Dark day with specs of pink

23rd December 2005 at 00:00
At the beginning of 2005 some bright spark overdosing on vision pills and wearing rose-tinted spectacles suggested that the students be given "a voice". I didn't like the sound of this one bit. I'd escaped commercial life to join teaching and wondered if a well-meaning fool had dropped in on a Tesco shareholders' meeting where communication with the target market was deemed the right way forward. Puh-lease.

Next thing students will be described as our customers. We'll be issuing them with plastic loyalty cards and keeping market research profiles on their purchasing habits: you want a triple science and two English, a design and two humanities? No, they're not in stock, and besides you need to take an RE and a PE to be allowed all that.

No doubt we'd have to extend our opening hours and do good things for the community. Somebody might even think we're in competition with other supermarkets ... oops, I mean superschools. I can envisage the vocal minority clutching clipboards as they approach the apathetic majority at break-time. Excuse me, can you spare a minute? Would the students, like mothers in a market square, fake the need to rush for the bus, an appointment with the hair-straighteners or mumble "Sorry, but little Jimmy needs me in the bogs"?

Giving the students a voice ... despite its obvious idiocy the momentum grew. I yawned and continued battling through the first chapter of From Myopia to Utopia. Giving the students a voice would be like talking to the animals - the lunatics would take over the asylum. No, we are in charge.

We're the ones with the qualifications; they are the great unqualified.

We're happy being the puppeteers, manipulating the pupils via invisible strings into A*-C submission.

But all around me the rose-tinted chorus quickly gained momentum to become Messianic.

The vice-principal had an idea: he wanted to speak to governors every single day. Yes, he could pop round and have a cup of Earl Grey with the vicar, but no, he wanted more than that, and so God dammit did the head.

The whole of the leadership group were now donning those frigging pink specs.

A couple of weeks later two students had been elected as school governors.

On their 18th birthdays they were given full voting rights. Bloody hell, give it a few weeks and there'd be compulsory smoking, Smirnoff in the water-cooler and organic lasagne layered with magic mushrooms.

It got worse. On teacher training day when we normally have sessions on interactive white-boards, maximising A*s and assessment for learning, a brave parade of Year 11, 12 and 13 students took centre stage. Literally.

To a packed hall, they told us they had conducted surveys, used ICT skills to analyse the feedback and even had a PowerPoint shopping list of recommendations, which the cocky sods then presented to us. They liked lessons to be varied; they thought three weeks was the maximum time to wait for coursework to be marked; they liked discipline and enthusiasm in lessons. They thought parental contact should be weighted to positive feedback rather than negative, and they wanted more PCs in the library.

The list continued. Did they want certain teachers, me included, sacked? No, I didn't find that on the list. But they did want pegs on the back of the toilet doors and more salad choice. Oh jeez, it'd be more like John Lewis than a bog-standard comprehensive: "never knowingly undertaught"

would be our new mission statement. Or perhaps, "if you find better results elsewhere, we'll happily refund the tax your parents paid". Yes, yes, yes, enough! Somebody please give them a week's detention.

I emailed Clarence House to tell Prince Charles that I agreed with him when he said that young people's aspirations were too high - he'd obviously heard about our crew of adolescent visionaries. I'm surprised that half of them weren't up there with the two Davids vying for leadership of the Tory party. And if one of you says that the school used to be a Goliath, you'll get your temporary exclusion orders quicker than a Blunkett or a Boris.

Children, know your place: look, listen and learn - note, there was no mention of getting lippy or lecturing. But Miss, they beseeched me, we tell it like it is and we just want to do well. We want to set our own boundaries, be responsible for our own learning. We're not trying to tell you what to do - we're just a vocal majority trying to tell you what we think works best. We think extending the school hours further and involving the community more is a great idea, and what's more we'd like to finish this article off. Bloody typical - they want the last word.

Before I hand over the keyboard, trying to retain ownership of as many column inches as possible, I sigh: "What on earth is education coming to? And why are there continuous pink sunsets over a little corner of the East Midlands? Oh dear, no room for the students. Perhaps The TES can let them have their own column? (We don't give into emotional blackmail, Ed).

Genevieve Fay teaches at Beauchamp college, Oadby, in Leicestershire. To find out more about the college's student voice go to: www.beauchamp.leics.sch.uk

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