Students at a Southampton school will soon be assessing the performance of their teachers. Adi Bloom reports
It is a situation familiar to most teachers: an inspector sits at the back of the classroom, notebook in hand, frowning as fractious pupils interrupt the lesson. But at Wildern school, in Southampton, the grimly-focused inspector will be a pupil.
From next year, a group of Year 8 pupils will sit in on a range of lessons, observing whether teaching methods and learning aims are compatible. They will point out if a lesson involves too few visual or auditory elements. If pupils' behaviour or teachers' lack of classroom control are hindering learning, it will be reported to senior staff.
Ashley Grace, 12, believes his presence will be an important reminder for teachers. "Without pupils, there would not be a school," he said. "Teachers are there to teach us. But you have to be treated with respect.
"I suppose they have been on courses about how to handle pupils. But I can say, I am a pupil and I know you are not controlling the class properly."
Lizzie Galvin, 13, said: "We do not want to make teachers feel uncomfortable by pretending to be inspectors. And not everyone will agree with everything we say. But it should help us all in the end."
The pupil inspectors were chosen for their commitment, motivation, and reasonable behaviour. They are of differing ability enabling them to judge how each pupil learns.
They will then provide feedback to staff and students. Jeff Threlfall, Wildern head, does not believe teachers will resent the young inspectors or that they will be bullied for taking the role.
"We are developing a vision for the next era of the school," he said.
"We've given pupils the vocabulary to be able to express what works for them. But really they are just describing how they like to learn."
Staff will discuss pupils' suggestions with their department, deciding as a team which ones to adopt. In the first year of the project, only volunteer teachers will be observed. But, within two or three years, all will be expected to take part.
Helen Dear, English teacher, said: "I've had teacher-training and they haven't, so I don't feel nervous. We can explain the principles behind what we do.
"If pupils are involved in how they learn, it can only be a good thing."
The Wildern scheme is an extension of a programme, run by Portsmouth university's education department, which invites Year 8 pupils from local schools to comment on the work of trainee teachers.
John Edwards, who runs the programme, said: "It's a direct, unvarnished account."
His day-long training session for pupils helps them to recognise useful qualities in trainees.
But Wildern pupils believe that they can adapt this to identify good learning practice across the school. Last week they held a one-day conference for all year groups, to discuss their ideas. These will form a booklet, Learning the Wildern Way, which they will discuss with pupils, teachers and governors.
The Year 8 students also plan to offer constructive criticism to other pupils, suggesting that better classroom behaviour may lead to an improvement in everyone's learning. The aim is to provide a form of classroom peer-policing.
"They may say, what do you know?" Ashley said. "There are some pupils who think they rule the school. But mucking around won't make them more intelligent."
WHAT THE INSPECTORS WANT
Qualities that make a successful lesson identified by John Edwards, head of education, Portsmouth university
* Classroom organisation
* Clear instructions
* Fairness to all pupils
* A mixture of visual, auditory and kinaesthetic learning styles
* A teacher with good subject knowledge