Pupil voice to become law

14th November 2008 at 00:00
Furious teachers' leaders warn changes are crazy and will add to schools' burden

Schools will be legally forced to consult pupils on everything, from the way they are taught to behaviour and uniform policies, under a new law the Government has backed this week. The changes will put the trend towards "pupil voice" firmly on the statute books.

Teachers' and heads' leaders have reacted furiously to the "crazy" change, which they say will place an unnecessary burden on schools and disillusion their staff.

Some warn the law might leave schools open to being sued by parents who claim their children have not been properly consulted.

The Liberal Democrats' amendment to the Education and Skills Bill, requiring school governing bodies to "invite and consider pupils' views", was accepted by the Government in the House of Lords on Tuesday.

Regulations, yet to be drawn up, will determine exactly what schools must ask pupils about.

But Baroness Morgan, the children's minister, told Parliament: "As a minimum, schools should seek and take account of pupils' views on policies on the delivery of the curriculum, behaviour, the uniform, school food, health and safety, equalities and sustainability, not simply on what colour to paint the walls."

The legislation follows the introduction to schools of other new legal duties to promote community cohesion and pupil wellbeing.

The news was the last straw for John Dunford, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders. "This is crazy," he said. "I am a strong supporter of pupil voice, but schools are increasingly consulting pupils because they think it is the right thing, not because Government tells them to.

"I am annoyed and furious that yet another in this continual stream of legal and educational duties is being placed on schools. They all bring unintended consequences."

Arguing the duty was needed, Baroness Howe, a cross-bench peer, pointed to a recent Ofsted survey of nearly 150,000 pupils. When asked how much they thought their views were listened to in running their schools, 34 per cent had replied "not very much" or "not at all".

Chris Keates, the NASUWT teachers' union general secretary, said: "This is completely unnecessary and will be open to abuse.

"It is a distortion of the important concept of pupil voice that will lead to headteachers and teachers becoming very disillusioned."

But Sir Michael Wilshaw, head of Mossbourne Academy in Hackney, east London, said schools would not have to alter what they were already doing for pupil voice.

The possibility of court action was raised by Lord Elton. The Conservative peer was glad the importance of listening to children had been recognised, but said: "I am sorry that it has to be in legislation.

"We are a litigious nation, and it would be very unfortunate if we were to have a rash of cases of parents saying, `You were not listening to my little Johnny.'"

To prevent this, the regulations would have to be flexible, he said.

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