Let them speak

The Scottish psychologist Alan McLean has described the motivated school as one where pupils are given as much scope as possible to be participating and determining.

Having recently spent some considerable time in primary schools doing development work with pupils and teachers, it strikes me that most Scottish primary teachers are working hard to eclipse this model.

I have recently seen many positive examples of children using their initiative in order to raise awareness about the dangers of landmines and four-wheeled drive vehicles, as well as creating campaigns to raise money for the victims of African poverty and terrorist attacks. These pupil-led initiatives illustrate teachers' willingness to enable pupils to participate responsibly and to develop informed, ethical views about complex issues.

The teachers I have spoken to all agree that this focus on pupil consultation and active participation, set within an ethical framework, encourages pupil motivation and positive behaviour. This sits squarely with the points made in the Scottish Executive publication A Curriculum for Excellence: Progress and Proposals.

The review group which produced it argues that positive relationships and a participative climate in a school are essential starting points for successful learning.

Yet Prime Minister Tony Blair's views on the "respect" agenda, combined with new legislation coming from Westminster, serve to widen the focus on punitive approaches towards pupil behaviour management. This agenda, which includes a strong focus on an authoritarian school model, will surely act as a deterrent to the full expression of active and responsible citizenship.

My hope is that Scottish teachers keep their eyes fixed on the evolving recommendations emerging from A Curriculum for Excellence, and that educationlists south of the border also see the benefits and decide to emulate these proposals.

Yes, we want pupils to have respect, but this will emerge more readily from a school culture that encourages active and responsible participation, and not from one that is built upon power, force and resentment.

Our aim must be to ensure that schools become better, more humane places for educating children in the future, free from the domination of neo-liberal and authoritarian agendas that some of the Westminster Government's recent proposals suggest.

Blair must decide what he wants - 21st century education or 19th century schools. He cannot have both.

Ross Deuchar

Research co-ordinator

Faculty of Education

Strathclyde University

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