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Never too young to take charge

If you have ever been intimidated about giving a presentation, then spare a thought for six-year-old Matthew Phillips.

This week the Treorchy primary school pupil was the youngest delegate at a national co`nference in Leicestershire and gave a PowerPoint presentation to teachers from across the UK.

In a reversal of roles, which saw children instruct the teachers to perform a task, the idea was to show how an innovative teaching programme in life skills is allowing children to take control of their own learning.

The critical skills programme is becoming a growing movement, with nearly 3,000 teachers trained across the UK and the Channel Islands. The concept originated in the United States following concerns that children were leaving school without being able to plan, negotiate or make decisions.

A programme was developed and exported to the UK six years ago. Around 50 schools in Wales are now signed up.

Linda Marshall, a programme manager with critical skills training provider Network Continuum Education, says: "The emphasis is on collaborative working, problem-solving and decision-making. The course has shown teachers that they can make a real difference in the classroom."

Allowing children to work together as teams, brainstorming ideas and giving presentations are key features of the method. During a recent inspection of Park primary, Cwm Park, Rhondda, Estyn said the programme had "further enhanced the organisation of group work", and pupils throughout the school "had responded well to opportunities to apply their knowledge and skills".

Treorchy primary in Rhondda was the first in Wales, and only the third in the UK, to put all its teachers through the critical skills programme.

Teachers at Treorchy comprehensive have also received training.

Andrew Pearce, the primary school's deputy head, and colleague Lynne Williams, were the first teachers in Wales to become accredited co-ordinators.

"The children are expected to work together to create a product, and then assess what they have learned," said Mr Pearce.

"We are finding that non-academic children are suddenly shining as facilitators or have other practical skills that come through."

He says he has seen a marked increase in confidence and responsibility:

"It's given children the tools to build learning communities and work with others."

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