Under the Every Child Matters agenda, we must give children a voice and yet at the same time safeguard them. We have a well-established school council which usually meets once a fortnight. The children are keen to listen to what I perceive to be the case - and very quick to put me straight. How about setting up a running club at lunchtime, I ask. Yes, but have you considered the health and safety aspects, they reply. What we really need is a lunchtime disco every week, they say. Ah, but what about health and safety, I counter. Impasse.
We welcome many work experience students into school. I always talk them through a written explanation of our expectations of them. They are support assistants. They must treat the children with respect. They should dress so they can work comfortably but with regard for their professional status. If they see behaviour which does not meet our high standards, they must tell a member of staff. Students are welcome in the staffroom if they are invited in by a member of staff; being there is part of learning about the world of work, but it is also a place for staff to unwind. They must understand confidentiality.
Most rise to the challenge and are an asset during their stay. I believe it is because we make clear what is expected that we reap the benefits.
We bemoan lack of respect and yet we empower young people. I feel that we should be telling children what to do to restore the pecking order in civilised society. This is how it is because this is what is good for you.
Listen to me because, as an older person I know what is best for you. Let me teach you to listen and to respect my judgment and then, when you are older, you can decide for yourself what is right and what is best. Or is that a breach of human rights? No doubt the politically correct police will put me straight.
Val Woollven is head of a primary school in Plymouth