More training needed in pupil power

29th February 2008 at 00:00

Governors hold back school councils through reluctance to include children in decisions

More training on the benefits of school councils - especially for school governors - is needed to bring about a culture shift in Wales's schools.

That is the verdict of supporters of school councils who say including pupils in budgeting and the appointment of new teaching staff is crucial for schools in the 21st century.

The comments follow a critical report, Having Your Say, by Estyn. It found that many teachers and governors avoided including members of school councils in big decisions and few secondary schools had appointed associate pupil governors, a statutory requirement since 2005.

School council members can sit on governing body meetings, although they have no automatic voting rights and may be asked to leave during sensitive matters concerning staff.

It is down to individual LEAs to decide how they structure their governor training. Blaenau Gwent is currently the only authority to run a course on associate pupil governors.

But TES Cymru has also learned that chairs of governing bodies are unaware of the regulations about pupil governors, with one, who did not wish to be named, saying he could see no advantage in pupil involvement at all.

"It's all to do with culture," said Hugh Pattrick, chair of Governors Wales, which recently published documents to help schools understand the pupil governor procedure. "It's about changing minds and attitudes, so there has to be more training. There hasn't been any for governors."

In response to the report's overwhelming recommendation for more guidance, the Assembly said it would be organising more training for governors, as well as producing a good practice handbook for schools.

Rhys Williams, spokesperson for NUT Cymru, said it is important to remember that Wales has led the way in making school councils statutory, and most schools have embraced the regulations on pupil participation.

"I'm sure many teachers are wary of giving power to pupils," said Mr Williams. "But education does change and over the past decade I think strategies used in teaching have evolved."

Steve Gullick, director of the All Wales Centre of Excellence for Governor Training and Research and a former teacher and governor, says it makes sense for pupils to be represented on a governing body as they have a high stake in the school.

Not all schools were found to be lacking an effective pupil voice, with some inspectors saying that a key aspect of those with "outstanding features" was the supportive atmosphere developed by heads.

However, inspectors said not enough schools were allowing pupils full independence and influence on practical matters, such as school uniform and toilet facilities.

The report's findings back a survey in November by Funky Dragon, the young people's Welsh Assembly, which found that some school councils were having only a superficial impact on the running of schools.

It concluded that teaching staff were "at best unaware of the government's guidance or, at worst, choosing to ignore it".

`OUTSTANDING AND LIBERATING'

Estyn inspectors described the pupil liaison group at Caldicot School in Monmouthshire as an "outstanding feature" in their most recent report.

Two pupils from each year group are chosen by governors to represent pupils at a higher level, where they influence decisions from budgeting to teaching evaluation.

The school's head girl and boy - elected by pupils - are associate pupil governors and sit on governing body meetings, although they are not present for the more serious issues.

"Some staff can be fearful of letting go of power," said Ms Gwyer Roberts. "It does need to be really well thought out.

"It has worked here because I'm really passionate about it and I have converted the staff. Some are young, some are old, some are reticent, but now they can see the value of it.

"It is a culture shift, but for us it has been a liberating force."

The school scored four grade 1s - the highest - and two grade 2s in the report overall.

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