Push young pupil power

Even five-year-olds should have some say in the running of their schools, says Estyn

PUPILS AS young as five should be more involved in drawing up school rules, recruiting new teachers - and even sitting in on governors' meetings, a new report recommends.

All primary schools should also negotiate sweeteners with their pupils, such as extra-long breaks and cinema trips, to encourage a feelgood factor - something which has been proven to reduce vandalism.

The Assembly government asked inspectors from Welsh inspection agency Estyn to examine how far children aged three to 11 had been allowed to have a say in the running of their school over 2006-7, and the effects on behaviour and morale.

It was found that behaviour and academic achievement was better in schools where pupils were active outside school councils.

Inspectors also found that 15 per cent of schools looked at were not preparing their pupils adequately for participation skills - such as voting in an election - in adulthood.

Schools with passive pupils were said in the report, entitled Participation of children and young people (3-11) in local decision making that affects their lives, not to be looking wider than the councils that became statutory last September.

Heads were particularly blamed for not widening pupil involvement in decision-makingJthroughJa whole school agenda.

According to the report, many heads did not understand what the policymakers meant by participation. Making just one member of staff responsible for pupil involvement also slowed progress.

Participation - as defined by Estyn - is the right of all learners to be involved in making decisions, planning, and reviewing an action that might affect them.

But a spokesperson for Governors Wales said a line had to be drawn in pupil involvement where commonsense dictated adults had to take over.

Hugh Patrick, chair of GW, said some governors might feel inhibited by the increased presence of youngJpupils at meetings, claiming it might also be difficult for them to understand.

He added: "Governors would also need instructions onJthe level of understanding of pupils. But if the decision directly affected the children, it would alsoJbe refreshing to hear their views."

Primaries, which were last in the queue to set up school councils, were more likely to have little understanding of participation, said the report.

Susan Lewis, chief inspector, said most schools were good at encouraging participation but some had gone further.

"Participation has been enhanced as a result of the statutory obligation to set up school councils, but in the strongest leadership it is embedded into the culture of the school."

Pupils who had become more involved in decision-making had fought for better outdoor facilities, buddy systems, playground equipment and cleaner toilets, she said.

But it was found that some councils work in isolation from the day to day running of schools, giving them no links with other aspects of school life.

Local authorities and schools also do not have enough systems in place to evaluate their effectiveness. Estyn looked at 15 primary schools across Wales.

It also concluded that schools where the foundation phase for three to seven-year-olds was being pilotedJmade for wider participation, creating more self-confident and motivated pupils. However, Estyn also said more staff should be trained to help with this.

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