Kids know what makes a good teacher

10th October 2003 at 01:00
Those in public life rarely live up to other people's expectations and I was disappointed with Peter Peacock's announcement of a review of teacher training in Scotland. Not that I want to throw eggs at the remit; my complaint is with the membership of the review body.

I'm not unhappy about the particular individuals on it. The great and the learned are there but that's precisely it. Where and who are the key stakeholders? That's easy. Not directors of education or policy-makers or higher education specialists or Scottish Executive civil servants. The stakeholders here are pupils but they are not on Mr Peacock's list.

Shock! Horror! The utter subversiveness of asking pupils for their opinions on what skills teachers need to equip them for the modern classroom. But what's so strange about that? Patients are regularly consulted about health services. Users of the various areas of the service sit with professionals on committees to give the consumer view.

This is recognised as good practice but not, it seems, by the education arm of the Scottish Executive. Pupils are children, what do they know about training teachers? I take issue. Once they pass 16, they are adults (well, we allow them to get married, don't we?) and, anyway, what about that old adage about wisdom coming out of the mouths of babes. Our Education Minister should invite two recent school-leavers on to his review body.

I can recommend to him several articulate and perceptive young people who can knock spots off their elders in terms of innovative thinking. They have just embarked on their higher education journeys and are all conveniently situated in the Edinburgh, Glasgow and Stirling areas, pretty handy for the review body meetings which will inevitably be taking place in the central belt.

The case for doing this is incontrovertible. Currently, I am engaged in preparing - under the CPD (continuing professional development) umbrella - a presentation for colleagues on "How to improve your SQA exam results".

Most of my background research has involved discussing vital classroom issues with pupils from last year's sixth year.

What has most impressed me is the way these young adults know instinctively what makes a good teacher in terms of classroom motivation, exam results and the intricacies of discipline matters. They have just left school so everything is fresh in their minds, but they are free to express their opinions because they no longer carry baggage from school.

The other vital "body" not fully represented on the review committee is the ordinary classroom teacher (people like me) who spends most of the school day developing the curriculum, managing discipline and, that most exhausting of tasks, delivering interesting and motivating lessons. There is no job harder in teaching than interacting with a class of pupils, be they primary or secondary.

The management elements of my job as a principal teacher are a dawdle in comparison to the task facing me when I attempt to engage my pupils in the journey of learning. It is also crucial that the teaching experiences are up to date. A friend who has just returned to the classroom after an 18-month secondment can't believe how the policy of inclusion has bitten down to the flesh in terms of discipline issues. Not for the best either.

The solution? Keep the review body membership but add the real life consumer element to it. Let me make it easy for the minister. I can provide the school-leavers and maybe I could sneak myself in through the back door, two for the price of one so to speak. Break with orthodoxy, take a risk.

Schools fail pupils because of inter-professional rivalry between people who supposedly have the same goals. If the job is to be well done, then broaden the membership of the review body. It makes sense.

Marj Adams teaches religious studies, philosophy and psychology at Forres Academy.

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