Uneasy at pupil power

23rd June 2006 at 01:00
Governors split over students in the ranks. Andrew Mourant reports

Some school governors in Wales are uneasy about pupil associates joining their ranks. They fear possible breaches of confidentiality and are worried about young people getting involved in sensitive issues.

Under the School Councils (Wales) Regulations of 2005, up to two students from years 11 to 13 can be nominated to the governing body.

They would hold office for one year but could be reappointed. Like adult governors, they could be removed for misconduct, with the right of appeal.

As associates, they cannot vote at full meetings but may be allowed to do so in committee. They could be excluded from discussions on topics relating to staffing matters, pay, grievance dismissal and individual pupil discipline.

Concerns emerged during Governors Wales's annual summer conference at Llandindrod Wells, where the prospect of pupil associates stirred mixed feelings. Several delegates were in favour, believing that it was a chance for students to develop citizenship and responsibility.

"Involvement would give them ownership," said Hugh Pattrick, a member of Governors Wales management committee.

"It would be a chance for people really to listen to them, not just pay lip service. It's part of democracy - if they contribute to decisions they can see what the difficulties are."

Others thought it good for young people to see how a school budget operates, and that their involvement would result in "immediate feedback without troublesome rumour".

But there were misgivings. Some governors felt students should have no say "in the professional ability or otherwise" of teaching staff. They also foresaw "difficulty in containing contentious discussions".

"In law you can't ask them to sign a confidentiality agreement because they are under 18," said Cath Pickett, of the Welsh Assembly's school management division. Olwen Williams, Governors Wales management committee member from Anglesey, feared the result might be to "stultify discussion".

Glyn Pickering, from Denbighshire, doubted the enthusiasm of his colleagues for pupil governors.

"Unless I get to push it along, I wonder if they'll take it seriously," he said.

Anne Pearce, from Caerphilly, also predicted an uphill struggle. "Some might not want to make it work," she said.

"I think my board will be fairly keen, but it will take a lot to get round the pitfalls."

* All school governors in Wales should in future be checked by the Criminal Records Bureau, the conference decided. Current CRB checks introduced in 2002, which mean anyone working in a school may be screened, do not automatically cover governors.

Boards can make CRB requests in individual cases if they feel it is necessary.

Proposing that this should extend to all governors, Irene Cameron from Newport said: "There are rules barring someone if they refuse to undertake a check at the governing body's request.

"That could be a case of discrimination. All governors should be checked.

The system needs changing to make sure it's working properly."

Delegates agreed to lobby the Assembly for change. They also felt that CRB referrals should be at no extra cost to the school or the individual.

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