Guest column: Pupils’ views must be respected and heard

Gavin Horgan, head master at Worksop College and Ranby House School
Gavin Horgan, head master at Worksop College and Ranby House School

The era of ‘mother knows best’ is long past – so why do we persist with it in education?

Good schools must involve children in meaningful ways in all areas of school life, such as staff recruitment, quality assurance, policy and curriculum development.

There must be a sense of partnership between children, teachers and leaders and all parties need to feel respect for each other.

Too many schools pay lip service to this, whilst, in fact, patronising children and hiding behind ‘professionalism’ as an excuse for shutting them out of key discussions and decisions.

Pupils are very canny consumers.

They will give you a perfect analysis of the quality of teaching they receive from individual teachers in a second.

So why do we regularly shy away from that invaluable insight?

Children must play a key part in the recruitment of new teachers and in the appraisal of individual teachers and of course of leaders.

If schools or teachers say something along the lines of, ‘this undermines our professionalism’ or ‘what if the children have an agenda to follow?’ my response to the school would be to suggest that the school has not yet done its job properly by providing an environment within which children know that their voice is used and respected and that therefore it comes with responsibilities.

To be fair to schools, many have only been responding to the infrastructure of inspection and the legacy issues of strategies that don’t care a fig for the views of children as they are so difficult to ‘measure’.

Current systems of inspection and appraisal judge teachers as excellent or more significantly as requiring improvement (read: failure) based on no meaningful input from the key consumers and often on the opinion of an ill-qualified out-of- touch agent with a separate agenda.

What other modern industry would tolerate that?

There is a direct parallel with young voters and political engagement.

The modest increase in youngsters voting in the last election should not be a solace to MPs.

Youngsters tend to be more principled than adults and therefore should be the most politically active group in society.

They will not bother to engage when they recognise (quickly) that MPs are not really interested in their views or involvement but in self aggrandisement – why would they?

The same is true in school.

They recognise the importance of what they are involved in.

But if they do not respect the way in which it is offered to them, they will move on.

And be honest, you would do the same.