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teachers union: ‘pupil voice being manipulated’

I was very interested to read this report on the BBC news website, and subsequently how it has been reported by various news channels and newspapers.

As Leader of Portsmouth Youth Council – back when I was actually young! – I spent a lot of time having to try and teach adults that the old ways of ‘do as I tell you, because I say so’ are no longer good enough. The world has changed. No longer is it right to expect young people to ‘respect your elders’. Respect should be earnt, not demanded based on age alone.

Unfortunately, I cannot escape the feeling that the teaching profession is having to be dragged kicking and screaming into the twenty-first century when it comes to a more pupil-centric approach. Schools are NOT about teachers, teachers are NOT the most important thing about a school. Its like a hospital where no-one gives a damm about the patients, or a library where no-one is allowed to touch the books – what would be the point?

I cannot help but feel that opposition to the student voice programme is based more on fears that the age-old uberlord status of the teacher as an authority figure is changing, than any genuine concerns. If anyone goes into teaching because they like the thought of being some kind of unassailable lord of the classroom, I think they are in the wrong job. If you can’t work with young people constructively, then you shouldn’t be there. I’ve seen, with my own eyes, countless examples of how work that empowers and involves young people is the most rewarding.

If the reports given by the teaching union are true then it looks like teachers and pupils alike need to be given a lot more training in precisely how involving students in running schools can work. While its quite wrong for anyone to be asked to sing in an interview, thats not about the young people themselves, thats poor facilitation. Examples need to be made of good and bad practise, and more research needs to be produced, and guidance disseminated. Sadly, we in Britain are far behind most of the rest of the word in involving young people.

As for fears that pupils reporting on teachers performance might undermine teachers confidence, I almost can’t believe what I’m reading. If I was a teacher, I think I would want to know what pupils think of the way I was teaching. If I was struggling, I would want to know, and why Just because they are children, it does not lessen the importance of their views. In a lot of ways I would suggest that their views are more important than OFSTED.

Of course its always going to be difficult making such a massive culture change to any profession. But the problem is that for years Schools have stuck to an almost Victorian mode of teaching, where the adult is god, and the child is half a person. Such an approach might have been OK in 1867 (read the Parliamentary Reports into the condition of schools, that led to the Education Act in 1870), but in 2010, its just not good enough.

Maybe the problem is that many in the teaching profession are still expecting young people who have the internet and ipods to conform to Nineteenth Century principles?

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