From tiny decisions, great leaders grow

6th April 2007 at 01:00
Norfolk primary pupils learn to face the consequences of their actions

Should we go to war with Iran? Should we pull out of Iraq? And where should we put the tables for Year 4 science?

Children from Poringland primary and Ormesby middle school in Norfolk have been learning how to make international-level decisions by discussing choices in their own lives and examining issues such as the classroom system of rewards and punishments.

Anna Robinson-Pant, of the University of East Anglia, who is running the scheme, said: "Children were very aware of the possibilities for bribery and corruption. They knew they mustn't just give rewards to friends. They are learning to consider all implications."

The implications of their decision-making became particularly clear when pupils suggested they should be able to choose where they sat in class.

They soon discovered that they failed to get their work done sitting next to friends.

"They're able to reason, to discuss criteria, to think things through,"

said Dr Robinson-Pant. "These are skills they'll need for making big decisions later."

Younger pupils focused on the nature of a decision: when you toss a coin, for example, does the coin decide which side it will land on?

Deborah Jarvis, the Poringland Years 1-2 teacher, said: "They wanted a bouncy castle and a swimming pool in the playground, so we looked at why that wasn't practical. Then we showed them that they could have what they wanted if they set their sights slightly lower."

The pupils have also been working with charity policy-makers from India and Ghana. They learnt how southern Indian children campaigned for a footbridge because they were not tall enough to wade across a stream.

"Children in other countries deal with issues such as child labour," said Dr Robinson-Pant. "It shows that there really is a need for children's voices."

The aim is to teach pupils that their decisions and international policy-making are not as dissimilar as they might at first appear.

Kathryn Frederick, Poringland's Year 6 teacher, said: "They're making decisions that could alter the structure of the school day. Then they look wider: how do countries make decisions internationally?

"We're setting them up to be confident individuals, to be responsible for their own actions."

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