'Miss must not chew her pen'

13th April 2001 at 01:00
What happens when you let children as young as five set their teachers' performance targets? A Pinner school is finding out. Julie Henry reports

LIKE so many of their peers, the staff at Cannon Lane first school are under pressure to meet targets; what is unusual, however, is that some have been set by five-year-olds.

"Miss has to make sure children concentrate and not bite her pen," said six-year-old Miles Nikovic. "So we remind her what she's got to do, just like she reminds us."

The school in Pinner, north-west London, has taken the radical step of involving the 360 pupils, aged four to eight, in their teachers' performance management process. This means they are consulted before the head agrees annual targets with her staff.

Headteacher Reena Keeble said: "I was beginning to feel very frustrated by the influx of Government initiatives and as if I was losing sight of what my job was about.

"I decided to go back to the children and get them involved in how the school could be better."

A working party of five articulate, confident and hard-working pupils, aged five to seven, was set up. Questionnaires were sent round to find out pupil priorities. As well as contributing to teachers' targets (see box right) many of the children's ideas have been incorporated into the school's development plan.

In fact every area of school life has been influenced by children's views - from the curriculum to more basic issues such as the lack of cubicles in one of the boys' toilets, meaning that as Miles bluntly put it: "You have to walk all the way to the other side of the school if you want a poo."

The exercise forced Mrs Keeble to write the aims of the schol in a simple way and ask direct questions - such as "did it get done?" - both elements that are often missing from jargon-infested school plans.

Not all the pupils' ideas have found favour. Mrs Keeble said she had to negotiate with the group to keep a target to improve boys' writing because the boys did not think it was an issue.

Pupils Priya Bansal and Sarah Giles said the working group had taught them about working as a team and five-year-old Naaman Curtis thought that even the reception class should have a say.

The children have continually argued the case for improvements to the playground. And, although the head was forced to explain that demands for a swimming pool were unrealistic, pupil Shayman Amin is like a dog with a bone about more reasonable proposals, such as a pond.

The children take their responsibilities seriously and are already asking about the June governors' meeting where they will report on whether they feel the aims of the last development plan have been met.

Chair of governors Teresa Jones said it was vital that governors heard from the most important people in the school. "We need to work together for target-setting to work," she said.

"Everyone is clear about what needs to be achieved and there is no area that we would not want children to contribute to. It's best to have it all out in the open."

"I've found facing the children's questions really focuses the mind."

STAFF MUST...

* not leave worksheets in the staffroom

* get to the playground on time when they are covering break

* make sure their class gets out first at home time

* remember where everything is

* try not to shout


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