How pupils can drop you right in it - without even naming a toy

7th December 2007 at 00:00

It is not just in the Sudan where pupils' decisions can lead to trouble for their teachers.

Britain's second largest teachers union has reported a surge in complaints about schools in the UK taking "pupil voice" too far.

NASUWT representatives across England say they have been contacted by angry teachers shocked by the responsibilities pupils have been given.

In one school in the North East, teachers found their lessons being observed and commented upon by sixth formers, apparently without warning or consultation.

In a London primary, eight-year-olds have been watching their peers' lessons and are invited to comment.

Children's involvement on interview panels has been criticised, with interviewees complaining that it is unfair for pupils to ask "how many after school clubs will you be taking on?"

In one school, teachers were told to issue pupils with effort marks for every lesson after their school council demanded it. The decision was made with no consultation with classroom teachers.

There are reports of children touring classrooms with clipboards and judging whether they were "conducive" to learning.

John Rimmer, NASUWT national executive member for the North West, said casework for his region alone had escalated to double figures in six months.

He said: "There are some serious issues with the ways in which schools are interpreting the concept of pupil voice. Last academic year we had no complaints at all about pupils being used on interview panels. All this seems to be really creeping in through the back door.

"We all encourage the voice of pupils to be heard, but I'm not sure every school understands how to go about it."

Mick Lyons, the union's national executive member for the North East, has received similar complaints. "The views of the student council are not the be all and end all of life," he said.

The rise comes after a government push to give pupils more say, although ministers recently rejected recommendations to make school councils compulsory. Research from Birmingham University has suggested that they make the most progress when they are given a say on teaching and behaviour, not just meals and social events.

However, some teachers have found pupil observations rewarding. At Preston Manor High in Wembley, north London, a team of trained pupils has been observing lessons for the last two years.

Sarah Creasey, an English teacher, said she discovered she was not giving pupils enough time to answer questions. She said: "It opens up a dialogue and makes them appreciate how difficult your job is."

John Dunford, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said he thought pupil voice was "a very important part of running the school efficiently and effectively".

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