Why we must open our ears to student voice debate

25th October 2013 at 01:00

My first day of secondary school was a memorable one. In a woodwork lesson, the teacher held something up and asked a boy sitting next to me, "What wood is this made out of?"

My fellow student was clearly unsure, and I whispered in his ear, "Pine." With that, the teacher wrapped his knuckles across my head, so hard that it made me cry. The message was clear: "Teachers are in charge. Don't utter a word unless I say so."

As a student, I had so many questions - life didn't seem to make sense. However, I was part of a system: subject to the "wisdom" of teachers who "should not need to flatter the young by fawning over their opinions". Over time, I reached what seems to be the only reasonable human reaction when someone takes away your voice - I decided to fight. Stripped of a voice I'd make my mark in any way possible. Eventually, my crusade became a pointless one. My voice, my opinion, didn't matter. School was a facade; a ruse; a symbolic passage through identity with an army to keep things in check. So I left.

I could have given up completely. I could have decided that an alternative solution to my frustration existed in the form of extremism, hatred or self-destruction. But, for some reason, I felt driven by the ambition to create an environment where no child would "slip through the net" and no voice would be unheard.

I agree that students will "choose on the basis of popularity" if given the misguided opportunity to appoint members of staff. I also agree that student voice should not be heard "for the sake of it". The best teachers, in my opinion, ask the best questions and are prepared to listen to the answers. But that serves only to emphasise the fact that the best questions don't happen by accident: they are the result of the fantastic work of teachers.

In my school we listen. Students feel valued, and cohort after cohort is eager to make a contribution to the world and, incidentally, does very well academically and socially.

The best teachers do know best and are at ease facilitating the development of a nation's soul. Those that can't, don't and, deservedly, will suffer the consequences - no matter how much they "demand" authority.

Carl McCarthy, Headteacher, Newlands Primary School, Hampshire.

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