Consulting Pupils

26th March 2004 at 00:00
Consulting Pupils: what's in it for schools?

By Julia Flutter and Jean Ruddock RoutledgeFalmer pound;14.99

Most schools have a school council in some form. One test of a council's effectiveness might be the way it is perceived by other students. Do they see it as a consultative body, a forum for decision-making, or mere window-dressing? A useful test might be to look at its agendas and minutes.

If discussion never goes beyond uniform, toilets and charity events, an opportunity may be being wasted.

If we are serious about transforming schools, students need to be at the heart of the process, giving us feedback on quality of learning and teaching. Julia Flutter and Jean Ruddock are spot-on in their understanding of this. First, they are realistic. They acknowledge that placing too great an emphasis on students' contributions is condescending; students' views are no more truthful than other people's. It's just that they have too often been ignored. The authors therefore argue that "practitioners and schools can benefit from tuning into pupils' perspectives".

What is best about this book is that they quickly get into issues of learning, showing how students' feedback can help us to improve our practice as teachers and, more intangibly, increase students' sense of belonging to a learning community. The authors are able to quote evidence for the increased self-esteem that comes from genuine consultation. They report how teachers have effectively reconsidered and changed practice as a result of listening to students.

This is timely. The assessment for learning agenda is gathering pace in schools, mostly as part of the key stage 3 strategy. This demands that we engage students' views, which, now we think about it, is common sense. The book provides a range of examples of student feedback on such issues as lesson lengths, teaching styles that work, and classroom cultures. There is also a helpful checklist on questionnaires and interviewing students. In an era when school self-evaluation will be central to the Ofsted process, schools ignore advice like this at their peril.

GEOFF BARTON Geoff Barton is head of King Edward VI school, Bury St Edmunds, Suffolk

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