Students are running the show

1st October 2004 at 01:00
A bit of responsibility has worked wonders for morale in one college sixth form, writes Martin Whittaker

Name: Eggbuckland community college

School type: 11-18 comprehensive and technology college

Proportion of children eligible for free school meals: 7.6 per cent

Results: 53.8 per cent of pupils gained five or more grades A* to C at GCSE

Laptops and interactive whiteboards have not only changed lessons at Eggbuckland community college, they have also stimulated student leadership.

A system devised to give students responsibility for supervising the computer rooms has flourished and the approach has been extended into other areas of school life.

The college has launched a new post-16 leadership scheme, which gives students credit for a range of citizenship-related challenges.

And it is considering allowing its sixth-formers to act as go-betweens in helping Connexions personal advisers reach out to disaffected youngsters.

Eggbuckland's principal, Katrina Borowski, also aims to replace the college's school council with a new student leadership team - one with clout.

"I feel that as we have a senior leadership team for the whole college, there should be a parallel student leadership team," she says. "I want to give them some quite meaty issues to discuss and a budget. And I would like them to be autonomous. I don't really want to have a teacher there."

Eggbuckland is an 11-18 comprehensive with technology college status on the outskirts of Plymouth, with more than 1,500 pupils on roll.

The college is heavily oversubscribed, though some of the highest-attaining students from local primary schools go to the city's grammars.

This year nearly 54 per cent of pupils gained five or more A* to C GCSEs.

This was a fall on the past two years' results, although Miss Borowski says it was expected of that cohort.

In its last inspection, the Office for Standards in Education declared Eggbuckland "a good and effective college" and "innovative". It has also been used as a case study both in an Ofsted report on the progress of information and communications technology in schools, and in a snapshot of the use of technology in schools throughout Europe.

Ms Borowski was able to see how much the school had progressed for herself.

She used to be its vice-principal and returned a year ago after five years as head of Tiverton high in Devon.

When she arrived back, she noticed the staff were much more competent in ICT, and students were much more willing to take on responsibility.

"Students would grab hold of me in the corridor and say 'Miss Borowski, we would like to do such and such, is it OK?'

"One Year 11 group of girls, who saw me last autumn, said they were going to put on a dance production to raise money for breast cancer research. I was quite bowled over."

The college runs an optional laptop project beginning with Year 8 to 9, where students have the use of their own laptop in lessons. This has challenged conventional approaches to teaching and led to students playing a greater part in their own learning.

Another development came about through the need for more computers. The students had to find a new way to manage their use. So now computer rooms are supervised at break and lunchtimes by students appointed as access managers, selected from Year 7 to 11 by the students themselves.

Teachers and students treat them the same as ancillary staff. And the students have devised their own grades based on national vocational qualification levels, starting at level 1, up to level 3. The system has evolved so that students at level 3 are now training those at level 1.

"They appoint them, assess them and appraise them on to the next level," says assistant principal Gaie Tweedie.

"They can even sack them. So we have a whole little company of access managers. We now find Year 7 youngsters actually banning a Year 11 student from an ICT base. It's nothing to do with age, it's about having the confidence and competence level to do the job."

She admits that some of the younger ones occasionally try to appoint friends unfairly. However, the older students, with their far greater oversight of the programme, ensure that any "little Hitlers" get weeded out.

The school extended the access manager idea to put youngsters in charge of tutor groups when staff are having their breaks. Again, students volunteer for the roles and are trained by their peers.

Those at level 3 also train younger students to meet and greet visitors at the school reception. Following on from this, the school has trialled and now launched a new sixth-form leadership scheme.

"All of a sudden it opened up this great opportunity," says Ms Tweedie.

"There were certain sixth-formers who would be interested, for example, in leading charity work in school, or saying they wanted to raise money for Comic Relief, or organise the school sponsored walk."

The college's post-16 leadership scheme is accredited through the Asdan universities youth award scheme, which gives youngsters the equivalent of 60 UCAS points.

Youngsters have to meet a variety of personal challenges, which are mentored by teachers, in areas including community action, work experience, career planning, and foreign travel.

"Pupils need to be given more responsibility," says Katrina Borowski. "I think we have gone through quite a prescriptive phase in education.

"What we are trying to do is go back to where we might have been, with youngsters being maybe a little more independent, free thinking and responsible and getting more involved in community projects.

"This is the core of our sixth-form provision. If you are coming to Eggbuckland sixth form, you sign up for student leadership."

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