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Where pupils give out the stars

Forget Ofsted, here are the toughest critics of all. Stephen Lucas reports

As if years of stress from visits by inspectors were not bad enough, staff at five secondary schools are now being scrutinised by teenagers.

Year 9 pupils are looking at teaching and learning, rewards and sanctions, the school environment, uniform and the structure of the timetable across different schools.

The project, called Pupil Learning Walk, has been running since January and will end on June 15, when the 10 pupils from schools in the north-west of England write up their findings.

The scheme is aimed at helping pupils - from Canon Slade, St James's, George Tomlinson and the Deane in Bolton and Bury church secondary in Bury - get involved in school life, and to highlight good practice.

Pupils are not allowed to inspect their own schools but they host eight pupils from the others.

Roz Binge, an English and drama teacher at Canon Slade, which is co-ordinating the scheme, said: "Pupils look at whether the teacher explains things clearly, whether homework is given out, and the teaching styles used.

"The schools will not be named in the final report. We do not want this to be threatening."

But for Neil Smith, 45, a maths teacher at George Tomlinson, being scrutinised by pupils was as bad as an Office for Standards in Education inspection.

He said: "It does not matter how much experience you have, if you are put under the spotlight it is still nerve-wracking."

Ben Ward, a geography teacher at Canon Slade, whose lesson was assessed, found the experience less alarming. He said: "There are so many observations these days, from heads of departments and student teachers, that having someone else in is not a stress or a concern."

The findings, including a video of the observations, will be presented to an audience of 300 pupils at the Reebok stadium, the home of Bolton Wanderers football club, next month.

Adam Barclay, 14, a pupil at Canon Slade and one of the inspectors, said he liked what he saw in other schools.

"The lessons are more practical and the students get involved rather than working from books. If it is enjoyable you take in more."

Eleanor George, 13, also from Canon Slade, added: "I saw a really good geography lesson where students had to research a country and present it in the style of the Eurovision song contest. I do not know if anyone got nil points. I will be writing it up in my report and saying it was a good idea."

Eleanor said she stood out when she visited other schools. "I wanted to blend in, but everyone's school uniform was navy and mine was bright green," she said.

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