Pupils given more say

Nicola Porter

Who's running the joint? In future it won't just be the teachers and governors in Wales, reports Nicola Porter

Pupils are to have more say in the running of their schools under plans that will also give them representation on governing bodies.

From December, Wales will be the only country in the UK to require all schools, including special schools, to have pupil councils. In secondaries and primaries, members may be elected from each year group by secret ballot of their classmates.

All secondary school councils will then be able to nominate up to two of their older members to sit as associate pupil governors on governing bodies. However, an Assembly government spokesperson said they would not have voting rights.

Many governors are uncomfortable about the move to include children in school decision-making, according to Colin Thomas, director of Governors'

Wales. As a former youth worker, he agreed young people should have more say in matters which affect them.

But he said: "This is a difficult issue and could prove too revolutionary for our members."

In its response to the Assembly government's consultations on the proposals earlier this year, Governors Wales said associate pupil governors could find themselves excluded from most decisions - and left frustrated rather than empowered by the changes.

Regulations voted through last week by the Welsh Assembly say the governing body "may" exclude associate pupil governors from discussions on key areas, including staffing, admissions, pupil discipline, membership of the board itself, the school budget, and any other matter the governing body feels "is and should remain confidential".

Jane Davidson, minister for education and lifelong learning, said compulsory councils marked another first for Wales.

"Establishing school councils forms part of the Assembly's wider agenda to give children and young people a voice, enabling them to participate in decisions that affect them," she said.

The new councils must meet by November 1, 2006, and thereafter at least six times a year. But some schools have had councils for years and are preparing to give their pupils more say in everyday planning.

At Caldicot secondary, Monmouthshire, pupils can influence strategy on school buildings, the budget and expenditure, uniform, and pupil health and safety.

Last week 10 pupils representing every year group were selected to sit on a newly-established pupil liaison group (PLG).

Head Susan Gwyer-Roberts described the group as the cabinet of the school council and she believes it is the first of its kind in Wales.

Representatives, who went through a 20-minute selection interview with staff and pupils, will also work alongside senior staff on school self-evaluation in line with Estyn requirements.

Mrs Gwyer-Roberts said: "There was already a school council of 40 pupils when I arrived here in 2002. It seemed right to establish a PLG which could work alongside me.

"The school council may decide everyday issues that affect pupils, but the PLG is about how the school is run from a management perspective."

Head boy Eoin Phillips said seeing the school's budget, and learning of the politics behind decisions, had been an eye-opener.

Along with Nicola Jones, 16, he agreed they could see how lack of money was sometimes a barrier to making improvements.

Eoin, 18, said: "The PLG helps the pupil-teacher relationship. We are listened to and understand more about what is involved in running a school."

children's agenda 29

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Nicola Porter

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