A pupil's school meal blog has become a contemporary fable

29th June 2012 at 01:00
If the local authority had not panicked, it would have noticed that she epitomises CfE values

A nine-year-old primary pupil in Argyll and Bute decides to set up a blog about the quality of her school dinners as part of a writing project. She takes photographs of her school meal each day and provides a critique of the quality, quantity and relative healthiness of the food. She also sets up a Just Giving web page to raise funds for Mary's Meals, a charity that helps to feed children in the developing world.

The blog receives more than 6 million hits, and becomes a worldwide phenomenon, with responses from a global audience, many of whom answer with their own critiques of the quality of school meals in their countries. In turn, this sparks debate and reflection. The pupil also maps any improvements in the meals.

In doing this, the pupil has addressed health and well-being, global citizenship, literacy, media and ICT. She has epitomised all the Curriculum for Excellence capacities and values and, crucially in terms of education for citizenship, has taken the step of translating her learning into positive action for change, locally and globally.

The school is, according to the pupil's father, supportive. However, following a tabloid newspaper's sensationalist coverage of the story, the local authority intervenes and tells the child that she should no longer take photos of her lunches.

This course of action is fraught with peril for any organisation unaware of the new media landscape and the power of viral communications. Indeed, the immediate consequences of the "ban" have been a surge in visitors to the pupil's blog and in donations to Mary's Meals, and worldwide email complaints directed to the council website. Education Secretary Michael Russell, the local MSP, expresses concern to the council. Following the response and international reaction, the authority overturns the ban within 24 hours.

To me this feels like a contemporary fable with two lessons for the Scottish educational system. The first is about the power of new social media to influence the nature of events in ways traditional bureaucratic organisations can neither fully anticipate nor expect to control. The second is that, a decade after the establishment of a policy framework for citizenship education, and eight years after the CfE capacities and values were published, there appears sometimes to be a major gap between rhetoric and practice.

If we are serious about pupil empowerment and listening to pupil voice, then those in authority have to be more thoughtful, and less defensive, when young people take us at our word and offer constructive feedback on their school experience.

Alan Britton is a lecturer in citizenship at the University of Glasgow School of Education (writing in a personal capacity).

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