committed ‘budget busters’.

Following the assembly the budget busters met a number of times with Peter to develop their team working skills, consider the play needs of their peers and discuss the aims of the programme. This involved the budget busters undertaking primary research such as observing playtime activities. There was also discussion on different consultation techniques they could use, as well as developing a mapping exercise and general brainstorming sessions. A map of the school grounds with illustrative photographs was developed.

Pupils in discussion together

Participatory budgeting is more than just getting people to vote on options, they need to explore the issue and come up with suggestions themselves.

Then groups of pupils joined the budget busters for 30 minute consultation sessions where comments and suggestions were added to the map about how outdoor areas of the school were being used. Approximately 60% of all pupils were involved at this stage. Pupils were asked how they used the outdoor space, what they noticed had changed recently, or should change, and what they liked or disliked about current facilities. Comments were submitted verbally, onto the map as comments and via drawings done by pupils. This collected a large amount of information to inform the next stage of the process.

At subsequent sessions Peter and the Budget buster team reviewed the information gathered, looked at possible play equipment online and developed a shortlist of ideas for how to spend the budget they had been given.

Peter then met with the deputy head to review the selection, which included looking at relative costs, health and safety issues and other ‘technical’ concerns.
The chosen options were put into a simple powerpoint presentation that could be shown by teachers in class sessions to all pupils at the school. Paper voting slips were issued, pupils voted for the ideas they liked most and returned their slips. Over 300 pupils (75% of the school) voted on which projects to choose. The votes were then counted and the winning ideas announced at a final school assembly just before the end of the summer term.

In early September 2010, the Deputy Head ordered boxes of new playtime games and football nets for the children. These arrived and were duly presented to the School at assembly. They are now being used to improve playtimes for the children. Observations of playtimes show increased activity levels and also additional, unplanned learning outcomes such as improved turn taking, team working and motor skill development. Also wider discussions are taking place about how ‘we’ (the school authorities and the young people) look after our new school property.


A clear school need to improve outdoor play was identified, targeted and solved. The process was based on excellent community development/citizenship principles. It was a well designed and well delivered process with wide reach throughout the school body. A very inclusive model where all were kept informed and involved at their own level. Pupils developed new leadership and presentation skills, with lots of cross curricular learning opportunities too, in terms of maths, geography and science.

Pupils working together

Participatory budgeting doesn't need to be time out of the currciulum, as it helps build literacy and numeracy.

Lots of information was gathered that could inform the schools wider outdoor space strategies. The comments collected by the budget busters (and collated by Peter Bryant) and the class voting results gives a detailed analysis of who voted for what (in terms of age group and gender). The accompanying comments provided a lot of detail not only about pupil preferences but also about specific issues and problems facing pupils when using outdoor spaces at the school.

Relationships and respect between classes and between pupils in different years improved. Listening, appreciative enquiry, research and other skills were developed, along with real citizenship outcomes. Pupils were learning about consultation, decision making, responding to needs and considering the importance of listening to other points of view.


Being a new pilot it was intensive to run, especially in terms of Peter’s facilitation and administration time. Counting and analysing the votes took a whole evening, on top of the face to face sessions requiring preparation time.

Finding time within the school calendar (e.g. time in assemblies) was also a problem. The project relied heavily on Peter and the Deputy head to keep driving the process. It could have fallen apart easily without their leadership.

The project went on too long, partly through a lack of resource to support the process. As it ran into the summer holidays there was little opportunity to evaluate, and so it lost momentum for the second year. A rush to complete towards the end of the year meant a sense of relief when it was over rather than a sense of renewed energy.

Need to think earlier about scaling up in future years. The first year money was too limited to achieve much, so the energy put in did not match the outcomes, unless you also factor in the wider learning benefits described above.

Learning points

  • Facilitation and ownership of the process needed to be more ‘in-house’, with class teachers taking a greater lead on the work where-ever possible. Teachers need to be supported to be pro-active. For enabling that we could…
  • Develop a ‘toolkit’ or resource pack so more work could be done in-house.
  • Be more ambitious with the initial funding. This would encourage more interest, particularly from teachers, and allow for greater outcomes and benefits for pupils.
  • Shorten the programme to complete the main pupil engagement within one or two terms, leaving time for teachers to evaluate and plan for the following year. Timetabling for an early completion would help pupils to see the process delivering too, as they wouldn’t have to wait over the long summer to see the results.
  • More thought given to capturing positive learning outcomes that show the ‘added value’ from this kind of way of working.
  • Get outside agencies such as your local Council involved at the beginning. Kendal Town Council were interested when they heard about the project and more connections could have taken the project to further heights.