Editorial - You know best - don't let students tell you otherwise

18th October 2013 at 01:00

Life can be unfair. All too often we don't get our own way. From parking wardens to editors by way of the police, authority figures beset the lives of ordinary folk, telling them what they can and cannot do.

Why can't I park here? Because that's what local traffic restrictions dictate. Why can't I walk stark naked down the street? It would be an infringement of the laws of public decency. Why can't I use this column to eulogise the 1996-97 Brentford Football Club squad? The TES powers that be demand that we use this column to discuss matters educational. Everywhere we go, figures of authority get in the way, spoiling our fun.

And never more so than at school. God knows, most people don't want to learn about oxbow lakes, which French verbs take avoir or what the hell a mole is in chemistry. A fairly hefty proportion of students aren't even interested in Shakespeare.

Teachers stop kids running in the corridor. And talking at the back. And shouting at each other. And fighting. Let's be clear, most students perceive most teachers to be boring spoilsports who live to make school as dull as possible.

Many in education don't think it needs to be this way. We should democratise life in schools, they say, especially the teaching and learning. We should bring everyone along on the journey. Let's rope students in to every walk of school life, they argue. Let's involve them in curriculum development; in lesson plans.

It's not even uncommon for advocates of this movement - known as "student voice" - to give the children a say in appointing new teachers. After all, they're going to be doing the learning; it's they who will be the recipients of the service rendered by the new practitioner at the whiteboard.

Alternatively, teachers could stand up and say no to all this. They could point out that teachers are, and always should be, figures of authority.

It is considered old-fashioned in many quarters, but teachers should not be frightened of defending the idea that they know best. They know more than anyone else about their subject matter and about teaching.

Let's lay it on thick: what possible logic is there in asking for the input of a 13-year-old into the content of a lesson about the First World War when he or she has neither a history degree nor any educational training?

As Claire Fox so eloquently puts it on page 24, this is not about silencing all student voices, questions or interventions, but it is about pointing out that teaching in school is "an unequal relationship" and we should not be embarrassed about that.

The teachers who are so vocal in telling their political masters that they are the experts, and that interference is unwelcome, are strangely quiet when it comes to defending their expertise against student voice.

They should point out that if teachers are not granted the same authority enjoyed by other figures in society - not least parking wardens, editors and police officers - their standing with students, parents and the wider community is undermined.

It's time we silenced the endless chat about student voice and started talking about "teacher voice" instead. Everyone would benefit - but most of all the students.


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