We're not just trouble, pupils tell adults

4th June 2004 at 01:00
It's all about respect. And when adults expect pupils to use school toilets they would not go near themselves, young people know exactly how much they are getting.

The state of school toilets in Wales says everything about how little adults respect young people, according to Peter Clarke, the children's commissioner.

"Teachers' toilets are covered by health and safety. Children's are not.

Estyn can only intervene if there is raw sewage across the floor.

"I have heard so many humiliating accounts of teenage girls having to ask embarrassing question in front of class for basic sanitary products, no locks on doors, or having to ask for toilet paper.

"This is not rocket science. It is something we, as adults, can fix," he told teachers at the Welsh national education exhibition in Cardiff last week.

Mr Clarke claimed the relationship between adults and children was changing - from the old "seen but not heard" philosophy to a process of negotiation.

Yet many children still feel they are not valued by the adult community.

"They feel they are respected individually. Children talk about teachers as trusted adults. Teachers are seen as allies by children and young people.

But they don't feel in general that they are respected by us, the adult community," he said.

"They hear senior politicians talking about social order as if it was a crime to be young, bouncy and energetic. It's important to remember that children are the biggest victims of violence. I didn't expect young people would be telling me so strongly, in all languages and age groups, that the adult community felt they were trouble in some way."

Mr Clarke acknowledged there were areas of conflict between teachers and pupils. But in many - including testing, exclusions and abuse allegations - they had common interests.

"Children tell me what effect it has on them, being educated in an environment where teachers are under pressure because of the testing regime. I am extremely pleased we had the courage in Wales to get rid of key stage 1 tests, and am extremely pleased with the proposals in the Daugherty report. There is an identification of interests between teachers and children there."

Both parties would want to see allegations of abuse made against professionals dealt with promptly and fairly. And the pressure to exclude is higher because of the pressure on teachers to get children to perform - leading to greater control in the classroom than perhaps would otherwise be necessary.

He added: "It seems we are fixated on controlling our young and that's blocking our capacity to think about other ways we can engage with them."

Mr Clarke was one of several key note speakers at the TES Cymru-sponsored Wales education exhibition and conference in Cardiff last week.

More than 2,650 visitors browsed stalls, attended curriculum seminars and listened to other high-profile speakers including Jane Davidson, education and lifelong learning minister; Susan Lewis, chief inspector of schools; and Professor Richard Daugherty, who led the recent review into KS2 and 3 tests.

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