'Learn from your pupils'

Children's champion Peter Clarke says most grievances involve schools and teachers, Nicola Porter reports

All teachers and other adults providing services to children should start listening to and learning from their young customers, according to children's commissioner Peter Clarke.

Such services are there to benefit children, not for the "convenience and comfort" of the adults and organisations providing them, he says in his annual report.

The former director of ChildLine Cymru also hits out at a lack of funding he believes has blighted his work since he became the UK's first children's commissioner five years ago. According to the report, for 2005-06, most of the calls to the commissioner's office last year involved grievances with schools and teachers.

Badly-handled bullying cases, accusations of a lack of respect from teachers, and children not being listened to, accounted for more than 40 education-related calls from parents, children, and others. Around another 30 calls were received concerning the more traditional gripes directed at schools and local education authorities - provision for pupils with special educational needs, school transport, and admissions.

Many of the callers who contacted the office about educational issues believed teaching staff were unable to deal with situations outside the teaching of the national curriculum.

But Rhys Williams, campaigns and communications officer for the National Union of Teachers Cymru, said teachers needed more training to deliver the high standard of pastoral care expected by both parents and children.

He told The TES Cymru: "One day of training is not enough to keep up with new strategies out there." The commissioner's annual report will come as a blow to policy-makers who have been placing more emphasis on anti-bullying schemes, and involving pupils in decision-making.

Many Welsh schools have now set up school councils - which will become a statutory requirement across the country in the new term. However, the large number of calls from children unhappy they had been left out of their school's decision-making process does not bode well for the future.

Mr Clarke says a lack of resources has prevented him from completing targets in his three-year plan, especially the full roll-out of a "schools ambassador" scheme. The scheme, which has been piloted in six Welsh schools, works by pupils electing two representatives to meet Mr Clarke and express their views. The commissioner's office is independent but funded by the Assembly government. In 2005-06 it was awarded pound;1.4 million, some pound;400,000 less than the previous year.

Two areas of work dominated the commissioner's work last year: a review of bullying; and establishing a new framework to allow children to be directly involved in his work. More than 1,000 children have so far taken part in setting up the framework.

But bullying remains a concern. The TES Cymru reported earlier this year that three-quarters of schools failed to respond to requests for copies of their anti-bullying policies from Cardiff university researchers, who were evaluating policies on behalf of the Assembly government.

Many looked-after children also contacted the children's commissioner's office, seeking intervention in cases involving social services. Calls about children in care made up the third largest category. Parents accounted for more than half of the initial contacts made with the office, with children making only 4 per cent of calls.

Jane Davidson, minister for education, lifelong learning and skills, said the Assembly government's own participation project involved children and young people in policy development and consultation.

However, she denied Mr Clarke's claims about lack of funding. Spending on his office will rise by 55 per cent between 2005-08, she said.


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