Is the glass half empty or half full?

19th January 2007 at 00:00
I have been, and remain, a passionate advocate of education for citizenship in our schools. Primarily, this is because I feel that such an education is about more than citizenship in the abstract.

It raises central questions that we should be asking ourselves, such as: what is education for? what are schools for? and what values should schools aim to develop in young people?

Further, I remain convinced that most teachers, and new teachers in particular, worried about indiscipline, spending cuts, large classes and curriculum overload, nonetheless remain open to the ideas of education for citizenship and are willing to be convinced as to its value. It is not about hectoring: it is about persuading.

A recent conference on values and citizenship that I attended convinced me that much good work was going on but that there was more to do. In particular, a large part of the agenda was couched in terms of the content that we want young people to learn, with an impetus for subjects to work together and give a credible joined-up learning experience.

However, things were less positive in terms of the democracyconsultation part. There was much talk about the rights that young people have, but the idea of giving them a genuine say in what really affects them in the school, and in particular in the classroom, was to a great extent absent from the conference.

This is a shame, because it is not just altruistic. All the research suggests that the impact of consulting pupils is important for better learning and teaching.

Most schools have taken pupil rights on board, but there is much evidence of tokenism and poor practice. It seems a case of "get on with the content and never mind about the democratic practice" - perhaps understandable in our highly authoritarian school system, where most teachers do not feel they have any real say in what goes on, never mind pupils.

I think we are now at a tipping point. We go forward, or the project stalls - at the moment it is finely balanced. I think the glass is half full but needs to be topped up - always a good analogy for Friday's TESS.

Our school colleagues now need convincing that the pupil voice is valuable both for democracy and society as a whole, as well as for the learning and teaching process.

Henry Maitles is head of the department of curricular studies in Strathclyde University's faculty of education

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