Don't let children assess teachers

21st September 2001 at 01:00
The new White Paper seeks to "encourage children's active participation in decisions that affect them", so "Ofsted will seek out the views of a school's pupils as part of its inspection".

It is possible for this process to be informative for pupils and teachers. It is also possible for it to be divisive and damaging.

One thing is clear: pupils have no desire to appraise or evaluate their teachers. It breaks a crucial boundary in their relationship and they will not provide meaningful data in this context.

Our firm has worked with some 500 schools in gathering pupil feedback and are convinced that it is a powerful source of evidence for school improvement. Pupil perceptions of factors such as expectations, safety and participation deeply affect their motivation and engagement to learn. But there are some key things to remember if this process is to be successful:

* Don't ask pupils to evaluate or judge their teachers. They're not qualified and it makes them acutely uncomfortable. Instead, invite their perceptions on how they feel in class and school.

* Provide a structure to the questions. There is nothing less motivational than offering feedback and not seeing any action taken. Yet, if feedback is a free-for-all many of the suggestions will be impossible or illogical.

* Don't bring in outsiders every few years to solicit views. Collecting feedback needs to be an integral part of a school's permanent management process.

Given the sensitive nature of the data involved and the need to communicate findings back to pupils, the ideal guardians of the process are teachers themselves.

A bit of trust can go a long way in making this "formative" (which uses assessment constructively, to improve) assessment rather than merely "summative" (a snapshot of performance). We have seen profound transformations in personal and organisational effectiveness as a result of pupil feedback - it is an opportunity not to be wasted.

Russell Hobby Transforming Learning project The Hay Group Ltd 52 Grosvenor Gardens, London SW1

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