How we did it

4th April 2003 at 01:00
At Eastlea community school, pupil power means more than a place on its council - students interview job candidates. Bob Pulman explains.

In two years, Eastlea community school, in the London borough of Newham, a deprived part of the capital's East End, has gone from special measures to "very good" in the eyes of Ofsted. The school has 52 per cent ethnic minority students, with more than 65 languages spoken. Twenty per cent of the school population are refugees, and we have students with severe learning and medical needs. We also have 50 per cent of students on free school meals.

We came out of special measures in November 2000, and in December 2002 Ofsted said we had an excellent headteacher, very good leadership, and very good teaching and learning. We achieved technology college status in September 2001. For two years running, we were in the top 50 most improved schools. In 1998, 13 per cent of pupils achieved five top grades at GCSE; last year the figure was 36 per cent.

In 1999 - when our current principal, Linda Powell, arrived - there was a new leadership team and a solid backbone of existing staff. The vision we formed focused on learning, creating a range of educational opportunities, with enjoyment, a celebration of achievement and high standards of professionalism. We also reorganised so there were five learning areas instead of departments, as well as a range of vocational and academic options and courses outside the school.

Student participation has been part of this vision. All new teachers are interviewed by a panel of between six and 10 students, with the principal sitting at the back of the room. After the interview, the students go through the answers, discuss the strengths and weaknesses and list the candidates in order of preference. The principal then takes this list to the main interview panel where the students' choices are considered. Should the interviewing panel or the principal disagree, the choices can be over-ridden. But in most cases, the pupils prove to be very perceptive.

All candidates are observed teaching, and the students give their feedback: how much did you learn? Did you understand what was going on? Did you enjoy the methods used? They award the lesson points out of 10.

The students receive training on interview techniques, looking for teaching and learning skills. They don't interview internal candidates; if an internal candidate didn't get the job, that could lead to difficulties.

Being interviewed by the students can be daunting for teachers, as some have mentioned afterwards. And, for the students, it's a huge responsibility which they take very seriously. It gives them a huge sense of involvement, and pride, in their school.

Bob Pulman is deputy director of language and literacy at Eastlea community school, London borough of Newham. He was talking to Martin Whittaker. Do you have a success story to share?Email: susan.young@newsint.co.uk

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