Unions fearful of the opinions of children

4th July 2003 at 01:00
Teachers' leaders warn of the dangers of Ofsted's new pupil questionnaires. Michael Shaw reports

QUESTIONNAIRES for children to fill in as a part of their schools'

inspections have been described as misleading and potentially dangerous by teaching unions.

The Office for Standards in Education published the new inspection materials yesterday for schools to use from September.

These include controversial questionnaires for primary and secondary pupils, which ask questions such as "Are teachers fair to you?" and "Do you have to work hard?"

Ofsted's questionnaires will be voluntary and do not need to be given to all year groups. But schools will be expected to use them or to make their own arrangements for consulting pupils.

The questionnaires state in bold type that pupils must not write the names of teachers or other adults.

However, unions fear this will not be enough to prevent children identifying teachers and warn that the questions are difficult for younger pupils to answer.

Eamonn O'Kane, general secretary of the National Association of Schoolmasters Union of Women Teachers, said: "They are more likely to cause problems for teachers than provide real information. If you ask a primary school child 'Are your lessons interesting and fun?', they might circle 'No' just because they would rather spend all day in the sand-pit. Ofsted should have left them in the folder marked 'bad ideas'."

The concerns were shared by the National Union of Teachers, which supports evaluation of pupils' opinions but felt Ofsted's questionnaires were potentially misleading.

Heads are also unconvinced. John Dunford, general secretary of the Secondary Heads Association, said the questionnaires were "fraught with danger" and could set back increasingly positive relations between schools and inspectors.

More than half of the 9,000 people consulted by the education watchdog about the new inspection system said pupils should be surveyed.

Sixth-former questionnaires have also been used successfully during inspections for two years.

An Ofsted spokeswoman said the inspectorate had extensively trialled the new questionnaires but would continue to evaluate them and refine them if necessary.

"Questionnaires will not replace the discussions that inspectors have with pupils but they give the opportunity for many more pupils to express their views," she said. "Ofsted believes the questions are asked in a way that is clear and appropriate to the age of pupils."

Teachers at John Scurr primary in Bethnal Green, east London, said that few of their pupils would understand the questionnaires because 88 per cent speak English as an additional language.

Fahmida Begum, a seven-year-old pupil at the school, completed the 14 questions in about five minutes. She said she had been worried when asked to say if teachers were fair. "It was hard because I thought 'Sometimes they are fair and sometimes they are not'," she said.

Fahmida missed the instruction that she should not name staff , writing that the thing she liked most was her head Frank Tanner.

Asked what she would like to change about the school, she wrote: "I would like them to spray fresh air into the toilets."

The full questionnaires are at www.ofsted.gov.uk.

Pick of Primary questions

Circle your answer: Yes Mostly Sometimes No

* Do you like being at this school?

* Are your lessons interesting and fun?

* Do you get help when you are stuck?

* Do you have to work hard?

* Do teachers show you how to make your work better?

* Do other children behave well?

* Are other children friendly?

* Are teachers fair to you?

* Do teachers listen to your ideas?

* Are you trusted to do things on your own?

* Do you want to say anything else about your school? Please do not write down the names of teachers or other adults.

* What I would like to change about my school

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