Teachers' opinions must count for more than pupils' if order is to be maintained

27th July 2012 at 01:00
And if we do ask them to participate, we should ensure that it's not a phoney exercise

Welcome to the Participation Age. For those we are teaching - the net generation - the world is totally different from that inhabited by previous generations. Even the BBC is no longer content just to give us the news; it wants us to share our insights on everything from plastic surgery to quantum physics. Likewise, our MSPs encourage us to keep in touch by email and follow their profound views on Twitter.

A similar quiet revolution is taking place in schools. Pupils must never have felt so important. Their views are canvassed on everything from the quality of teaching and learning to the colour of toilet roll. If they have not had their fill of participation by the end of the day, they can go home, relax and "rate their teacher" before voting for the next big TV celebrity.

Participation is good; we all appreciate being consulted; we want active pupils, workers and citizens. But is the road we are travelling likely to lead to children appreciating how they can influence decisions, or to disillusionment?

According to a recent survey by the Children's Society, one in 10 children over the age of eight is unhappy, with the number doubling between 10 and 14. In addition, one in six pupils is unhappy about their schools' ability to listen. Some readers may conclude that we need more participation, but children are very adept at recognising when it is tokenism; when adults are using it for their own ends.

There are dangers in the stampede to ever greater participation by pupils. Some schools are verging on treating the "pupils' voice" as sacrosanct, as if courses should be scrapped, teaching styles jettisoned and more fun injected because the consumers of education have spoken.

Let us reflect on the mess we have got into as a society from worshipping the doctrine that the consumer is king in the market. If we persist in allowing pupils' views to increasingly drive the direction in schools, it will culminate in educational bankruptcy.

An ethos should not be allowed to develop where teachers are encouraged to respond like puppets. Our willingness to bow the knee to the "pupil voice", apart from following the educational herd, indicates a paucity of confidence in the direction we should be taking children.

Children are children. They should not be treated as equals. Respected, listened to - yes; but encouraged to perceive their role as disgruntled consumers - definitely not. Effective participation encourages pupils to appreciate that knowledge, experience and reason are vital to separate the ideas and views that are diamonds from dross.

In short, in schools, all are equal but some are more equal than others. The alarm clock is ringing; it is time to waken up and to start resisting the silent slide towards a phoney participation and democratisation of education.

David Halliday, Secondary teacher, teaches at Eyemouth High.

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