Why Students Aren’t Given More of a Say in Education

March 17, 2012

I don’t normally use my blog to reply to other blogs, but sometimes a blogpost is so wrong in so many ways that a comment isn’t enough. The latest post on Liberal Conspiracy entitled “Why aren’t students given more of a say in education?” is such a blogpost. Debatable assumptions seem to be woven into almost every line, and so I will quote and attempt to respond to most of those lines.

Imagine a system whose entire purpose is to serve a group of people.

I actually find that fairly difficult to do. What institutions do exist only to serve a particular group of people? We may say the police exist to serve the public, but they also exist to serve the law. We may think a supermarket chain exists to serve its shareholders, but it also serves its customers. We may think the NHS exists to serve patients, but it also serves the public as a whole. The concept of “stakeholders” is often used in very woolly ways, but it is often relevant to the purpose of organisations, particularly public services. Another concept is that of a “practice”. Institutions often exist to carry out a particular practice, rather than to serve a particular group. Do you think a doctor “serves” his patients? Or does she or he practice medicine? (If you do think doctors exist to serve their patients, I’d recommend watching a few episodes of House).

Imagine that this same system excludes that group of people from holding any power.

If an organisation exists to serve people, do they actually need more power over it? Do patients need more power over hospitals? Do motorists need more power over the Highways Agency? Your answer might well be “yes” but it should be easy to see that this is a highly debatable answer. Accountability in public services is always a controversial issue and nobody would give blind approval to all forms of accountability. Plenty of political debate (for instance over elected police commissioners or the running of schools) consists of arguments over how things should be accountable.

Such is the relationship between the British Education System and its students.

Is it? Do schools exists to serve their students? I thought schools existed to educate them. This is not the same thing at all. I am not the servant of my classes. I’m a teacher, not a butler.  I do not exist simply to do what they want, I am there to see that they learn. To that end they often have to do what I want. It is certainly not clear that they should have power over me. I have responsibilities to their interests, to their parents and to my managers. If I don’t have the power to make the decisions, how can I be held responsible for them? If my classes leave my lessons ignorant, it would only occasionally be an acceptable excuse to say “they didn’t want to learn”.

No school in the UK has any obligation to listen to its students.

The rules may now have changed, but until recently OFSTED expected schools to do almost exactly that and in practice this meant  meant schools councils and intiatives like “Student Voice”. The Guardian had a good article on this the other day. This is looking like one of those articles that argues for more of the same by denying what is already happening.

The representative bodies which exist are rarely more than symbolic.

A moment ago, it seemed to be implied that there were no such bodies, now we have the completely different complaint that they are inadequate.

A very small number of students are allowed to express their feelings on the running of the school but there is no process for using their feedback.

Now we have yet another distinct complaint, that there is insufficient “process”? Well, this is no doubt true; this is one area where there isn’t a standard bureaucratic model to be imposed on schools. However, a call for such a model needs to be based on more than the overblown rhetoric we have heard before. This is now about bureaucracy, not democracy.

It is inconceivable that any other public service or business would entirely ignore the views of their key stakeholders. This failure to listen is to waste countless opportunities to improve.

Hang on, at the start of this article they were the masters. Now they are a “key stakeholder”? That’s not the same thing at all. And depending on how you define that term it is not inconceivable at all. Some “key stakeholders” in public services probably should be ignored to a significant degree. The police should not be consulting criminals. Prison officers should not be overly willing to consult prisoners. You can have a stake in an organisation without having any right to be listened to. (And before anybody raises it, criminals and prisoners were counter-examples not analogies. I’m not saying schools are kiddie-gaols.)

It is also entirely at odds with the way our society has come to recognize and respect the rights of children.

There’s a lot of ideological claims out there about the rights of children, it is a highly controversial area. Please don’t attribute one viewpoint to society.

Students should have the chance to feedback on the teaching they receive.

If a student went to see a teacher, out of lessons and with an opinion, would they be turned away? Legitimate concerns are not banned. That does not mean we have to spend resources trying to force opinions out of kids.

While they may not have an in-depth understanding of pedagogy, they have a knowledge that no expert has; they know what works for them.

Actually, there is a mountain of psychological evidence that we are very bad judges of how well we know or understand something. It is also highly disputed that “what works” differs that much between students.

At the end of each week, students could rate the activities that they had undertaken in class. Teachers would then be able to look through the responses and get a clear idea of the actual experience of those they teach.

All teachers assess learning. Why do we need to assess their opinions as well? If children are learning successfully, what opinion would justify changing the method? That it is only liked by those who want to learn? That it is not fun? That it requires effort? That kids don’t like it?

Some students would not take the process seriously or might base ratings on their personal opinions of that teacher rather than the merits of the activities. Yet the vast majority would respect this opportunity to have a say. Some teachers would be sceptical but most would find the information fascinating and useful.

I have experienced countless such exercises. Teachers respect it to the extent to which it matches what they want to hear. The methods are used because they cause learning, not because they are what kids want. If a child really cares about learning then they are worth listening to. If they don’t want to learn, then they aren’t. And teachers tend to judge this by how much they appreciate what is already being done to bring about learning.

Students should have input into what they study.

“Input” here is a weasel word, but it is immediately clear that there are strict limits to the value of such input. Children aren’t in school to study what they want, but to study the best of what has been thought and known. Education is meant to broaden horizons, not limit them to what students already appreciate.

Clearly there are core skills which students need to acquire, whether they wish to or not.

Yes there are, however, we should be very careful about limiting what is the “core”. If the core is too limited we are simply lowering the expectations we have for all students. Most importantly, why are there core “skills”, not core knowledge? Are there not things they should know?

Yet they could decide on how they gained these skills.

Or it could be decided by somebody with professional training and years of experience. We don’t let patients decide what medicine they should be treated with. That would be to insult doctors. Let’s not insult teachers in the same way.

In History, students could select the period they study.

They could. Hard to see why though.

The fact that they made the decision is likely to boost their engagement with the subject.

As ever, “engage” is the ultimate weasel word in education. In the above argument it appears to mean little more than “entertain”.

Students should contribute to the code of discipline that they have to abide by.

Are children only worth protecting if they have expressed the desire to be protected? If a 13 year old wants the school set up in a way that makes it easier for them to have sex with adults, would that be okay?

To many this notion seems irresponsible. Surely, if given the opportunity, students would seek to dismantle the rules that restrict them?

Some, and often the most vocal and influential, would.

It is well-established, however, that most students are content in a calm and well-structured environment. They dislike chaos and recognize that a clear system of well-enforced rules is the best way to achieve this. Students also have a very well-developed sense of fairness; even well-behaved students respond very badly to perceived injustice.

True, but that sense is often based on the expectations of the peer group and the expectations already in place.

By opening up a dialogue, school authorities would be able to gain an understanding about what is seen as unfair and then judge these concerns.

And show themselves to be more concerned about perceptions than reality.

More than anything else, it is inconsistency that undermines discipline. When one teacher enforces a rule and another doesn’t, students are left confused and frustrated. Listening to students would give a precise picture of the consistency with which rules were being applied.

The biggest issue over consistency is pressure from above not to enforce rules from managers who consider teachers who apply the rules to be at fault for having bad behaviour in their class in the first place.

Such a transferral of power would improve the service that schools provide.

Assertion without argument. I have been in schools where students had enormous power over teachers. It didn’t improve services.

As significantly, school would cease to be only a place students attend and become an institution that they own.

Another fuzzy concept. Should students “own” schools? One of the main features of ownership is that it can be dissolved or transferred. Should children really have that power? If the purpose of schooling is to educate, not entertain or serve, then the answer to this question, like so many of the other questions raised, is a clear “no”. Adults should not be ceding authority to children. This is inherent in the very notion of childhood. Professionals should not be handing their judgements over to amateurs. This is inherent in the very notion of professionalism. Schools should not abandon their educational purpose in order to cater to the whims of children. This is inherent in the notion of education.


  1. The biggest issue over consistency is pressure from above not to enforce rules from managers who consider teachers who apply the rules to be at fault for having bad behaviour in their class in the first place.

    Nail. On. The. Head.

    One can only assume that the writer of the original article had a tough time at school for some reason.

  2. You should use your blog to reply to others more often. You use this format very well, like reading a well-thought-out, succinct debate. I’d be interested to see the Pennyfeather’s responses in the same style.

    Whilst I am a big supporter of student voice, I am very uncomfortable with it by likened to listening to ‘service users’/customers/clients in other sectors. I think this is a category error (made by Pennyfeather, not you). In those cases the process of listening to the service-user is managerial, it is about making the organisation function better from the perspective of that service-user. It is not the service the user is getting. The fact that a manager in the Strategic Health Authority has talked to you about your treatment will not have made your gout better in itself. Hopefully it will have an impact on the process for next time.

    In schools, the processes of the school are educational. We don’t just expect students to learn from what happens in lessons, but how people talk to one another in corridors, the way reward and sanction are used, who gets to have opportunity and so on. All of these relate to things schools are trying to educate their students about, politeness, respect, fairness alongside English, history, maths, etc.

    Whether and how we listen to students (and engage them in making changes) should be thought of from an educational point of view. If we set up tokenistic systems that just allow a few students to be involved, what is that teaching the rest of the students. If we set up systems that mirror the worst aspects of local and national politics, what is that teaching students? If we set up systems that actually give students a way to constructively express their views and take action on things, what does that teach students?
    The question is not, ‘does this make our school (an institution) better’ but, ‘what do students learn?’

    Andrew, you may say this begs the question about whether schools should teach students about democracy and our roles in society. I would say that schools do by default, we just don’t offer think about what exactly it is we want them to learn.

  3. Your likening of pupils to prisoners says a lot about your views about children.

    As for your comments on input into discipline, I acknowledge that all children deserved to be protected. But discipline usually encompasses a lot more than mere protection. My experience of school was that teachers were very keen on asserting their authority for the sake of it (“tuck your shirt in!”), but this didn’t stop them tolerating widespread bullying, and sometimes even encouraging it through cruel and sarcastic personal comments directed at pupils. If students had some say, we might hope that the emphasis would shift towards protection and away from petty and pointless rules.

    • “Your likening of pupils to prisoners says a lot about your views about children.”

      Which part of

      “And before anybody raises it, criminals and prisoners were counter-examples not analogies. I’m not saying schools are kiddie-gaols.”

      did you not understand?

      I wrote that just in case somebody made the exact logical mistake that you just did. I guess it was too much to hope everyone would read to the end of the paragraph before replying.

      With regard to “protection” versus “pointless and petty rules”, I’m not sure people realise the point of rules that serve the purpose of protection. The best reason for school uniform is that it helps deter students from truancy and makes it more difficult for non-students to gain access to a school. Both are to do with protection. Teachers asserting authority (successfully) also helps reassure students that they are safe, whereas turning a blind eye to rules can only increase both the sense of danger, and actual danger by giving the impression that all rules are optional.

      • Sorry, I have to admit to skim reading. However, the less of an analogy it is, the less of an effective counterexample it is. Prisoners are primarily in prison for everyone else’s benefit – even rehabilitation is primarily for other people. I would argue that school is for the good of pupils, at least partly.

        I’d be interested to hear about the safety benefits of a tucked in shirt. I also wonder if children are any less safe in (for example) Sweden, where they don’t have school uniform. Also, any truant is likely not to put their school uniform on in the first place. Do you have any quantitative evidence that uniform reduces truancy?

        Personally, I’ve never felt reassured by people having authority over me. It didn’t reassure me as a child, and it doesn’t reassure me now. I can’t believe I’m that unusual.

        I’m not saying rules should be optional, but rule are respected to the extent that they are sensible and non-petty. Ultimately, teachers are there to teach, and I don’t see how enforcing petty rules helps with this. Concentrate on the important things, like preventing bullying, and cut out all the other authoritarian rubbish.

        • A counter-example proves a claim to be wrong. (In this case it is the claim that “key stake-holders” have a right to some form of power over the institution in which they have a stake). The whole point of picking a counter-example is to pick something where the principle is clearly wrong, not to pick something *like* the case in question. Complaining that a counter-example is different to the case in point is like complaining that an argument is too good. Of course, children are different from prisoners. That’s what makes it obvious that at the very least there is some important point missing from the “key stakeholders” argument.

          I never said that there were safety benefits to a tucked-in shirt (although actually in some situations there are) I pointed out the safety benefits of having a school uniform and the likely effects on discipline of not enforcing that uniform properly.

          If you find no comfort from the authorities being in control I assume that you are happily living in, say, Somalia, or some other country where normal governance has broken down. If you are living in some comfortable Western country surrounded by the middle class then I simply won’t believe you. Similarly, I’d be fascinated to know what experience you have of genuinely tough schools, because you don’t need much to see how kids become very concerned with working out where adult authority exists and where it doesn’t. Often the strict teachers are the most popular because their classrooms are the only place where it is safe to learn and safe to be yourself.

          My experience that school uniform deters truancy comes from experience of non-uniform day in several English schools and the commonsense assertion that it is easier to truant if your mode of dress doesn’t immediately alert people to where you should be. Obviously, there are a huge amount of other factors making international comparisons somewhat pointless.

          With regard to “petty” rules, you have failed to make the case that you have any idea which rules are petty or not. Perhaps you could suggest some schools should change their rules. What you will not be able to do is make a case for reducing the authority with which the rules are enforced, as reducing authority will have consequences for “petty” and “serious” rules alike.

    • oh Sam! you were made to tuck your shirt in!

      you poor thing! tch they were such nasty brutes weren’t they?

      on the subject of terrible crimes against humanity may I enquire as to what other school rules should be dispensed with?

  4. “No one that certain can fail to be a maniac.”

    Point 1 is a takedown of a categorical statement (‘entirely’), like something from an Idiot’s Guide to Debating.

    OP could have done with some qualifiers, respondent could do with less ego (I suspect this is an insurmountable problem).

    The rest is not much better.

    AISI Liberal Conspiracy makes an overstated case for empowerment (a weasel word?) but, bless, his heart’s in the right place.

    Respondent shoots a few fish in a barrel whilst occasionally, by the law of averages if nothing else, making worthwhile points based on, eg, the idea: If you ask me what I want I can only ask you for what I already know and therefore I can’t learn anything new*.

    IM(H)O Yes pupils/students/learners should be empowered. OTOH there are important limitations. For one: Sometimes it takes an outsider to let you know what’s good for you**.

    *Incidentally it’s this type of “thinking” (ie obedience to ideology) that informs focus groups politics and management rather than leadership.

    Interesting to see LC advocating this perverse notion of choice so beloved of the political class and spectacularly discredited but still fashionable economics.

    **The case for outsider-knows-best is significantly, but not fatally, weakened by the fact that we’ve/they’ve made such a dog’s breakfast of pigs’ ears of it so far.

    Also the outsider has power, and power corrupts.

    • I have to say that your comment is not altogether clear, some of it looks like personal abuse, however I will respond as best I can.

      The problem is not simply a lack of qualifiers in the Liberal Conspiracy blogpost. As with all demands for child autonomy, people don’t want it to the greatest possible degree, but if you add the necessary qualifiers it destroys both the rhetorical thrust and the logical reasoning of the case. The moment you start qualifying the argument with considerations like the safety, welfare and happiness of the children it falls apart because nobody argues for restricting children’s autonomy on any grounds *other* than the safety, welfare and happiness of the children.

      When arguing for liberation of children from adult authority you have to choose between the high-minded, self-righteous rhetoric or having a coherent argument. Nobody has ever managed both.

  5. “When arguing for liberation of children from adult authority you have to choose between the high-minded, self-righteous rhetoric or having a coherent argument. Nobody has ever managed both.”

    So there are no degrees of liberation from adult authority? Crikey!

    • There are no degrees which can be argued for only by talk of rights, freedom or democracy.

  6. There is certain group of people who cannot imagine a motive for exercising authority over children that isn’t sinister. You are a veritable magnet to them.

  7. My comment on this debate is over on the LC article http://liberalconspiracy.org/2012/03/17/why-arent-students-given-more-of-a-say-in-education/#comment-366456

  8. In many years of educational blogging, rarely have I seen such a naive, silly post as Paul Pennyfeather’s on the Liberal Conspiracy.

    “Student voice” at this extreme level, is the final nail in the coffin of the teacher as a professional a child should respect.

  9. This blog is staggeringly incoherent. Insane even.

    This statement is addressed at anyone else who stops by and thinks: “Is it just me, or is this bloke barking mad.”

    The answer is: “No, it’s not just you.”

    • The Blog is most certainly not incoherent. It’s probably the most coherent Blog on teaching you will find on the internet.

      You may disagree with what is written but claims it is incoherent are completely without substance.

  10. “Schools should not abandon their educational purpose in order to cater to the whims of children.”

    I know you are playing to the gallery here, but I think this is a pretty cheap shot… Apart from the fact that you seem to be responding to a completely different article by this point (I can find no part of the post that you link to which claims that schools should do such a thing), it is very telling that you write off all of children’s interests, views and preferences as “whims”, rather than entertaining the possibility that students might actually have something interesting to say about their own education, or that their feedback could help us to teach them better.

    It doesn’t help when you ascribe other arguments to the original post that don’t seem to actually be there… The LC article has prompted much frothing at the mouth about the absurdity of demands for “child autonomy” and “liberation of children from adult authority”, but as far as I can see the writer simply contends, in however naïve a manner, that students should have:

    – the opportunity to give feedback on the teaching they receive;
    – some input into what they learn and how they learn it; and
    – the chance to talk about any inconsistencies in how the school enforces its rules, and to suggest ways in which this system could be improved.

    None of these processes require adults to surrender ultimate authority in the classroom; nor do they represent “the final nail in the coffin of the teacher as a professional”, as one commenter has so hysterically suggested.

    Of course teachers should be the ones in charge – it’s just that they could do their jobs better if:

    a) they actively sought evidence from the people they are teaching about how they could do this; and
    b) they had students who actually wanted to be there, because these students had even the slightest involvement in the whole process (rather than feeling that they are roundly ignored by adult after adult who believes that their views should be dismissed as no more than “whims”).

    • Old Andrew…. I’d like stab at replying to this, if I may.

      1. opportunity of feedback:
      Whenever I have seen schools attempt this it has been a waste of time coupled with slurs on individual teachers from disgruntled students (perhaps the Sams of the world). Often even new teachers have views that have to be treated with a pinch of salt let alone children. Sometimes I will let a new teacher learn from their mistakes but other times I say “no you can’t do that because of x, y, z” So too with children.

      Are children really going to come up with some marvellous new strategy that has alluded the best educationalists for decades? You normally get “We want more/less/no homework”
      “we want things explained more” (often to avoid thinking)
      “sir/miss goes too fast/too slow”
      “we want easier/harder work”
      “miss picks on me”
      “sir doesnt know what he’s on about”
      “fed up of boring worksheets”
      “homework should be optional”
      “maths/science/english/anything should be optional”
      “french is boring/shes boring/everythings boring!”

      what exactly do we do with such pearls of wisdom?

      The only thing I consult my kids on is the choice of a new text book when the course changes and the ratio of different revision techniques I employ in April (though I mix it up no matter what the feedback)

      I know FE lecturers that now lower the challenge of their courses because of the feedback forms that are introduced. They dare not upset the students so lower the hurdles to avoid any poor press. Can you see how this dynamic is unhelpful?

      2. What they learn:
      Im not sure what you mean? Surely what they learn is dictated by the national curriculum? I would have thought that needs to be decided by a panel of experts rather that an unqualified child.

      3. Inconsistant Behaviour
      Whilst I sympathise with any kid who finds themselves in an ill disciplined and dangerous school this is not going to be solved by students- because they cannot understand the subtleties and dynamics at play. And whilst they have a sense of justice and fairness it is often raw and undeveloped.

      An established teacher doesn’t have to battle with discipline because the students will do as they are told it won’t occur to them to challenge.

      But with a new teacher the kids may arrive late, will have their shirts untucked, will not have their HW. Its impossible to fight all the battles so the teacher may choose to just focus on homework. But to the casual observer this may be ‘inconstancy’ in discipline standards. Do you see the difficulty?

      So what would student voice do which the SLT are incapable of doing? and that previous initiatives have failed in doing?

      So far the achievement of school councils have been limited to the colour of the toilet stalls and the the signs on the toilet doors.

      Im not sure any of these decisions would have a major impact on school life and most students quickly realise that.

      ps dont buy the school building design stuff- I suspect they would have had a minor input into the real engineering decisions.

      ops oh hang on- is that the sound of a pupil designed building crashing to the ground? Opps! to be fair those physics lessons were rather boring – it wasn’t the kids fault they decided to replace them with video game sessions

    • You noticed the cheap shots and the straw men. There’s plenty more besides. The playing to the gallery I’m not so sure about. I think he genuinely believes what he posts. That’s why I made the comment about “barking mad”.

      As for content: Occasionally I’ve bumped into a former pupil and asked them what they thought about the lessons they were in when I was teaching. Generally what they had to say was worth hearing. In particular they had experience of other teachers, good and bad: Miss Wallace does this, that works well. Sometimes it wasn’t relevant, sometimes it was.

      The idea that children will just want to avoid work is pitiful. There will be a few who might play to the gallery, in the short term. Generally I find young people value their education highly, though they might be reluctant to say so in front of a large group of their peers.

      Apparently we should ignore even the possibility that they might have something to say that’s worth hearing. Shame.

      • Well no, thats not quite what the sceptics are saying. Sometimes an issue will come up when a school does poll student opinion and acts upon it. I think textbooks are a valid one. I remember an old boss of mine spending 2 grand on a set of textbooks but when we polled the kids a year later not a single one had used them. An earlier poll of the kids may have saved us cash and the poor kids an iffy back from carrying them home to gather dust.

        However you see the problems with the 3 examples James offered?

        I have given as accurate examples of student responses as I can from the schools that have used student opinions in the past- I’m afraid its not always that helpful.

        Im not blaming the students – they simply dont have the experience, maturity or ‘qualification’ to make wise choices about the education of themselves or their peers.

        I am acutely aware of how patronising that sounds (I guess it is) but do you let them waste tax payers money making a poor leadership decision? Theres too much at stake.

        What happens if the student decision is not popular with their peers?
        what happens if the student decision is unanimous but is refused by the staff?
        If the decisions are trivial then its not that important- but if its major decisions you have dissent and problems on the horizon and you now have a student body who think they should jolly well get their way- what with being ‘stake holders’ and all.

        Im not saying students will always make silly, petulant decisions, in fact I know of one school that introduced a school uniform PURELY due to student pressure (it had a very liberal staff) but in general the power of a student body like this has to be limited for perfectly noble reasons- kids soon realise this so its a bit of a ‘box ticker’.

        As to the ‘rights’ of the students to control their education, I think Old Andrew makes compelling points. I think the subject/institution choices at 14 and 16 and 18 are profound and commensurate with their development. Further choices I would think harmful and unjustified.

      • Your observation that children won’t openly admit to valuing education in front of a large group of their peers suggests that valuing education is an unnacceptable opinion within these groups. This contradicts your earlier assertion that only a few children wish to avoid work.

      • ann

        I think your latest post illustrates some of the big issues in all of this for me. You say “Generally I find young people value their education highly…”. Unfortunately in much of the western world and the antipodes this is contrary to the experience of the western world.

        The title of the Liberal Conspriacy post is “Why Students Aren’t Given More of a Say in Education” and this was adopted as the title for this blogpost. I cannot imagine many professional educators remaining in the profession if they were unable or unwilling to listen, and I don’t think I have ever come across a professional educator who was generally unwilling to listen to pupils.

        These two posts however, are concerned with pupils having more “say”, not being able to “say” more. These posts are about pupils having more authority and power and the pros and cons of allowing such.

        Your replies seem to be very personal and to me tend to exhibit some of the issues that you suggest are exhibited by Oldandrew’s post.

        You most recently said this…

        “Apparently we should ignore even the possibility that they might have something to say that’s worth hearing. Shame.”

        I do not believe that Oldandrew has suggested this anywhere in his post and I am sure that he listens to pupils every minute of every lesson of every day that he teaches within reason. You seem to be talking about a different issue Ann.

        In an earlier post you made these comments….

        ‘This blog is staggeringly incoherent. Insane even.

        This statement is addressed at anyone else who stops by and thinks: “Is it just me, or is this bloke barking mad.”

        The answer is: “No, it’s not just you.”’

        I would have to agree with the last statement, but I would qualify it with…..but it almost is.

    • I’m trying to work out whether you are refusing to acknowledge the content of the original Liberal Conspiracy post, or just the obvious logical implications of it.

      When you object to the point about “whims” are you refusing to acknowledge the claim that “school would … become an institution that they [the students] own” or refusing to acknowledge that ownership allows one to use something at whim?

      When you object to talk of “child autonomy” and “liberation of children from adult authority” are you missing the entire claims about “the rights of children” or “the transferral of power” or only missing the implications of that sort of rhetoric?

      Now if you want me to address the more circumscribed points you have identified then I am more than willing to (although to some extent I think they are not particularly objectionable) but let’s not pretend that they are all there ever was to the original argument.

  11. It’s like posting about evolution on a creationist blog.

    “I don’t think I have ever come across a professional educator who was generally unwilling to listen to pupils.”

    Straw Man. Which is puzzling as you seem to have read the post. I thought it was clear I was talking about listening to pupils, amongst other things, *in order to inform practice* eg

    “In particular they had experience of other teachers, good and bad: Miss Wallace does this, that works well. Sometimes it wasn’t relevant, sometimes it was.”

    I suppose the replies *are* personal, and I’ve been thinking about this, but if you think someone is, colloquially speaking, barking mad then is it a personal attack to say so? It can be seen as patronising, and therefore insulting, *not* to say so.

    I suppose I could furnish examples but the point was, as I made clear in the context of that statement, to address others who dropped by and thought the same.

    I was attempting to reassure (bc I’m nice like that) rather than put forward an argument. I judged, and this was reinforced by subsequent responses, that any attempts at pointing out the bewildering array of straw men (again), glaring logical inconsistencies, moving goalposts, easy-to-dismantle categorical statements, painful repetition of the same point poorly disguised as separate arguments etc etc etc would, as I said, be like debating with a creationist.

    As for substance:

    Unless I’ve misunderstood (and I’m so disoriented by what I read here this is very possible) the whole debate essentially comes down to:

    Where do you think we should be on the spectrum?

    West Point* ——- Summerhill

    To quantify, as our Lords and Masters desire:

    West Point = 0% Summerhill = 100%. Me? I say 78.58%


    *I pick West Point bc there was a policy there which stated that all recruits should walk 6 or 8 ft(?) from a wall. So if you wanted to get from A to B you had to follow the contours of the building. The idea was to instil the unquestioning obeying of orders. This has its merits in the military. This is not apocryphal.

    The End

    • Student Feedback Form: Pupil D, Class 10F.

      “…I guess Miss Kittenplan is ok I suppose, its just that half the time I have no idea what she’s on about…”

    • “I was attempting to reassure (bc I’m nice like that) rather than put forward an argument.”

      Yeah, that’s really the problem. You have simply flagged up that you don’t have an argument. I suppose it might “reassure” somebody who is similarly opinionated and equally unable to put together a coherent argument that they are not alone, but to anyone who is even remotely skeptical of your position it will just make them suspect that your side is uninterested in rational debate.

      With regard to a spectrum, can I remind you that Summerhill was a school where teachers were allowed to show their genitals to small children for educational purposes. If the opposite extreme is simply to have odd rules about walls, then I am happy to be on the wall-huggers’ side of the spectrum, and more than happy to to be considered mad by anybody on the other side of the spectrum.

  12. Interesting debate so far and glad the issues of learning and the opportunity to participate in it’s direction are being so passionately discussed. I manage a small company dedicated to approaching gathering information from pupils in a different way. The standard model’s of ‘Student Voice’ (when there’s a large body of pupils) is either representative, via an elected council who are voted for/chosen and/or via some sort of surveys/questionnaire.

    I cover some of my thoughts about an ‘institutional’ approach – such as a School Council – here: http://www.every1speaks.com/current-affairs/institutions-collaboration/

    In respect to the questionnaire – the person who writes the question also writes the answer. This is a hugely flawed model, especially when it’s about an emotive topic such as your own education. When you have the opportunity to write your own thoughts in the ‘other’ box then you do so in total isolation where it’s very difficult for someone else to agree with you. Ideas not recognised as good by the teachers can easily be swept under the carpet as statistical anomalies. Your opinions, on one day, often filled out in a rushed way are then classed as participation for the next year. What happens if 55% think something – you you act? What’s the difference between 51% saying something and 65%? Do that 14% matter?

  13. “Students should contribute to the code of discipline that they have to abide by. To many this notion seems irresponsible. Surely, if given the opportunity, students would seek to dismantle the rules that restrict them?”
    Why not go the whole hog and let them form a commune like the Communards with a students militia?
    “It is inconceivable that any other public service or business would entirely ignore the views of their key stakeholders. This failure to listen is to waste countless opportunities to improve”
    Oh no it isn’t I can tell you from personnel experience from both the public sector and the private sector that any tendency to express your views or go off at a tangent on anything other than the task in hand is likely to hit you in the pocket. I don’t want to come across as a Gradgrind but when I was involved in recruitment in the 90s it was difficult to persuade young new starters that they would not be running the company, or jetting off somewhere ,from day one and that a little photocopying would not harm them.
    The ideas expressed in this essay if implemented would only serve to raise students expectations to a point where on commencing work they will be disillusioned.
    The pseudonym Paul Pennyfeather seems a strange choice given that he was the main character in Evelyn Waugh’s novel Decline and Fall in which Pennyfeather ended up in prison owing to his naivety.

  14. I have a slightly different issue – with the title.

    At what point do learners develop from being pupils to becoming students? I teach FE and HE, so I see many learners starting in degree classes who are clearly not ready to study their subject.

  15. Thanks for taking the time to respond to the piece, have found the ensuing debate extremely interesting.

  16. Actually, schools and prisons have far more in common than you’d probably want to admit.

    The following statements are true of both students and prisoners, and possibly of soldiers as well:

    1) They are not allowed to physically leave the building in which they are located.
    2) They can’t choose their peer group.
    3) They can’t choose what activities they are going to be required to participate in.
    4) They are subject to arbitrary authority, and can be punished without the “due process of law” that a free adult has the right to demand.

    • 4) is not true of either prisons or schools. There is nothing arbitrary about the authority of either teachers or prison staff.

      That said, I don’t really care if there are *some* similarities between prisons and schools in that they are both institutions dealing with those who cannot be left to exercise adult responsibilities.

  17. I’ve had a letter sent to me as chair of governors from the chair of the student council. In it the council demands representation on the board of governors. A representative from each of KSs 3,4 and 5 on every committee and HB/HG DHB/DHG attending all FGB meetings. They demand full voting rights on all issues except financial matters, as is their ‘right’, apparently.

    This from a boy who may well be reading Law at Oxford next year.

    An exquisite vignette of all that is wrong-headed about ‘Student Voice’, no?

    • haha…send the self important little turd to do some supply teaching at an inner city comp for work experience- that should take the wind out of his sails.

      If he’s happy to allow an inexperienced 11yr old kid drive him to Oxford in his daddys car then, and only then, can he have a y7 kid attend confidential FGMs or committees.

      Mind you, thinking about it- after staying late till 9.30pm several evenings per term listening to some governor drone on I suspect the kids’ appetite for these particular ‘rights’ may diminish considerably.

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