Power to the pupil

22nd October 2004 at 01:00
Performance of teenage governors convinces head they should be able to vote in meetings

A headteacher is calling for a change in the law so pupils can vote on matters ranging from the curriculum to how their school's budget is managed.

Gable Hall school in Corringham, Essex, became one of the first schools to put pupils on its governing body last year.

Legislation introduced in 2003 means under-18s can be "associate governors", which allows them to attend meetings but does not let them vote.

But head John King says the performance of his four pupil governors has convinced him they deserve real influence over school policy. He said they have made meetings more effective, enjoyable and jargon-free. He wants the students to be able to vote on all decisions, except those involving individual teachers' salaries.

"Why should their views not carry the same weight as the other governors?"

Mr King said.

"When it comes to the crunch, the democratic process involves voting. I do not agree with those who think that a 16-year-old is not mature enough. In the unlikely event they wanted something that was palpably stupid they could be out-voted."

Mr King said graffiti at the school had almost entirely stopped since pupils became governors, because they had explained to students that the money used on cleaning walls could be better spent.

The tone of governors' meetings has also changed.

"People actually smile now," Mr King said. "It is not just that the pupils contribute important information. Their presence means we avoid lapsing into jargon and acronym-speak. As a result, there has also been a greater contribution from parent-governors." Aimee Drake, 16, a pupil governor and head girl, said she had found her first governors' meeting confusing but was now more confident in expressing her views.

"I think we would vote maturely, and other pupils would be more willing to come to us with ideas if they knew we had a real say," she said.

Inspectors who visited Gable Hall this year praised pupils' attitudes and the work of its governing body.

Gable Hall has also replaced a committee of year and department heads with one of "lead learners" composed of four pupils and five advanced skills teachers.

Education ministers say they want pupils to have a greater say as part of their drive to promote personalised learning.

John Dunford, general secretary of the Secondary Heads Association, said that giving pupil governors a vote would be a "logical extension" of the Government's agenda.

Charles Clarke, Education Secretary, is known to support lowering the voting age in elections to 16. But a government spokeswoman said there were no plans to give a vote to governors under 18.

* THE VOICE OF YOUTH

Changes the pupil governors at Gable Hall want:

* Creation of a sixth form

* More freedom for high-achieving pupils to learn on their own and a simplified curriculum for pupils who are struggling academically.

* A covered area in the playground for wet days.

* More musical instruments.

Changes they have already won:

* Air-conditioning in the IT room.

* Pupils allowed to drink water in lessons.

* A greater range of healthy food and drinks in the canteen.

* More computers.

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