Pupils interviewing teachers? The idea appears to have led to a Teacher’s Union seeking industrial action. But is it an example of a good idea badly implemented?
The NASUWT teaching union says attempts to give pupils a voice in their school are being abused by head teachers. Delegates have voted unanimously to support a motion for a ballot over industrial action where abuses of student involvement are identified. Student voice was developed in the early 1990s to allow pupils to participate in decision making with the idea that students with a greater involvement in their school community were better motivated to learn.
But a paper at the NASUWT conference in Birmingham suggests steps to improve student voice in some schools have gone too far. It reveals schools are using pupils to answer questions about teachers’ competence and to help interview them for promotions, which the union says is unacceptable. NASUWT general secretary Chris Keates [described] a dossier which was “littered with examples of demeaning, embarrassing and humiliating practice”.
Turns out that the Union action may have been triggered by a successful introduction of pupil involvement in the management of a previously-failing inner-city school.
Pupils at a school in East London are so involved in the running of their school, that they interview all prospective teachers – even the head. Student panels were introduced at George Mitchell School in Leyton two and a half years ago in an attempt to give pupils “ownership” of their learning… The 70 pupils involved in the “Making Learning Better” (MLB) scheme regularly observe teachers’ lessons and make suggestions about how classroom displays, teaching styles and discipline can be improved.
The MLB scheme is the brainchild of a formidable partnership between head teacher Helen Jeffery and her deputy, head of English, Matthew Savage, as assistant head teacher. It was Mr Savage who laid down the foundations for the MLB programme by asking for pupils to get actively involved in improving lessons in his department. Now the scheme has been rolled out across all departments.
Ms Jeffery was brought in as acting head in September 2003, charged with improving attainment at a school which has languished for years near the bottom of the local league tables. Many of the pupils at George Mitchell come from an estate of high-rise tower blocks which dominates the vistas from the school.
The scheme has had its inevitable setbacks, including overcoming scepticism and robust interviewing behaviours from pupils. Results however have been promising, although the process has thrown up some interesting dilemmas of leadership.
Ms Jeffery recalls how two candidates were invited for interview for a vacant post last summer. By lunchtime, having interviewed and observed both, the pupils decided only one candidate should continue into the afternoon for interviews with the head and other teachers. “The students came to me and said they didn’t think this person was suitable. It left me in a difficult position”.
What happened next?
If you want to find out what happened next you will have to go back to the original link. But you don’t need to do that to decide what you might have done, or to explore the merits of the idea of such pupil power. Or to see its significance for concepts of distributed leadership and for developing the self-esteem of members of social groups.