Pupil priority is late-running buses;The Sweeney;School Management

10th December 1999 at 00:00
Clare Doohan, a diminutive but reflective member of our first year, wants to know why the public telephone in Holy Rood High is not available for pupils' use. She has also put a number of suggestions to her year head, Donald MacDonald, about school buses and lunches.

When I, in devil's advocate mode, suggest that teachers have been dealing with such matters for years and appreciate the problems better than the pupils, she politely points out that she wants to be involved in decisions and to have the opportunity to give her views about the school. She continues, without prompting, to suggest that inviting pupils to speak to next year's first year on their arrival would be more effective than teachers addressing them.

Mr MacDonald believes firmly in consultation with pupils and is determined to try to resolve their concerns. He is a guidance teacher and a member of our senior management team, but it is principally his background in physical education that has demonstrated the need for consultation and negotiation.

I often feel that PE teachers are literally rubbing shoulders with the pupils and sharing their space. They frequently deal with young people who are volunteers and are obliged to be flexible in order to maintain participation. Confrontation and crisis are very rare in our PE department, as compromise and cajoling are blended with consistency and high aspirations.

Mr MacDonald has 234 first year pupils in his charge - equivalent to the roll of many primary schools. He has created an expectation among his charges that they will be consulted. He established the ground rules for Top Form, with points for attendance, punctuality, behaviour and dress. The pupils responded zealously, and class representatives wanted to know what would be done about late buses, which could unfairly disadvantage certain classes. He told me with a chuckle of their view that a non-uniform day close to the end of term could encourage bad habits and slacking in the approach to the Christmas holidays. He was touched by their determination to raise funds for pupils in the year group who might not be able to afford the outdoor education week.

In the national arena, the opposition will claim that Sam Galbraith's attempts to consult children over the education Bill are perfunctory and tokenistic. The two Holy Rood pupils who attended the consultative meeting, Catherine Murray and Simon Brown, did not remotely expect that their views would radically alter the shape of the legislation, but both put a question to the Children and Education Minister, and that is an unusual experience for pupils.

Catherine and Simon are members of Holy Rood's sixth-year committee, which holds regular meetings, chaired by one of their own number, to represent views to the school's senior management. A topical issue for them is the monitoring of progress and attainment, which has become a daily reality. At every stage they have had the opportunity to contribute to shaping the process.

Representatives of all year groups convene as the pupil council, which is facilitated by assistant headteacher Wendy Doran. Pupils' concerns tend to focus on mundane aspects of school life, as they generally appreciate their teachers and recognise their dedication to them. Lunches and buses feature more regularly in debate than English or maths. The maturity and earnestness of pupils' contributions has surprised staff.

Customer awareness is a feature of modern commerce. Banks, building societies and insurance companies have established call centres where people without surnames become your friend in 30 seconds and vow to spend the rest of their lives at your service.

Schools have taken steps towards customer awareness, and pupil councils and representative committees have an increasingly prominent role. At Holy Rood, we have piped music in the foyer, and we may soon replace Vivaldi's concertos with the Spice Girls. Tell us what you want, what you really, really want.

Pat Sweeney is headteacher of Holy Rood High School, Edinburgh

Log-in as an existing print or digital subscriber

Forgotten your subscriber ID?


To access this content and the full TES archive, subscribe now.

View subscriber offers


Get TES online and delivered to your door – for less than the price of a coffee

Save 33% off the cover price with this great subscription offer. Every copy delivered to your door by first-class post, plus full access to TES online and the TES app for just £1.90 per week.
Subscribers also enjoy a range of fantastic offers and benefits worth over £270:

  • Discounts off TES Institute courses
  • Access over 200,000 articles in the TES online archive
  • Free Tastecard membership worth £79.99
  • Discounts with Zipcar, Buyagift.com, Virgin Wines and other partners
Order your low-cost subscription today