Kids are ready for the vote

22nd November 2002 at 00:00
Are schools enterprising enough to produce active and responsible citizens? Headteachers appear to think so, says Ross Deuchar.

THE increasing emphasis on citizenship and enterprise education encourages pupils to adopt creative and enterprising approaches to issues and problems. This presents a challenge - not only have teachers to develop pupils' capability to be enterprising and visionary, but also to have a social and moral conscience.

In discussions with headteachers, I have found the response to be very positive towards the principles of citizenship education. Common approaches towards achieving the recommended goals include the use of personal and social education (PSE), environmental studies and religious and moral education (RME), as well as community-based enterprise projects.

Many heads talk about the enterprising ethos of the school playing a key part, through pupil councils, mock elections and participative approaches to school management. Some schools even encourage pupils to have a say in how the budget should be spent.

Many staff cite existing enterprise projects as useful, particularly those who see enterprise education as being at the core of the curriculum and underpinning the ongoing work in all other areas.

However, the rhetoric of the citizenship agenda places even greater expectations on teachers; it also places an emphasis on "participation". Many heads regard the aims of the school as a shared process. One talked to me about the need for all participants to take responsibility, to take risks and to engage in teamwork.

This shared approach, in her eyes, included having the courage to admit when you are wrong, and for all opinions to be valued, whether they are those of the cleaner, janitor, pupil, dinner lady or headteacher. Others spoke of the overall aims of the school being tied to preparing pupils to be participating members of the community.

In all of this debate, it has to be recognised that schools have traditionally been authoritarian institutions. The devolved management of resources by Scottish authorities has increased the emphasis on school leadership in recent years, and this has added to the culture of accountability. Many heads have found it difficult to relinquish their ownership of authority and power and this, with the ever-increasing workload of teachers in the classroom, has resulted in school systems that don't always lend them-selves to full staff participation, let alone pupil participation.

With the teachers' settlement, there is now a new opportunity for staff to engage in a shared approach to the development of school policy and practice in Scotland. However, it must also be recognised that the increased emphasis on pupil consultation has sometimes been stifled by the continuing need for sometimes quite rigid school rules and procedures which still compel pupils to conform in many areas. Can we and should we be trying to address these restraining factors in pursuit of the idea of increasing the drive towards the democratisation of school systems?

While some heads take a broad view of enterprise education projects as vehicles for the expression of collectivist and communitarian values, others go even further by taking a holistic view of "being enterprising" in their general approach to school organisation.

The idea of the enterprising school with shared aims, flat hierarchies and the school as a model of a wider democratic society is one to which we perhaps would all aspire. Research would allow us to judge whether this type of holistic approach may also offer teachers a more enriching way of developing educational policy in their own schools as they meet the challenges of translating the principles of citizenship education into clearly defined classroom practice.

Ross Deuchar is a lecturer in primary education at Strathclyde University.

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