Union: pupil voice is used to target teachers

16th January 2009 at 00:00
NASUWT flags up danger of management exploitation of children's views

Some heads are manipulating the increasing number of pupil-voice initiatives in schools to bully teachers and promote their own interests, a teachers' union has warned.

A sharp rise over the past two years in queries from members about pupils having a greater say in schools has led the NASUWT to draw up new guidance.

The document - seen by The TES - says the union is: "concerned that student-voice activities might be exploited to reflect the concerns and interests of school managers to the exclusion or detriment of other members of staff".

It gives the example of pupils being asked about teaching quality.

"The way in which students' views are sought or used by the school could be for management rather than educational purposes and to legitimise the management perspective," the guidance says.

Chris Keates, the union's general secretary, said some headteachers had already used requests for pupils' views to bully teachers inappropriately.

"Student questionnaires have been framed in such a way that you are bound to get comments on individual teachers because they are the only ones teaching that lesson," she said.

"They have then been asked to see the head, who has told them that pupils say their lessons are boring on the basis of a very simplistic questionnaire."

Pupil voice is becoming increasingly prevalent in schools. In November, Parliament passed a law that will require schools to consult pupils on everything, from the way they are taught, to behaviour.

The union says it has no problem with the principle of pupil voice as long as it is not abused. But it opposes pupils making formal lesson observations and participating in staff recruitment interview panels.

"Meaningful lesson observation can only be undertaken by individuals who are suitably qualified," the guidance says. "Formal student observation of teachers' practice can risk undermining key elements of the relationship between teachers and pupils by legitimising criticism of teachers."

On interviews, the union says it is important that newly recruited teachers feel confident and not set up to fail. "Part of that confidence will be contingent on being able to establish an appropriate level of rapport with pupils and to feel empowered to act with authority," the guidance reads.

The union cites the case of a pupil on an interview panel who said she believed a candidate was inappropriate for the job. When asked why, she said it was because of her red shoes.

The NASUWT is also concerned about pupils who are associate school governors, pointing out that they can be excluded from talks about appointments, pay and discipline, but it is not compulsory to do so.

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