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Cold shoulder for guidance

SCHOOLS have emerged with a tarnished report card in a survey of hundreds of young people across the country by Save the Children Scotland. From sex education to teacher attitudes, pupils told researchers their school experiences had been largely negative.

The findings were based on consultations in 20 local authorities with 326 young people aged between 12 and 18, on a range of issues from citizenship to crime.

The survey, entitled "Our Lives", was commissioned and part-funded by the Scottish Office. The results, unveiled in Edinburgh last Friday, will form part of Scotland's contribution to the 1999 UK report to the United Nations committee on the rights of the child.

The tenor of the comments suggests children believe their rights are limited and schools do little to improve matters.

"Virtually all young people expressed concern about the formal structures for guidance and support within schools," the authors state. "A few spoke positively about their experience and relationship with a guidance teacher, but the majority of the comments were negative.

"Confidentiality was a major concern. Young people do not feel that their right to confidentiality is respected by guidance teachers. Indeed, most young people said that they are more likely to look for support and guidance from peers, parents and youth workers rather than from a member of staff at school."

One pupil is quoted as saying: "No one goes to guidance teachers because they just tell everything you say and then they spread it all." Such perceptions, which apply to youth workers as well, are particularly acute in rural areas, "because they (the staff) know everyone".

Teachers were said to be ill-equipped to deal with sex education and bullying in particular. Peer educators and older pupils who could support the victims of bullying would handle the issues better, they felt.

Schools also scored badly in the way they treated young people's views. "This was a major issue of contention and dissatisfaction," Save the Children reports.

Young people regard pupil councils as "undemocratic and tokenistic". Pupils said they talked with their headteacher only two or three times a year, whereas they felt ongoing consultation would be better.

The report states: "They also said they did not see (pupil councils) as an effective way of having their views taken into account, because their views were only ever acted upon when teachers or other adults thought it was a good idea.

"One school told of how the pupil council had requested lockers for six years but had been told it was financially impossible. However, when school inspectors arrived and said that there were not enough lockers, the lockers appeared within three months."

Teachers were accused of patronising pupils, even after they were 16, and of not being good listeners. Young people said they often got into trouble with teachers because of a clash of personalities, they resented the fact that teachers would create difficulties for them with other teachers and those who were excluded felt life was made more difficult for them if they challenged the decision.

The structure of the school year also came in for criticism, with many suggesting the school day and lessons were too long. The summer holidays were also felt to be too long, especially as there were few youth clubs or planned activities.

Lack of after-school activities was another complaint.

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