Student Voice web site imageThe National Association of Schoolmasters and Union of Women Teachers, which describes itself as the largest union representing teachers and head teachers throughout the UK, is worried about the current development of student voice. In September 2007 they issued a position statement in which they specifically object to children being involved in interviews of staff for new posts and trained to undertake classroom observation of teachers.

 

The first paragraph of the statement reads, 'The original concept of the ‘student voice' was pioneered by Professor Jean Rudduck as the empowerment of pupils to enable them to be engaged and involved in the learning process, thus helping teachers and other members of the school workforce to raise standards and meet the needs of individual learners.' NASUWT appears to think that the main purpose of student voice is to help the school workforce. They have not registered that its purpose is to improve schools for everybody.

 

Later the position statement asserts: 'The understanding of the balance between rights and responsibilities is therefore critical, particularly as a consideration of rights is leading some schools to a concept of the student voice which is based on a simplistic and narrow assertion about student rights.' It should be pointed out to them that students are not asking for rights, they are asking for responsibilities. The longer students are denied responsibilities, the more likely it is that they will fall back on demands for rights.

The Union fears strategies 'which privilege pupils in a way that undermines, disempowers and deprofessionalises teachers.' This seems a wilful misinterpretation of the intention to enable pupils and teachers to co-operate in a way that has been impossible under the old system.

The peroration at the end of the statement is a blend of misunderstanding and authoritarianism. 'Teachers understand the need to establish an appropriate, professional and personal relationship with their pupils,” we are told, “but it is teachers who are both responsible and accountable for pupil progress and outcomes. Therefore, teachers and students should have a voice, but the last word must remain with the teacher.'

Different people will have different interpretations of the 'appropriate, professional and personal relationship', but it is significant that this is not to be a relationship between teachers and pupils, but a relationship of teachers with their pupils.

The assertion that teachers are both responsible and accountable for pupil progress and outcomes omits the contribution made by the pupils themselves. Teachers are also presumably to be considered responsible and accountable for pupil failures – or is there a hidden implication that teachers are responsible for success and pupils are responsible for failure? (Falko Peschel has drawn attention to the curious fact that if teacher-directed children fail it is thought to be their own fault, but if self-directed children fail it is thought to be the fault of the system.)

If 'the last word must remain with the teacher,' this means children must be trained to submit to authority rather than to reason.

The saddest thing about this position statement is that it reveals such a mistrustful and condescending attitude to children. Whenever doubting teachers bring themselves to listen seriously to children, they are astonished and delighted by their honest, thoughtful and articulate voicing of significant concerns. In schools where children assess lessons, almost all teachers find their reports helpful and encouraging. Children who interview staff for jobs have a clearer view of their suitability than adults who have to depend on CVs and interviews away from the classroom. The children want to be sure that their school will employ someone who will be able to teach them well.

There is no need to be afraid that if they are given power, pupils will make their schools worse; their principal objective will be to make them better.

See the article on the SCUK research in this selection of articles on the site.

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