Should pupils be in charge of training new teachers?

17th April 2015 at 01:00
Student mentors offer unique insights, learning festival hears

Pupils should mentor newly qualified teachers because young people have insights into schools that no adult can match, a leadership expert has said.

Maggie Farrar, inset, former director of the National College for School Leadership in England, also said she believes that some of the best assessments a headteacher can get may come from staff who have been in the job for less than a month.

Ms Farrar said she knew of a school in England where every NQT worked with two pupil mentors for a year. "They bring a whole other perspective to that young teacher's development that we as adults would never bring," she said.

Speaking at the North Lanarkshire Learning Festival in Motherwell, she added: "If the students aren't part of the endeavour for greater improvement, we lose about 95 per cent of the energy we have for improvement. When you bring the students in, they are amazing."

Ms Farrar, who worked for the leadership college before it was closed down, also said that new teachers had perspectives that could not be matched by more experienced colleagues.

"Sometimes we learn the most from the teachers who are newest to the school - those who are newly qualified," she said.

Ms Farrar told TESS that "a fresh pair of eyes coming into your school" was a real asset. But that perspective was soon lost, she added, so headteachers should ask new recruits what they found most surprising or exciting about the school within a month of their arrival.

Greg Steer, a fourth-year primary teaching student at the University of Strathclyde, said he was "in two minds" about pupil mentors. Although he believed that teachers could benefit from learning what students valued about a school and felt the scheme could work in secondaries, he said that in primaries it would perhaps work only with older pupils.

"Even the term `mentor' could be problematic as the student teacher may feel it undermines them," Mr Steer said. "NQTs aim to be regarded by the pupils as equal to regular staff."

`Invaluable' participation

Isabelle Boyd, North Lanarkshire Council's head of education standards and inclusion, said: "A full array of research and empirical studies show that children and young people are astute when discussing what makes a good teacher."

Pupils always valued teachers who were well prepared for class, explained ideas clearly and made lessons interesting, according to Ms Boyd, who was headteacher at Cardinal Newman High School in Bellshill for more than 10 years.

She added: "The value of pupil voice should be actively encouraged in schools. The contribution pupils can bring through focus groups and decision-making bodies is invaluable and a core component of Curriculum for Excellence."

The Scottish Youth Parliament runs outreach programmes in schools that encourage pupils to put their ideas to staff. "We know that a youth-led approach to engagement encourages participation and allows young people to inspire their peers," said chair Louise Cameron.

Mr Steer said he was more supportive of new teachers sharing their impressions of a school. NQTs often had recent experience of several schools and local authorities, which could be useful for comparison, he said.

"But you would have to be careful about how they were asked, so they don't feel they are being put on the spot," he added.

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