Gag the Student VoiceApril 8, 2007
One of the latest daft ideas to become fashionable is “Student Voice”, the idea that the kids in a school need to be consulted before decisions are made. If you view schools as social institutions whose main purpose is to provide entertainment for the students then this view makes perfect sense. If you view schools as academic institutions, whose main purpose is to educate children then it makes considerably less sense. Given that the main obstacles to educating children are those students who do not want to be educated and do not want others to be educated then this approach is likely to be on a par with asking the police to consult with muggers and asking doctors to consult with infections.
Of course, it depends on the school. I previously wrote about the questionnaire at Woodrow Wilson School that revealed that the students wanted stronger discipline, and the worst behaved students removed from their classes. However, Woodrow Wilson School had quite a strong middle class intake, supportive parents and strong standards of discipline in most of the primary schools the students had arrived from. Many students there were shocked when they arrived to see how out of control the students were, and new year 7s would take several months to adjust from the politeness and order of their primary schools to the rudeness and chaos of Woodrow Wilson. The opinions of most students, particularly the younger ones, reflected that they had an interest in learning that was being disrupted by the poor discipline and mixed ability classes.
By contrast, the intake to Stafford Grove School had no such bias towards learning. When they were consulted their opinions made it clear that what they wanted most were “fun” lessons (i.e. ones with no actual work in) and group work (i.e. sitting with a group of friends chatting). It is here that I realised that the Student Voice not only didn’t need to be listened to, it needed to be actively suppressed. Certain classes put forward their opinion quite forthrightly. The main elements of that opinion were:
- We shouldn’t have to work if we don’t want to
- Working is boring
- Our conversations are more important than anything the teacher says
- We can treat teachers how we like
- How we do in our exams depends on the teacher not on us
- Teachers shouldn’t expect us to follow the rules and any attempt to enforce those rules is unfair and personally motivated
These attitudes were all-pervasive and any effort to change them would be resisted with verbal abuse and even violence. This culture is fairly common in schools nowadays and it makes the very concept of consulting the students meaningless. Any survey of students at Stafford Grove will show a significant (but not universal) preference for lessons where work is optional and for teachers who are undemanding. I’m not speaking here from a position of being a particularly disliked teacher, I have a 4 out of 5 rating and positive comments on ratemyteacher from my time at Stafford Grove. However I soon discovered this had resulted from students who liked my taste in music (hard to believe) rather than anything related to teaching. Nobody’s going to win over students there by helping them learn.
The worst idea I’ve heard suggested as a way to increase the Student Voice is to let students play a part in interviewing and assessing job candidates. Perhaps there are schools where the students are so dedicated to learning that the ability to teach is the main criterion they would consider. This is not the case in any school I’ve taught at. I would leave on principle any interview where students were to have a say.
If you wouldn’t, then don’t be surprised if your feedback after the interview is something like this:
“Well I’m sorry to say that you didn’t get the job. Our interview panel raised a number of areas of concern. Firstly, you didn’t let them have fizzy drinks and the panel felt that’s so gay, man. Secondly, you support Everton and Everton are gay. Thirdly, your mum’s a ho and so’s your nan. Let us know if you’d like any more feedback or to ask any more question about the interview process. Thanks for coming to the school.”