Saturday, 15 November 2008

5-year-olds to tell teachers how to teach

The Daily Mail reports that children as young as five will win the legal right to tell teachers how they should be taught and disciplined for bad behaviour, it emerged today. Pupils will be handed an unprecedented say in the running of their schools - from the uniforms they wear to the meals they eat.

But the proposed new duty on school governors to 'invite and consider' children's views drew an angry backlash from teachers' leaders who claimed it would be 'open to abuse'. Ministers have also been warned that schools will be vulnerable to lawsuits brought by parents who claim their children have not been properly consulted.

The row erupted after the Government this week accepted an amendment to an education Bill currently progressing through Parliament. The Liberal Democrats tabled the amendment after a Ofsted survey suggested a third of pupils do not believe they are properly listened to by their schools.

Regulations detailing what schools must ask pupils about have yet to be drawn up but ministers hinted in Parliament they would be wide-ranging. In the House of Lords, Children's Minister Baroness Morgan said: 'As a minimum, schools should seek and take account of pupils' views on policies on the delivery of the curriculum, behaviour, the uniform, school food, health and safety, equalities and sustainability, not simply on what colour to paint the walls.'

Ministers have already issued guidance to schools saying pupils can have a role in recruiting staff and observe lessons to give feedback on how well they believe they are being taught.

But critics complained the advice was akin to 'the lunatics taking over the asylum'. Yesterday Chris Keates, general secretary of the NASUWT teaching union, criticised the planned legal duty as 'unnecessary' and warned it would undermine teachers' authority, driving them out of the classroom. She said some schools were already allowing groups of pupils to stand at the back of classes observing lessons without the teacher's agreement and to sit on interview panels for new staff. And she was aware of a recent case where a teacher had gone for a job only to find she was subjected to a 'speed dating'-style interview, which involved spending five minutes talking to a series of pupils sitting at individual desks. The teacher concerned had considered turning down any job offer because of the school's 'disrespectful' attitude to staff. 'The proper use of student voice can aid learning,' said Mrs Keates. 'We have no problem with student councils, and good teachers will always engage pupils. But it's a complete nonsense to make it a duty on schools; it will be open to abuse and is likely to lead to more bureaucracy. The balance of relationships between teachers and pupils is extremely important and this shifts the balance in the wrong direction.

Mrs Keates said it could be appropriate for schools to seek pupils' views on disciplinary sanctions, but added: 'Where pupils have been consulted on behaviour policy they are usually more draconian than the teachers.'

Meanwhile Dr John Dunford, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, representing thousands of secondary heads, said: 'This is crazy.
'I'm a strong supporter of pupil voice but schools are increasingly consulting pupils because they think it is the right thing, not because Government tells them to. I am furious that yet another in this continual stream of legal and educational duties is being placed on schools. They all bring unintended consequences.'

I love working with our School Council and they have made a really positive contribution to our school. They are becoming more and more involved in important decision, e.g. how the Friends of the school spend the money. Later this year, they will take their first role in the interview process for a new member of staff. But I'm not sure it is right to give children the legal right to tell teachers how they should be taught. Whilst I welcome them explaining the views and ideas, surely this idea could become very damaging for staff morale?

There is also a very interesting interview with the head of Holland Moor Primary in Skelmersdale who have a very effective school council. Read it here.

No comments: